Long ago a beautiful boy was born to a nymph known as Liriope. At his birth, an oracle announced his fate. "He will live for a long time, forever perhaps," the oracle told Liriope, "but only if he never, ever sees his reflection."
At first, Liriope worried about her child, whom she named Narcissus, but as time passed, and as she watched him grow, she forgot the oracle's words. He was so handsome, so strong and sweet. Lush golden curls grew upon his head, and his face was like that of a god, more beautiful even than those of the wood nymphs, with blue eyes like his mother's and a smile as bright as the sun.
Narcissus loved to romp through the woods, wander through fields of flowers, climb trees and hills. But he loved his solitude, and would not join in others' games. Something in Narcissus' heart was indifferent to his playmates. Some said he was cold-hearted and conceited.
In the forest near Narcissus' home there also lived an outcast. Echo, a nymph, once upon a time was a handmaiden to the goddess Juno. But Echo was a chatterbox and teller of tales, and many of her stories were lies about the other nymphs and the gods and goddesses.
Juno had discovered Echo's slander. "Go live in the wild woods, Echo," Juno demanded. "Take your poisonous tongue away, and as your punishment, from this day forward you will have no voice. The only words you ever will utter are words others have spoken first."
Heartbroken, Echo wandered through the woods, her only pleasure the games she played with those who crossed her path. Carefully listening to their words, she whispered their words back to them, but whenever the speaker turned to see who spoke, she quickly hid.
One day as he was wandering in the woods, Narcissus walked past Echo, who had heard his footsteps and was hiding behind a tree. When Echo saw him, her heart nearly stopped. She had never seen anyone as beautiful as he, and at once she was overcome with love for Narcissus.
Echo crept from behind her hiding place and tiptoed after him, wishing with all her heart that she could speak. Oh how she longed to say, "I love you," but when she opened her mouth, the words would not come. Tears came to her eyes for the first time in a long time as she followed him. Suddenly, close on his heels, a twig beneath her feet snapped, and Echo quickly hid.
Narcissus turned. "Is someone here?"
"Here," Echo whispered.
Narcissus looked left and then right, but seeing no one, he cried, "Come to me."
"Come to me," Echo answered.
Now the young man was angry. "Who are you? Who seekest thou?"
"Thou," the heartsick nymph answered, and with this word, she rushed from her hiding place and tried to throw her arms around his neck. But Narcissus loved no one. "No," he said, pushing her away. "Go away!" he cried. "I would die before I love thee!"
"I love thee!" she answered, but in despair, she fell to the ground and there, in the leaves, she wept. She could not move, for her heart was broken.
Narcissus ran from the sound of Echo's words. At long last he reached a stream with water as smooth as glass and crystal clear, a stream so unlike the waters near his home, where cattle and goats drank, stirring the water to a murky color.
Exhausted from his run, Narcissus lay down in the thick grass on the bank. The moment he leaned over to take a drink, he saw his face reflected, and having never seen such a thing, he immediately thought this must be someone who lived in the stream.
He looked again, and this time when he saw those beautiful eyes, and those curls as thick and golden as those of the god Apollo, and the full lips and blushing cheeks, he was, like Echo, struck with love.
He leaned over to kiss the person in the stream and thrust his arms in to embrace his love. But when he did, his beloved vanished from sight.
"Come back," Narcissus cried, and again he tried to kiss his love, but whenever he touched the water, the reflection disappeared. "Don't flee from me," he cried, and he regretted for that moment fleeing from Echo, for now he knew how much her heart must have ached.
Again he stared at the water, with a hopeful smile on his face, and the face before him smiled. "Ah," he said, and he reached again, but the moment he did, the face disappeared.
"I try to embrace you and you flee from me," he cried. "I am dying of grief. Please let me love you."
Soon only tears disturbed the smooth water, and the woods echoed with the sighs of the young man, and after a while, Narcissus began to waste away from his grief.
"Woe is me!" he cried, and Echo answered, "Woe is me!" And when finally Narcissus knew he was about to draw his final breath, he cried out loud, "Farewell," and Echo, hearing his desperate cry from afar, answered, "Farewell."
Echo, too, wasted away, leaving behind only her voice. It is Echo's voice that lives on still in quiet places, the voice that, from far away, answers others' words.
The water nymphs, hearing Narcissus' farewell, began to weep, and the wood nymphs did, too. When Liriope came to search for his body, even that had disappeared. In its place beside the stream she found a patch of flowers with silvery green leaves and golden petals. And it is these flowers that have been known ever since as narcissus.
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