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Couteur, P.L. (2004). Narcissus and His Discontents. Free Associations, 11(3):447-456.

(2004). Free Associations, 11(3):447-456

Narcissus and His Discontents

P. Le Couteur


Modern Writers Have Inherited a mythological corpus of barely cogitable scope. The familiarity with one's own mythological heritage lost in the last millennium has been mediated by an unprecedented availability for the mythophile of mythic material from other traditions. No one culture, however, has bequeathed such a wealth of material as that of Ancient Greece and, as Thomas Bulfinch writes in his 1855 handmaiden to mythology The Age of Fable, ‘No one of the fables of antiquity has been oftener alluded to by the poets than that of Narcissus’ (p. 105).

It appears that this myth enjoyed similar popularity in the Roman culture; it is depicted in as many as fifty murals in Pompeii alone. By far the fullest account of the myth of Narcissus is still to be found in Ovid's Metamorphoses. Indeed, several modern summaries of the tale distort it in the telling, and even neglect what is to my mind the most salient detail; the realization by Narcissus that it is his own self that he loves. From Addison's translation of the Ovid;

It is my self I love, my self I see;

The gay delusion is a part of me.

I kindle up the fires by which I burn,

And my own beauties from the well return.

(Ovid, 1998, p.

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