narcissus

An Echo of Theiresias

Suppose it were possible to be “self” conscious and aware without ever seeing a reflection in a mirror or on a shiny surface. Then on a warm day, near a forest green, from a pond glistening as silver, gazing innocently from the spring undisturbed by cattle, sheep, birds, wild boars, beasts or even by branches dropping leaves from trees that arch over the water, yielding perhaps acorns, pine cones, a nut or two. Then, casting yourself down among the rich landscape, exhausted, on top the grassy verges to quench your thirst, you see such a beautiful sight in the water, irresistibly and immediately falling in love perhaps for the very first time, until realizing that this image is your own reflection.

An overly simplified description of the myth of Narcissus, which has numerous versions, all of which converge on self love, and although told about a boy, Narcissus could equally be thought as a girl.  “As she tried to embrace and kiss the beautiful girl who confronts her in the water, eventually recognizing herself, she lay gazing enraptured with the pool, hour after hour. How could she endure both to possess and yet not to possess? Grief was destroying her, yet she rejoiced in her torment: knowing at least that her other self would remain true to her, whatever happened.” So told Theiresias, the blind seer who spoke of Narcissus, “He saw his own shape and it was fatal, for he could only see through it.”

“Alas! Alas!” Narcissus cried, but Echo, a local nymph had already forgiven and grieved with him; then sympathetically echoing his last words, “Alas! Alas!” as he plunged a dagger into his breast, she said finally, “Ah, youth, beloved in vain, fare thee well!” as he expired. His blood soaked the earth, and there sprang up the white narcissus flower with its red corolla.

No doubt an interesting story with unanticipated twists and turns, possibly echoed in Hamlet, Shakespeare’s masterpiece of the Prince of Denmark, one filled with numerous connotations especially the prophecy of the seer, incapable of seeing his physical world because of blindness yet one who is also wise of sight, quite capable of viewing only what lay beyond the existence of the five senses.

Since it is not possible to see oneself other than as a reflection off some external surface whether an inanimate object, or the opinions and attitudes of others, the myth of Narcissus is poignant in its scope about what it says concerning self, the ego, and whatever attributes are chosen to embellish the character most pleasing to see, or taught from negative experience, to mock.

Judgments about “self” begin, absorbed from childhood, and initially from “the other,” before being formulated as part of an individual reflection,  once again returning attention to the effects of parents and family that are the initial basis for these impressions, later reinforced or balanced with other things comprising experience. Self confidence, traced with narcissism provides an empowering quality to ascribe value and “self”  worth, worthy of living for.

Pathological narcissism can be a reflection unseen by “self,” a blind spot that can be disguised by loathing as well as misguided love also characterizing its invisibility of presence and the absence of “self” esteem so visible by others, describing yet another echo of an echo, caught between the surfaces of the three dimensions reflecting each other as it moves through Time/Space, as much a topic for mythology as is Science.