Art in Metamorphoses: Echo and Narcissus

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Art in Metamorphoses
Centuries of Ovid's Influence
Curated by Natalie Dockhorn


Waterhouse, Echo and Narcissus, 1903
"The moment Echo saw Narcissus
She was in love. She followed him
Like a starving wolf
Following a stag too strong to be takled.
And like a cat in the winter at a fire
She could not edge close enough
To what singed her, and would burn her.
She almost burst 
With longing to call out to him in somehow
Let him know what she felt.
But she had to wait
For some other to speak
So she could snitch their last words
With whatever sense they might lend her."
-Ovid's Metamorphoses


Caravaggio, Narcissus, 1599 
Narcissus, considered the boy next door who girls and men alike cannot control their attraction for, would rather be out hunting then indulging in the attention of his fans. A nymph cursed by Juno is forced to only speak the last words of the sentences she hears. The nymph's name is Echo, and when Echo falls for Narcissus, she waits patiently for someone else's words so that she may tell him her feelings. The story goes that Narcissus does not feel the same for Echo and the nymph proceeds to beg the gods to punish the man for not loving her back. This prayer is received by Nemesis, the god of revenge. For Echo's revenge, Nemesis finds Narcissus after a long days hunt and punishes him by having him fall in love with is refection in the stream.

Narcissus has been painted through the years looking into his refection and withering away with self absorption. Earlier works, such as this Caravaggio painted in 1599, shows  pieces new techniques and perspective, which this particular myth allowed. Waterhouse painted Echo in the scene as well and also puts Narcissus laying all the way down to the stream. This positioning and the other character adds to Narcissus' self-obsession to not even notice his almost lover. Both paintings show a different type of loneliness in them. The loneliness of Echo as she watches her love in Waterhouse's, and the complete darkness of being still and alone in Caravaggio's demonstrate the transformation of the story over the years.

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