Study Guide

Echo and Narcissus Characters

  • Narcissus

    Recap: Narcissus is HOT. Brad Pitt hot. Justin Bieber Hot. You know what, just picture the hottest person you can think of: that's Narcissus. He gets it from his parents. His mother was a naiad (water nymph) named Liriope, and his father was the river-god Cephisus. He's all that and a bag of chips. You get the point? He's hot. Unfortunately, he knows that he's hot, and he's super full of himself because of it. He rejects everyone who loves him, including the nymph Echo. Eventually the goddess Nemesis punishes him big time for all the hearts he's broken.

    Deciding what to think of Narcissus can be kind of tough. On the one hand, he's a huge jerk. He's so completely full of himself that he doesn't have room in his life for anyone else. He says terrible, awful, mean things to Echo. He breaks hearts everywhere he goes.

    Oh, and he seems a little—dare we say—stupid? Yeah, he seems kind of stupid. Seriously, who falls in love with their own reflection, and then decides to stay? Yeah, yeah, Nemesis is partially responsible, but that doesn't make it okay. Narcissus is clearly a little crazy.

    On the other hand, Narcissus is a deeply tragic figure. Think about it for a second. What has he actually done to deserve his fate? Is it wrong to want to be single? Should he be forced to hook up with every nymph that throws herself at him?

    What's more, when he does fall in love, he falls super deeply in love—so much so that he's willing to die. Isn't that what we all want? Someone who loves us to death? We might say that his love is misguided, but that's no reason to hate the guy. Hey, Shakespeare made his entire career out of writing about misguided love.

    However you feel about him, Narcissus has had a huge impact on modern culture. His story has inspired artists for the last two thousand years, from the wall paintings found in the ancient Roman city of Pompeii to the 1903 interpretation by John William Waterhouse. (Check out "Best of the Web" for images.)

    Here are a few other things he's inspired:

    • symphonies
    • heavy metal tracks
    • books
    • poems
    • movie characters

    Not a bad résumé. And then of course there's the Narcissus flower, better known as the daffodil. Oh, and Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Can't forget about that one.

    Yeah, Narcissus gets around, and we don't mean with the girls.

  • Echo

    Recap: Echo is a supper chatty Oread (mountain nymph). We're not entirely sure who her parents are, but we do know a few other key facts: (1) she lost her voice to Hera. (Really, what do you expect when you try to stop Hera from hunting down Zeus?); (2) she fell hard for Narcissus; (3) her mega-crush didn't work out well for her. And that's Echo in a nutshell.

    On the surface Echo seems like a pretty straightforward character. She's the victim of the story, right? Readers are meant to identify with her and feel sorry for her. Really, who hasn't been rejected at some point in their life? We have, and it hurts. (So keep coming back and reading our stuff, it makes us feel good.)

    Sure, Echo goes to some extreme measures in pursuing Narcissus. Sure, she goes a little crazy after she's rejected. But sometimes love makes us do crazy things, right? Come on, she's had her voice taken away from her and everything. Feel sorry for her!

    But hold on a second. From a different perspective, she seems a little sketch, right? Let's take a closer look: she doesn't immediately reveal herself when she first catches Narcissus hunting. Instead, she creeps around the forest spying on him, waiting for him to say something juicy. We have a word for that. It's called stalking.

    "But wait," you might say. "She doesn't reveal herself because she can't speak." Yeah? So what? She's never played charades? You know, charades… that game where you make gestures and try to get people to guess what you're acting out? Wait, you've never played charades?

    The point is, she could have revealed herself and made some hand gestures or drawn in the dirt or something. She could have stepped out and just kept quiet. Instead she only shows herself after Narcissus makes a comment that could be seen as an invitation. A dirty invitation. Then, when she's rejected, she retreats to a cave and pines over Narcissus until her body literally turns to dust. Obsessed much? So yeah, from this point of view, it's much harder to feel sorry for the girl.

    Either way, we have to be grateful for this little nymph. Without her, we wouldn't be able to shout "Hello!" at the top of our lungs in the Grand Canyon and hear it echo—yep, Echo—right back.

  • Nemesis

    Nemesis is only mentioned in one measly line of the Echo and Narcissus myth, so she isn't really a character in the traditional sense. But still, she's responsible for Narcissus' death, so we'll give her some Shmoop screen time.

    In some versions of mythology, Nemesis is the daughter of Erebus (darkness) and Nyx (night). Spooky. Other myths suggest that the Titan, Oceanus, was her father, and still others blame Zeus. Regardless, her role in ancient Greek culture remains the same. Nemesis is the goddess of divine retribution. Her job is to make sure that no one is too happy or too lucky.

    This lady gets especially angry at people who have great fortune but don't deserve it. But we can't forget that she can be equally kind to people who suffer great tragedy for no reason. Basically, her goal is balance.

    Also, the word nemesis should sound familiar: this lady gave her name to the word we use today to describe someone who's out to get us.

  • Liriope

    Liriope is Narcissus' mother. Her only part the entire story is to ask Tiresias if her son will live a long life. She doesn't appear in any other myths that we know of either. She is one of those mysterious characters who exist only as plot-movers. The literary world is full of such lost souls. Too bad, so sad, moving on.

  • Tiresias

    Recap: Tiresias prophesizes that Narcissus will live to old age, "as long as he never knows himself." And… that's it.

    While Tiresias just plays a bit part in the Echo and Narcissus story, he is a pretty famous character in ancient Greek mythology as a whole. As a prophet of Apollo, he is gifted with glimpses of the future, both through visions and by listening to the speech of birds. Fancy.

    Oh, also, he's blind (not uncommon for mythological and literary figures who can see the future). Some versions of his story say that he was struck blind when he accidently spotted Athena bathing naked. Others say that Hera blinded him for taking Zeus' side in an argument about who enjoys sex more, men or women. Well, then.

    Regardless, Tiresias appears consistently in myths about the city of Thebes and its history. Some of his most notable appearances include Sophocles' Oedipus Rex and a rocking appearance from beyond the grave in Homer's Odyssey.