I like to revisit Ovid’s Metamorphoses regularly. In my opinion it is one of the grandest records of the human condition. A poem, in 15 books and 250 myths in chronological order. Ovid is regarded as one three canonical Latin poets. I keep a copy of Metamorphoses next to my bed. On occasion I like to revisit one of the myths and refamiliarize myself with how perfectly these myths remain a tribute to the human condition. They are also a catalogue of human relationship dynamics. All of the 7 deadly sins are present as well. Metamorphoses is an archive of the human psyche and the dilemmas that have plagued us all for millennia.
Probably the most famous of Ovids myths is the tale of Narcissus. Narcissus, the son of the river god Cephissus and the nymph Liriope. He fell in love with his own reflection in the water of a spring and pined away or killed himself. In the late 1800s narcissism started to be used to define a number of psychological symptoms. The various descriptions of what has been labeled as narcissism are well documented and not really of interest to me. In the last decade it seems that narcissism is being abused by social media influencers and self help grifters as a means to defame anyone that does not support them in their illusory superiority.
The myth of Narcissus opens with a description of him at 16, “appearing as both a boy and a man, and many boys and women desiring him; but in his yielding beauty was such inflexibility and pride that no young man or woman ever moved him.” He happens upon the once noisy Nymph, Echo. Echo, never held her tongue when others spoke, never spoke till others had begun. Echo once possessed a form, Juno confused her tongue, because Echo often held Juno with her endless tales, while many a hapless Nymph escaped from Jove's embrace and thwarted Juno from catching and cursing yet another Nymph over Jove. Echo was stricken by Juno and, ever since, she only mocks the sounds of others' voices, or, perchance, returns their final words. Echo falls in love with Narcissus upon seeing him, spurned by him she retreats to living in caves. The myth goes on to say, “He’d trifled with her and so many others, nymphs as well as a host of male admirers.” One of the spurned raises his hands to the Heavens, “May he himself love as I have loved him, without obtaining his beloved.” This prayer was answered by Nemesis. Hot and and tired Narcissus comes to a pool where he famously dies after falling in love with his reflection…
There are a few lines I want to go over to highlight why I feel that the term narcissism was misappropriated by psychologists, self help gurus and self serving spurned women and men everywhere. LOL. There is the idea presented in the tale of Narcissus that another’s desire for him is his burden. This stands true to today, for some reason people know that you cannot walk into jewelry store and take what you want. These same people get very angry by another’s exclusionary discernment directed at thwarting their desire and label it narcissism. It wasn’t Narcissus obsession with himself that led to his demise, it was the curse by one who was angry about Narcissus rejection. No one is owed anything for their desire. Covetous desire is a better term, in my opinion, than unrequited love.
There are many modern tropes at play in this myth. Upon seeing his reflection, “He strives to satisfy one thirst and another is born, overcome by the beauty that he sees, he falls in love with an immaterial hope..” This is the common idea that by being discriminatory in who you allow to have access to you or, “having high standards,” leads to one being destined to dying alone. LOL. There’s another line where he is told, “the image of an image, without substance arrives with you and with you it remains, and it will leave with you when you leave, if you can!” Curious, how in thousands of years we still haven’t moved past the accusation that if you believe yourself so special why don’t you just go fuck yourself ? LOL. “Why seek at all, when all that I desire is mine already.” Once again, the age old revenge fantasy that if one cannot find anyone acceptable or relinquish their standards then they must only be able to love themselves or incapable of love. Before expiring the last words to his reflection which returned to him again and again were, “alas dear boy, whom I have vainly cherished.” It is not vain to cherish yourself, it is righteous. The best one can do is at least, be their own best advocate, right?
When I think of the myth of Narcissus, I think of it not as a cautionary tale of a faulty character. I do not regard Narcissus as having faulty character at all. People are often told that their personal boundaries can be limiting, or “blocking their blessings.” Strict boundaries limit access to people that are desirable. It is this tale of Narcissus and his tragic end, that is used to scare people of being vilified for their exclusionary practices in the name self preservation and love of oneself. When someone has boundaries or standards that are exclusionary to many it is self serving to vilify them as a narcissist, thus marking them as incapable of loving anyone but themselves, and admonished to change their boundaries or suffer a miserable and lonely existence. LOL. When people exercise strict discernment in lovers and friendships it can be a point of contention for many. People don’t like to be excluded and in Western culture there is this idea that if a, person is nice to you and WANTS to be your friend you must acquiesce or at least do not be quick to judge and exclude. We all have dominion over our body and lives, who and what we want in proximity should be left to ones discretion and not to the desire of whomever wants access. Just because someone wants you or wants access to you does not mean they are worthy and ruthlessly denying anyone that doesn’t meet your standards does not make you a deviant or without capacity for love. The true test of freedom is being able to practice discernment about who and what you let into your life. In my opinion we should all practice a little narcissism and fall so in love with ourselves and guard ourselves with standards that preserve our peace of mind and happiness. This will undeniably piss people off though… LOL