Of all the nymphs in the waters and woodland, a dryad named Echo was by far the most beloved. She was very beautiful and very kind, but what made her so popular was the haunting perfection of her voice. Echo’s mouth made music like the long, low resonance of a bell once chimed.
Not only did the sound of Echo’s voice charm its listeners, her stories themselves were enthralling. Her beauty and sweetness won her friendship with many gods, and it time Echo became the go-to maiden for juicy information. The other dryads and naiads and creatures of the woodland begged for the latest gossip on the gods. Even Aphrodite came down from Olympus to chat with Echo and listen to her tales. Being the goddess of love, she was especially concerned with who loves whom and what they are doing about it. Echo kept her entertained like no one else could.
As a thank-you gift, Aphrodite offered to arrange a love match between Echo and any man of her choosing. “Tell me,” said the goddess, “is there someone you wish to love you? Just say the word, and I will send my son with his bow and arrow.” Eros, the god of romantic love, could make two people fall in love by shooting his special arrows.
Echo laughed. “Alas, sweet Aphrodite, I have seen no man who pleases me. God or mortal, man and boy, I look at them all very carefully but find none that compare to the man in my dreams.” She was nonetheless thankful for Aphrodite’s offer. “When the time comes,” she said, “that is if it ever comes, I shall ask for help.”
“Well,” said Aphrodite in return, “your loveliness is definitely deserving of godly praise, just don’t wait too long. After all you do not live forever!”
Now Echo did not know this, but at that exact momemt the most beautifyl by in the whole wide world was lost in that very woods. His name was Narcissus, and he was so handsome that no girl or goddess could look at him with out fainting except for his mother. He inevitably grew to have a rather high opinion of himself. And as Narcissus was frolicking through that very woods, Narcissus thought hopelessly of meeting a maiden whose beauty in face and form matched his own perfection. Every now and then he sighed. Too occupied feeling sorry for himself Narcissus did not notice he kept turning the wrong way and getting more and more lost.
In the other part of the wood, Echo had just bid farewell to Aphrodite and was almost home to the hollow tree where she lived. She stumbled upon a small meadow, where across she saw Zeus hiding behind a tree. He was resting his weight on his lightning shaft, and his other arm wrapped around the shoulder of a young nymph smiling up at him.
“Oh, boy,” said Echo, rolling her eyes, “he’s at it again.” She couldn’t wait to tell Aphrodite.
Just then something else suddenly caught her attention. A tall, purple-clad figure moved urgently through the forest. Echo recognized the royal colors of Hera, queen of the gods and jealous wife of the man flirting carelessly with a nymph across the meadow. She must have overheard the other gods discussing her husband’s latest affair and had come to catch him red-handed.
Echo was no fan of drama, especially when it came to Zeus and Hera. She had heard story after story after story about the infidelities of Zeus, and all made mention of the wrath and revenge of Hera, but not once does the story end with her leaving him. Echo had little respect for a woman whose husband was unfaithful, and to discuss such a sick and codependent relationship as theirs was utterly unnecessary. Mortals couldn’t seem to get enough of it, however, and for weeks after the latest affair they bothered Echo for the dirty details.
To prevent such displeasure befalling her, and also because she liked Zeus more than his wife, Echo hurried forward to stall Hera. In an overtly grandiose gesture Echo curtsied low before the goddess and with a trumpeting voice said, “Greetings, great Hera. Welcome to the woods!”
“Hush, fool!” whispered Hera. “I am trying to surprise someone. Keep your mouth shut!”
“This is a proud day for the creatures of the wood,” continued Echo, “for we have been visited by two gods in one day! Pardon my excitement!”
Hera raised an eye. “Who else have you seen?”
“Why, your eternally faithful husband,” said Echo, thinking quickly, “Zeus of course. He was just here, not two minutes ago. He was looking for you, actually.”
“Zeus? Looking for me? Are you sure about that?”
“Yes, of course. He asked if I had seen you and flew off very disappointed when I told him I had not.”
“Really? I can’t believe it! Zeus? Looking for me? I suppose miracles do happen from time to time. Well, which way did he go?”
“Um, I forget…. Olympus…maybe.”
In the meantime Zeus had hidden himself with the river nymph in some underbrush. He came out when Hera had left and thanked Echo with a shiny sapphire ring from his own finger.
When Hera flew back to Olympus, she found no Zeus. She sped quickly back to the forest where Echo was admiring the large blue ring. Rage burned inside of Hera, for she knew the nymph had tricked her and received the ring as some kind of reward. “Wretched creature!” she cried. “I know what you did. I see the gift you got. But don’t think for a second that my husband is more generous than I am. Since you’ve misused such a beautiful voice by lying, I cannot trust you to use it ever again. You will never be able to speak or sing, except to repeat the last words that have been said to you. How’s that for generosity?”
