This is a post for my March book challenge, #marchmonthofmythology.
One of my favourite myths is the one of Echo and Narcissus. It’s also one of my favourite parts of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. I will return to Narcissus later this month (on the 10th). For now, I will tell you Echo’s part of the story.
Zeus is not the best husband
Echo was a nymph who loved to talk. She was such a chatterbox that the other nymphs got the idea for a perfect diversion: whenever Zeus was off to some secluded meadow, doing things he shouldn’t be doing with them, they would send Echo to distract Hera whenever the nymphs needed a quick getaway. Echo would talk and talk, the nymphs would flee, and Hera would definitely not find out and do something terrible.
Hera did find out and you can probably guess what happened next
When Hera found out about this cunning scheme, she was understandably upset. In keeping with her habit of punishing messengers and other people who were really mostly in the wrong place at the wrong time (probably caused for a big part by the frustration of not being able to punish her husband, who was, after all, king of the gods), she cursed Echo: from then on, the nymph could not say anything except to repeat whatever she heard other people say. (I told you you could guess what happened.)
Echo soon became an outcast because the nymphs were too annoyed by her to stay near her. She roamed the woods until she met a very beautiful young man called Narcissus.
Narcissus is the worst
Narcissus was out hunting with his friends, but he’d gotten separated from the group. He was calling out things like ‘Where are you?’ and ‘Is somebody there?’ and Echo repeated his cries. Thinking he’d found someone who could help him, he shouted ‘I’m here’, which she, of course, repeated. Echo instantly fell in love with him (everyone did – more about this on the 10th), but she couldn’t talk to him: she could only repeat his own words back to him.
‘Can you help me?’
‘Do you know the way here?’
‘Know the way here?’
‘Have you seen my friends?’
Narcissus soon got tired of this one sided conversation, but Echo was intent on letting herself be understood. All the while, she’d come closer to him, and now she reached out to touch him.
‘Ugh, stay away from me! I’ll find the way on my own.’
‘On my own…’
‘What did I say? Leave!’
Echo slowly moved away.
‘I should have thought better, asking for help from someone like you.’
‘Like you,’ Echo whispered as she disappeared behind the trees. Heartbroken, she kept walking until she reached a deserted cave, where she hid, never to be seen again. Her body slowly turned to dust, but, as Ovid tells it, her voice remained.
Echo – quote
For this challenge I could pick no other quote than the ending of this story in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
vox tantum atque ossa supersunt:
vox manet, ossa ferunt lapidis traxisse figuram.
inde latet silvis nulloque in monte videtur,
omnibus auditur: sonus est, qui vivit in illa.
Only her voice and her bones remain: then, only voice; for they say that her bones were turned to stone. She hides in woods and is seen no more upon the mountain-sides; but all may hear her, for voice, and voice alone, still lives in her.
– Ovid, Metamorphoses, translation Frank Justus Miller
I don’t have any poetic translations of the Metamorphoses in English, so you will have to do with this prose one from the Loeb edition of the text. For anyone who would like to see what a more literal translation would look like, here is my own (quick) translation:
only her voice and bones are left:
her voice remains, they say her bones took on the form of stone.
From then on she hides in woods and is seen by no one on the mountain,
heard by all: it is sound, that lives in her.