The word narcissist has been bandied about a good deal recently. It is a disorder of the personality, and unlike other psychological disorders, there is no cure, no psycho-pharmacological remedy. I’ve known quite a few narcissists in my time: men, women, young, old, different walks of life and histories. It is democratic in that regard.
I don’t think that I need to contribute to the amount of oxygen being consumed by the current discussion, but it did get me thinking about the ancient myth from which the moniker is coined. As my classic’s professor would always tell us, “Go to the source!” I remember translating, from the Latin, Ovid’s interpretation from his Metamorphoses, or “Books of Transformations.” I also recall the versions provided by Edith Hamilton and Bulfinch’s Mythology. It’s a tragic, cruel story – and, as is their wont, the Gods of Olympus get involved. Echo was a wood nymph favored by Artemis, and Narcissus, a mortal, was the most beautiful youth of all. Echo pines for him and he rejects her relentlessly until she fades away and there is nothing left of her but her voice. Ted Hughes, the English poet, translated Echo’s plight: “From that day/Like a hurt lynx, for her/Any cave was a good home./ But love was fixed in her body/Like a barbed arrow. /There it festered/With his rejection.”
Narcissus’s end isn’t much better; he falls in love with his reflection when he sees it in a pool of water, and unceasingly gazes upon himself until he dies. The nymphs – they were a kindhearted lot – forgivingly commence to bury him, but when they go to his body: he is gone. What is left is a flower, in one account purple within with white petals – the description varies. However, what is consistent is that the flower is commonly found by the side of a brook or stream.
How wise were the ancients! They got it right long ago. I have witnessed, among friends and others, that in the dynamic with a narcissist, for the one bestowing love – it’s completely depleting and self-annihilating. As for the narcissist – they are pitiful creatures – they are all together alone as they too wither and go. They don’t leave a lot of happy memories behind.
To be sure, many narcissists are extremely charming, charismatic, captivating, enchanting – all that sort of thing. They draw people to them, and once the masque is removed, one is in way too deep.
All the current Sturm und Drang aside, I would say why not delve into some of the classics? There are some marvelous tales of transformation from good old Ovid, and many myths and legends found in other tomes. The experience, shall we say, may be transformative?
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