Updated: Sep 17
John William Waterhouse - Echo and Narcissus (Public Domain)
Grab a cup of tea and come along for story time, if you'd like! Once again, we’ll head back to the days of old, when the gods still walked the earth.
Echo was a woodland nymph. Because she was talkative and lots of fun, Diana, the goddess of hunting, enjoyed her company while in the forest— more than anyone else’s.
The mighty god, Jupiter, also liked to hang out in the forest with the woodland nymphs—if you catch my drift. One day his wife, Juno, came into the forest looking for him.
“Echo! Go distract her!” Jupiter ordered, trying to buy time so all the pretty little nymphs could run away and hide.
So, Echo ran into Juno’s path, planning to stall her with small talk.
“WHERE IS MY HUS—?”
“Juno! How totally awesome to see you here in the forest,” Echo interrupted. “Ooooh, I really like your shoes, are they new?”
Juno was always a total *you know what* to everyone. “OUT OF MY WAY.”
Echo continued, trying to stall the fuming goddess. “Is that a new hairdo?”
However, Juno was no dummy and knew the nymph was covering for her cheating husband.
“Echo,” she hissed. “I curse you.”
The nymph gasped.
“From this day forward, you will have no conversations—with anyone.”
“Oh, you’ll still get the last word in, but the last word is all you will be able to say.”
Sometime later, an incredibly gorgeous hunter came through the forest, chasing a stag. Echo watched from afar and immediately fell in love with him. As she tiptoed after him through the forest, the leaves rustled.
“Who’s there?” the beautiful man called out.
“There…” Echo replied.
“Won’t you show yourself?” the young man teased.
“Yourself…” Her posture slumped, for it was all she could say.
The man stood taller and raised his chin. “We must meet.”
Overjoyed at the invitation, Echo ran toward him. “Meet…” she called out before throwing herself into the hunter’s sculpted arms.
His lip curled in disgust and he pushed her away. “Unhand me, you wench. I’d rather die than have you enjoy my incredible body,” he said before walking away.
“Body…” she muttered, watching as he left to rejoin his hunting party who were calling out, searching from him.
“Narcissus? Narcissus where’d you go?”
“I’m coming,” the guy called back to his friends.
However, the sweet nymph was besotted with the gorgeous man and his rebuff wounded her to the core. She retreated deeper into the forest, withering away to nothing. Eventually, all that was left of Echo…was her voice.
Meanwhile, hunky Narcissus stumbled upon a small, refreshing lake. The cool water was still and when he bent down to drink, the most beautiful spirit stared back at him, from within the water.
A merman perhaps?
A water nymph?
Narcissus admired the creature’s beautiful eyes, the chiseled cheekbones, the way the golden hair curled over the forehead. He leaned closer to kiss and embrace the person in the water.
However, the ripples caused the person to flee.
“Come back to me,” Narcissus begged. “You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”
Narcissus remained at the edge of the pool, day after day, month after month, staring at the person in the water he could only look at, but never touch. Eventually, he withered away to nothing as Echo watched. Her love was entirely in vain.
At the water’s edge, where he eventually died, flowers as beautiful as Narcissus began to grow, now bearing his name.
(As the story continues, we switch from Roman to Greek legends. So, for reference Jupiter=Zeus. They’re one and the same.)
Several years later, there was a young and beautiful girl named Persephone. She loved hanging out in the forest with her friends. Her mother, Demeter, was one of Zeus’ (Jupiter's) baby mamas.
Hades, god of the underworld, sees Persephone and falls in love.
“Yo, Zeus,” Hades says. “Can I marry your daughter?”
“Sure, but just so you know…her mother will NEVER approve.”
“That’s fine. I can deal with Demeter.”
So, one day, as Persephone is walking through the forest with her friends, picking narcissus flowers— daffodils— the ground suddenly opens up. There’s Hades. After he grabs the girl, the ground closes back up again.
The kidnapping of Proserpina (1621–1622), by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Galleria Borghese, Rome
Her abduction was so fast nobody even witnessed it.
Except for Helios, the god of the sun.
But…Helios decides it’s best to stay out of it.
Meanwhile, Demeter is going absolutely crazy searching for her daughter. She’s beside herself with grief because…call it mother’s intuition, she knows Hades had something to do with Persephone’s disappearance. She’s absolutely livid with her ex, Zeus, for not preventing it.
Finally, Helios breaks down and tells Demeter what he witnessed. “Maybe it’s not that bad,” he says to her. “Persephone’s the queen of the underworld now. I’m sure Hades is being nice to her.”
By now, Demeter is so freakin’ angry at the gods. She’s a lesser god herself so she abandons all her duties, basically giving them the middle finger. She’s the goddess of fertility and harvest so the people of earth begin to suffer as well.
Crops are dying.
People are dying.
Her anger threatens to wipe out all the humans on earth.
So, Zeus finally steps in. “Demeter…darling…take heart…for I will bring Persephone back if she is being held against her will.”
“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” Demeter cries.
However, Hades is aware of the deal and decides to trick Persephone.
Turns out, pomegranates are the food of the underworld. If the seeds are consumed, the person comes to love the underworld.
So, he tricks Persephone into eating some seeds.
The time comes for everyone to meet—Zeus, Hades, Demeter, and Persephone.
“I love it there and want to stay,” the young girl claims.
Demeter flies into a rage, knowing her daughter has been tricked. “I swear to you, Zeus, I will make the entire earth infertile! I’ll destroy everything if I don’t get her back!”
Finally, an agreement is reached.
Persephone is allowed to leave Hades for half the year and return to her mother.
The other half is spent in the underworld.
The Return of Persephone (Leighton 1891)
And this is why we having the changing seasons. When it’s summer, Persephone is with Demeter and the lands are fertile and beautiful. The rest of the time her mother weeps, too heartbroken to tend to her duties.
So, there’s your interesting facts of the day: echoes, daffodils, and the seasons.