When Zeus, the supreme god, came to the woods, all the nymphs loved to rush to seek his attention. Zeus, too, loved the excitement the company of such young maidens brought him. But not so his wife, Hera, who kept a close watch on her husband’s movements.
Once, when Zeus was playing under a shimmering waterfall with some winsome nymphs, it looked as if Hera would chance upon him. But Echo, a charming wood nymph who could talk nineteen to the dozen, kept Hera engaged in conversation so that she would not see, well, what she was not supposed to see.
But Hera was not fooled. When she realised what Echo was doing, she cursed her, “You made a fool of me with all your talk! From now on, you will talk no more… but yet, you may have the last word.” Last word was what poor Echo was left with. All she could do now was repeat the last word she heard uttered.
One day, she came across a golden-haired youth hunting deer in the forest.
He was Narcissus. For Echo, it was love at first sight. She watched him from behind a tree and began to follow him without his ever knowing it. Now Narcissus was used to all kinds of girls and women falling in love with him. He couldn’t help it. After all, he was the most beautiful of all creatures that ever walked on earth. But he shunned them all. Echo followed Narcissus, her love for him growing every day. And very soon, he could make out the unnatural rustling of the leaves behind him in the woods.
He turned, “Who’s here?” he asked.
“Here...’’ came Echo’s reply. Narcissus could see no one for Echo was hiding behind the trees. “Who are you? Come out and let’s meet,” he cried out.
“Let’s meet…” repeated Echo as she rushed out to embrace Narcissus. Poor Echo could no longer contain her feelings.
Narcissus was shocked at this sudden display of affection and tore himself away from her. “Leave me alone… I’d rather die than have you love me...” he said as he pushed her aside. “Love me….. love me… love me…” said Echo sadly as she watched him disappear into the woods. Broken hearted, Echo wandered the forests and found a dark, deep cave in which she remained, mourning her unrequited love.
Meanwhile Narcissus continued to roam the forests fancy free and happy.
One day tired after a hunt, he became thirsty and began looking for a stream to drink from. He came upon a quiet pool of water on which the sun shone brightly through the leaves.
Lying on his stomach he leaned over to drink. To his surprise, he found a beautiful creature, golden haired and fair peering at him! Of course you and I know it was just his reflection but he did not! He tried to reach out to the vision but his hands touched only the water. “Ah, what beauty lies here...But the moment I reach for it, it shuns me… this is cruelty!” cried he.
As his tears hit the surface of the calm waters, it broke the image and he could no longer see himself.
Narcissus lay there by the waters, waiting for the pool to settle. Day after day, he stared at his face in the water and pined for his own self. He neither ate nor slept and soon wasted away. One cold morning came Death.
“Goodbye, my love… goodbye” he said to his mirror image in the water as he breathed his last. From her cave, came Echo’s desolate voice, “Good bye ...”
Like Narcissus, she too neither ate nor slept and faded away. Very soon all that was left of her was her voice which repeated the last words anyone uttered on the mountains.
As for Narcissus, the wood nymphs found in his place a white flower with a yellow centre. You will see it too in the woods, it’s called Narcissus.