How the Narcissus Got its Name


20160918aIn this season when thousands of gardeners are planting fall bulbs, among them daffodils or narcissus (Narcissus spp.), it may be worthwhile remembering the Greek legend that gave this plant its name. There are several versions of the myth, including the following.

Thy nymph Liriope consulted a soothsayer shortly after the birth of her son Narcissus and he warned her that her son would live to be very old, but only on the condition that he never see his own image. Therefore Liriope did everything in his power to remove any mirrors or shiny surfaces from their home. Narcisse thus grew up never having seen his own reflection.

He became a young man of great beauty, but imbued with himself and insensitive to love. As a result, he turned away many suitors. One day he sent Ameinias, particularly persistent, the gift of a sword and the latter used it kill himself, but not before calling the wrath of the gods upon Narcissus.

Ameinias’ prayers were unwired and thus one day Narcissus discovered a particularly calm spring of the purest water. When he looked down upon it and saw his reflection in the water, he fell instantly in love with the handsome young man he saw and refused to leave the spot. Since the image remained insensible to his entreaties, one day he killed himself with a knife and his blood spread over the ground.

But the gods took piety on his grieving mother and so from his blood was born a white flower whose eye always looks downward, hoping to see its own reflection. That flower, of course, came to be known as narcissus and will forever bear the name of the handsome but ill-fated youth. And any person too filled with self-love is now said to be narcissistic.


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