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Hannan, M. (1992). A Psychoanalytic Interpretation of Ovid's Myth of Narcissus and Echo. Psychoanal. Rev., 79(4):555-575.

(1992). Psychoanalytic Review, 79(4):555-575

A Psychoanalytic Interpretation of Ovid's Myth of Narcissus and Echo

Maryanne Hannan

The static image of Narcissus, transfixed, gazing at his own reflection in a pool of water, is firmly fixed in the Western imagination. How he came to be by that pool on a sunny day in Boeotia has been variously interpreted by literary, musical and visual artists. Beginning with Freud, psychoanalysts have been no less fascinated by the character of Narcissus. Theoretical and clinical explorations of narcissism continue to sharpen the focus of both questions and answers.

The most familiar account of the myth is Ovid's version in the Metamorphoses.1 Available English translations, however, have obscured aspects of both Narcissus's and Echo's personalities and nuances of their relationship. The purpose of this paper is to reexamine the myth in the original Latin version in terms of Freudian and post-Freudian theories of narcissism. I have used the standard Latin version of the myth and have translated all passages into English with the goal of approximating as closely as possible the meaning of Ovid's version. The resulting translations retain nothing of Ovid's style, but render quite literally what he wrote. I have quoted Latin words following their English equivalents either because the words are pointedly repeated by Ovid in significant passages or because the connotations of the English derivatives underscore my own translation.

There are three distinct models of narcissism in Ovid's myth: Narcissus from his infancy to young manhood, Narcissus in his abortive romance, and Echo. Narcissus's progression from early behaviors to the familiar sequel demonstrates the Freudian continuum of primary and secondary narcissism. Echo, whose actions appear quite benign on the surface, enacts the narcissistic rage described by Kernberg (1975).

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