A modern translation of Ovid's Echo and Narcissus

This—Tiresias’s— blameless fame was most celebrated

throughout the Aonian cities (1); Tiresias (2) gave

answers to the people as they asked.

Cerulean Liriope first exacted an attempt,

with faith, on his authenticated voice.

Liriope, with whom Cephisus (3) formerly interlaced

within curved waves, trapping her under the swells

by force. She bore a most beautiful baby

from her full belly—she called him Narcissus,

who could then be adored by the nymphs.

Concerning the consultation:

whether Narcissus would see ripe old age.

The prophetic bard: “If he does not know himself.”

It is said. (4)

The voice of the augur seemed false for a long time;

things at the end proved him right, a death of a race

with a new madness.

The child of Cephisus reached sixteen years;

He seemed a boy or a young man.

Many youths and girls desired him,

but the hubris was so great in his

unfeeling frame: he touched no youths, no girls.

Resounding Echo—a famously-voiced (5) nymph

who was not silent in speech,

nor did she herself speak before the speaking one—

saw Narcissus driving a trembling deer into a net.

Until then, Echo had a body, not just a voice.

Nonetheless, she had no use for her mouth’s chattiness;

She was able to respond concerning fresh words.

Juno had made it so, because when

she discovered that the nymphs

were lying with her own Jove in the mountains,

Echo held the percipient goddess in a lengthy conversation

while the nymphs fled. After Juno discovered this,

she said, “Of this tongue, by which I am deceived,

it will be given a small power for you,

and your voice a most brief use.”

She made real the threats.

Therefore (6),  Echo duplicates the spoken words

at the end and carries back the words

as she has heard them.

Well, when Echo saw Narcissus

wandering throughout the winding

countryside, she grew lustful and secretly followed

his footsteps. As she followed,

she grew more hot—closer,

and she was ablaze

with passion,

like how

vigorous sulphur burns

on a highest torch,


its surroundings

with flames.

O, how often she wished to approach

him with honeyed words,

and to summon him with soft pleas.

Her nature fought against it,

nor did it allow her to initiate.

But, as far as it allowed, she was prepared to wait for sound,

to which she would throw back words. By chance,

the boy was lead apart from his line of companions

in confidence, and he said, “Is anyone here?”

Echo responded,


Then he was stupefied. He threw glances all over.

and with a voice, “Come!” He shouts loudly.

She calls the calling.

He looks around, and seeing no one, he asks,

“Why do you flee from me?”

And, just as he spoke, she took his words.

He persisted, and by turns, was fooled by the image of a voice,

“Here—let us meet!” he said.

And, responding with a sound that she never spoke more gladly,

“Let us meet!” Echo ricocheted.

She fulfilled her own words

by bursting through the forest,

and she hurled her arms

around his hoped-for neck.

He fled (7),

and fleeing,

he said,

“Take your hand from the embrace!

I would rather die than remain wholly for you!”

Scorned, she lurked in the forest

and hid her blushing face with leaves

and lived alone from this embarrassment in a cave.

Nevertheless, she clung to her love

and it fed on rejection—with sorrow.

She wasted away on her vigil of miserable worries,

and her meager skin and her body’s spirit vanished

into the whole atmosphere.

A great voice survives together with her bones.

The voice remains.

The bones became stones derived from her form.

Therefore, she lies hidden in the forest,

and she is seen by no one in the mountains.

Yet all hear her;

she is sound, which lives in her. (8)

So, on another note, (9)

Narcissus had mocked the other nymphs

who had emerged from the streams and mountains

for union with the youth.

Then, a despised one,

lifting her hands to the aether:

“May it be allowed that Narcissus himself loves,

but that the loved one is not attainable!”

She had spoken.

Nemesis (10) approved the prayers with justice.

There was a lucid pool,

gleaming with silver waves,

which neither shepherds nor their flocks

nor grazing goats from the mountains touched,

no wild thing disturbed it,

no branch from a tree dropped into it.

Plants, which the nearby water fed, surrounded it,

a place with no suffering sun to warm it.

Here the boy, weary and agitated from hunting zealously,

sought the pond, and from the point where he lay down,

Narcissus saw his face. (11)

While he desired to allay his thirst, another thirst grew.