With that the vengeful Hera went away, and the weeping nymph rushed home to her hollow tree. Upon once again seeing what she thought was the dazzling face of a god, Echo stopped in the meadow. In truth it was no god, but a boy about her age, with black hair and eyes like the sapphire Zeus had given her. Echo could not help but laugh with joy at the sight of him, for he was the boy she had been looking for all of her life. This was the boy from her dreams, a boy with whom she could fall in love.
She collected herself and chassed towards him. He stopped her and said, “Pardon me, but do you know the way out of these woods?”
“Out of the woods,” said Echo.
“Yes,” he said. “I am lost.”
“I am lost,” said Echo.
“You are lost? Are you playing some kind of game with me?”
“Are you playing some kind of game with me?”
“Are you deaf, perhaps? Why must I repeat everything!”
At this point Narcissus was sufficiently annoyed. “No,” he told her, “I will not repeat everything. I will not do it. What a waste of time! I won’t do it.”
“Look, I’m not going to stand here and argue about it. If you’re not going to show me the way out of here, I’ll just find someone who will.”
Narcissus glared at the nymph, and as he walked away she came up from behind him, wrapping her arms around his neck and kissing his face.
“Gross!” he said. “Get away from me, you freak! You’re just like every other girl. You see me, you faint, and you say stupid things. Stop it! You can’t kiss me!”
Narcissus shoved the nymph away from him, but she could not accept his rejection of her. Again she tried to kiss him, and again he pushed her away. Echo fell onto her knees and hugged his legs. With a tear-streaked face she looked up at Narcissus and tried to speak, but she could not say a word.
Narcissus found her desperation most repugnant. “Let go of me! What makes you think that I love you?”
“I love you”
The boy wiggled his way loose from the nymph’s tight hold and sauntered away. He did not turn to look back at the heartbroken nymph as he called out, “Farewell.”
Echo watched him walk away until he disappeared into a distant silhouette. She felt such sadness, such pain in every part of her, such hopelessness in having just lost the love of her life. As it was all she could do, Echo prayed silently: “Oh, Aphrodite, fair goddess of love and beauty! Remember that favor you promised? Well, I could really use some help right about now.” She then recounted the turn of events leading up to her predicament. “My love has disappeared, and so I too wish to disappear.”
Up in the heavens Aphrodite listened closely, for prayers need not be spoken to be heard. She looked down on the grieving nymph and pitied her. “I will grant your wish,” she said, “but your voice will stay on earth.” With that, Echo melted into thin air, and since she no longer had a body she no longer felt the pain of having lost her true love. “Wait a second,” Aphrodite added, “I’m surprised you didn’t ask me to take revenge on that guy. You are far too sweet and kind. I do know of a good way to get back at him, though.” She made it clear that whoever had broken Echo’s heart would one day know the same pain it caused. Thus she said, “Narcissus will fall for someone who cannot return his love. He will yearn for this love day after day after day, but he will never have it.”
Now Narcissus knew none of this, of course. Totally clueless about Echo’s tragic fate and Aphrodite’s recent curse, he continued to wander the forest and lament his own hopeless search for love.
He came to a river and sat down on its bank. It was not a river really, but more like a little stream moving slowly through the rocks and forming a pool near the place where Narcissus sat. He leaned forward, looking in the pond, and saw a face.
He blinked his eyes and looked again, not sure if what he saw was real. Sure enough the face was still there, and it was in fact the most beautiful face he had ever seen, as beautiful at least as his own face, but with a nimbus of light behind him so that his hair was blurred to looked longer like a girl’s. He gazed at the face for hours and hours, unable to get enough of it, and even if he stood there forever new he still would not be satisfied. He reached out his hand to touch her, but the water rippled and the face disappeared. “Must have been a water nymph,” he thought, “or perhaps a lovely dryad, no doubt a daughter of the river god. She must be shy, like me, and not fond of being touched. Ah, here she comes again.”
The face in the stream again looked back at him. More timidly than last time he reached out to touch her. The same thing happened as before.
“I will stay until you come out,” he vowed, “for I love you.”
The voice of Echo, who had secretly followed Narcissus to the stream, was the only response he heard. “I love you….”
“Do you hear that!!!” Narcissus shouted with joy. “I knew you loved me!! Come out, come out! Will you never come out?”
“Never come out….” said Echo.
“Never say never,” he said, “or I will be here forever.”
And in the end Narcissus stayed, forever and ever, leaning over into the stream, watching the face in the water, watching, watching, and watching, coaxing, begging, pleading with the nymph to come out, day after day, night after night, never moving, never eating, and never looking away from the face. He stayed in the place for so long that his legs were implanted in the river bank and became roots. His hair grew tangled and leafy. And his pale face and blue eyes became the delicate petals of the flower which today bears his name and still watches over its own reflection in the water.