While he drank, he loved the hope without a body,

snatching the sight of his beautiful image.

He thought it a body because it was stunned under the waves for him,

and he clung to that same immovable face

as if an image from Parian marble.

He saw his stationed twin, his own eyes—stars—

worthy of Bacchus and worthy of Apollo,

youthful hair and cheeks and an ivory neck

and a graceful mouth and blush mixed with radiant snow.

He was admired consummately, all were wondrous of him.

He foolishly desired himself, and

what he esteems, he himself sanctions.

While he desires, he himself is desired.

Equally he kindles and gives blazes.

How often a useless face is in a fallacious pond!

How often are longed-for arms thrust into the middle of water!

Watching the neck: he did not catch himself in this!

What he saw, he did not know.

But because he saw, he smoldered.

And his own eyes, which deceived, incited deception.

Gullible one: what sort of swift image do you grasp in vain?

What you seek is nothing.

What you love—turn away from your ruin.

That reflection of yours,

which you perceive,

is a ghost image.

That of yours has nothing for you.

It both comes and waits with you,

and withdraws with you—

if you are able to withdraw. (12)


1. Aonia was a region in modern-day Boeotia that, according to Ovid, was the home of the Muses (Ovid 155).

2. According to Ovid, Jupiter gave Tiresias his prophetic gift. Juno and Jupiter were quarreling about whether women or men had more pleasure in love, so in order to settle the question, they asked Tiresias, who had been transformed from man to woman when he beat copulating snakes in the forest. Having answered contrary to Juno, he was blinded by her. To thank Tiresias for proving him right, Jupiter gave him his prophetic abilities (Ovid 3.314-346).

3. Cephisus is also the father of Diogeneia, and he is the son of Pontus and Thalassa. He was worshipped in the temple of Amphiaraus in Oropus in East Attica (Smith 671).

4. Here, Ovid does not use “tamen” post-positively, probably to emphasize that even though Echo is powerless to speak voluntarily, she still speaks.

5. It is difficult to discern who the victim is in this myth. Although Echo is the pursuer, she is the one who suffers from the flight, rather than the pursued, Narcissus. This opposes most of the erotic myths in the Metamorphoses where the pursued is the victim. Daphne loses her humanity after being chased by Apollo, and Io is exiled because of Jupiter. In this myth, however, both the pursuer and the pursued suffer. Echo withers away because she was scorned, and Narcissus dies because of his inability to love anybody but himself.

6. “Inquit” can relate to Tiresias (translated he said) but in order to emphasize the haunting nature of his prophesy, here it is impersonal.

7. In “Ovid and the Renaissance Body,” Gina Bloom analyzes George Sandys’s English translation of Ovid’s Echo and Narcissus episode. In Sandys, Echo manipulates her curse in order to say what she intends. For example, Sandys translates Narcissus’s “ecquis adest?” as “Is anyone nigh?” to which Echo responds, “I”. Bloom argues that whereas Ovid questions whether Echo’s speech and intentions are voluntary or not, Sandys’s translation suggests that Echo somehow found self-expression in her limited speech (Bloom 131). Yet in the Latin, it is clear that Ovid wanted Echo’s speech to be ambiguous and eerily resonant of her desires.

Echo’s speech is not legitimate according to H.P. Grice’s Cooperative Principle. When Narcissus asks, “ecquis adest?”, Echo gives an annoyingly coy answer: “adest.” She does not give the most informative answer and so breaks the Maxim of Quantity—her curse prevents her from doing so. Additionally, Echo breaks the Maxims of Manner. Echo’s replies are so obscure, ambiguous, and brief that Narcissus is stupefied. Although one can argue that Echo intended for her answers to be so obscure, ambiguous, and brief that Narcissus would be so curious that he desired a meeting, that analysis ignores Ovid’s statement that “natura repugnant/ nec sinit incipiat./Sed, quod sinit, illa parata est/exspectare sonos, ad quos sua verba remittat.” Echo is at the mercy of whatever Narcissus happens to say. While Narcissus intends to simply meet with the disembodied voice, Echo intends to consummate her passions; Echo’s mental image of the order “coeamus” is different than Narcissus’s. If Narcissus meant “coeamus” as Echo meant, then he would not have fled from her. Echo’s mental image is reflecting her desires. Therefore, Echo’s speech is not intentional, and the symmetry of Echo’s and her beloved’s speech is simply a clever literary trope. See Fred Chappell’s poem, “Narcissus and Echo,” for a modern version of Ovid’s wit in constructing Narcissus and Echo’s discourse.

8. Ovid is the first author to tell the story of Echo as associated with Narcissus. Previously, she had been associated with Pan. She was mentioned briefly in the Homeric Hymns as sitting on a mountain wailing as Pan played his pipes (Homer 119), and later, she is the object of Pan’s affections (Homer 169). Longus writes a different fate for Echo; Daphnis tells Chloe that Pan encouraged shepherds and goatherds to rip Echo to pieces because she had spurned his advances (Longus 57). In Apuleius’s Golden Ass, Echo sits on Pan’s lap as he teaches her how to repeat sounds (Apuleius 108). The literature on Narcissus is much more extensive than the literature on Echo. Sigmund Freud defines a disorder after Narcissus; Narcissism, Freud claims, is a perverted way of loving “what he himself is, what he himself was, and what he himself would like to be” (Freud 21). He is, however, in the mythology before Metamorphoses. In the Homeric hymns to Demeter, a narcissus flower entices Persephone (Homer 5). Narcissus has inspired poets and playwrights through the centuries, from Jean- Jacques Rousseau’s play, Narcisse, ou L’amant de lui meme, to Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Narziss.”

9. This phrase in Latin is “sic hanc, sic alias”, translated literally as, so for this, thus another. It is translated here as so, on another note, in order to emphasize Ovid’s treatment of Echo’s story versus Narcissus’s. Echo dies, and so does Narcissus, but Ovid does not lament Echo’s death the way he does Narcissus’s. There is no lengthy appositive mourning her folly.

10. According to Hesiod in the Theogony, Nemesis (here called Rhamnusia because of her sanctuary at Rhamnous) is the daughter of Night, and as her name suggests, she is “the bane of mortals” (Hesiod 61).

11. Max Nelson posits that Narcissus gazing at his own reflection is a type of scrying. He argues that scrying was often performed by a “boy medium” and that there are frescoes of Narcissus gazing into a bowl of water rather than a pool, suggesting that Ovid’s use of the words umbra and imago denote supernatural undertones. Narcissus was likely summoning his partner in the underworld, and hearing the disembodied voice of Echo was a consequence of this trance (Nelson).

12. Ovid’s invocation is emphasized here. In context, the advice is given in vain to Narcissus, but in combination with Echo’s story, these lines are a moral to the reader. Both Echo and Narcissus lost themselves in fruitless pursuit of passion; Ovid advises against this. The story of Narcissus’s folly is allegorized by Plotinus in the Enneads (1.6.8).

Works Cited

Apuleius, Lucius. The Golden Ass. Trans. W. Adlington. N.p.: Horace Liverwright, 1927. Print.

Bloom, Gina. “Localizing Disembodied Voice in Sandys’s Englished ‘Narcissus and Echo’”. Ovid and the Renaissance Body. Ed. GORAN V. STANIVUKOVIC. University of Toronto Press, 2001. 129–154. Web.

Cashford, Jules. The Homeric Hymns. London: Penguin, 2003. Print.

Hesiod. Works of Hesiod and the Homeric Hymns. Trans. Daryl Hine. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2005. Print.

Longus. Daphnis and Chloe. Trans. Ronald McCail. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2002. Print.

Nelson, Max. “Narcissus: Myth and Magic”. The Classical Journal 95.4 (2000): 363–389. Web.

Ovid. The Metamorphoses of Ovid. Trans. Allen Mandelbaum. San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1995. Print.

Sigmund, Freud. "Freud's "On Narcissism: An Introduction"" Choice Reviews Online 29.05 (1992): n. pag. Web. 24 Oct. 2015.

Smith, William, ed. A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. Ann Arbor: Uof Michigan Library, 2005. Http://name.umdl.umich.edu/ACL3129.0001.001. Web.

Plotinus. The Enneads. Trans. Stephen MacKenna. N.p.: Penguin, 1991. Print.