What is the moral of the myth of Narcissus in Edith Hamilton’s Mythology?

The moral of the myth of Narcissus in Edith Hamilton’s Mythology is that extreme pride and self-love lead to cruelty, unfulfilled desire, and ultimately one’s downfall. The beautiful Narcissus callously spurns admiration from others, is cursed to fall in love with himself, pines for an unattainable object of desire (i.e., himself), and dies. A final moral may be that grace leads to beauty, as shown by Narcissus’s death leading to the birth of the Narcissus (or daffodil) flower.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, the myth of Narcissus illustrates that excessive pride leads to disregard for others and eternal unfulfilled want.

According to Psychology Today , a narcissist or person with a narcissist personality is self-centered, has a sense of entitlement, craves attention, hungers for appreciation and admiration,...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

In Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, the myth of Narcissus illustrates that excessive pride leads to disregard for others and eternal unfulfilled want.

According to Psychology Today, a narcissist or person with a narcissist personality is self-centered, has a sense of entitlement, craves attention, hungers for appreciation and admiration, and lacks empathy for others. Narcissus encapsulates these qualities; his story and ultimate fate show the downfalls of a narcissist personality.

Hamilton begins his tale describing him as a “beautiful lad.”

His beauty was so great, all the girls who saw him longed to be his, but he would have none of them.

Even though lovely maidens and nymphs try to capture his attention, he spurns them all. Instead of kindly turning them away, he looks aghast at them as if they are not worthy of his attention: “Heartbroken maidens were nothing to him.” Caring nothing about others’ feelings, he callously disregards the consequences of his cruelty—their heartache and pain. Instead of appreciating the girls’ attention, he merely views their special treatment of him with disdained entitlement.

When Echo, the “fairest of the nymphs,” calls to him, he reacts with antipathy as soon as he sees her. She welcomes him with outstretched arms, but he can only turn

away in angry disgust. “Not so,” he said; “I will die before I give you power over me.”

Narcissus cannot allow anyone to have any power over him; to do so would be to yield his position as the object of desire and admiration. The infatuated Echo grants him power over her in a futile attempt to win him—but then is abandoned and wastes away.

The moral of this part of the myth is that you should never let another person with excessive pride and self-regard (and no regard for others) have power over you; do not buy into and follow the other person’s illusion of grandeur.

Narcissus does get his comeuppance when Nemesis—goddess of righteous anger—answers the prayer,

May he who loves not others love himself.

She curses him to fall in love with himself yet never be able to attain his object of affection. When drinking from a pool of water, Narcissus glimpses the reflection of his lovely visage. He instantly pines for what he sees (i.e., himself); however, he cannot touch or grasp it, since it is only a reflection. Narcissus laments,

Now I know … what others have suffered from me, for I burn with love of my own self—and yet how can I reach that loveliness I see mirrored in the water? But I cannot leave it. Only death can set me free.

Like Echo, Narcissus is doomed to pine away for something he cannot have, wasting away to die while locked in a gaze at his reflection.

The moral of this part of the myth is that an inextinguishable desire for what you cannot attain will destroy you. Feeling an eternal lack of satisfaction or always coveting what you cannot possess will undermine—if not ruin—any happiness.

The myth ends with Narcissus’s death resulting in new life.

The nymphs he had scorned were kind to him in death and sought his body to give it burial, but they could not find it. Where it had lain there was blooming a new and lovely flower, and they called it by his name, Narcissus.

Despite Narcissus’s cruelty and lack of empathy toward the nymphs, they show him compassion. Although unable to locate his physical corpse, they are gifted a beautiful, novel creation. The final moral of the myth of Narcissus seems to be that grace, kindness, compassion, and mercy lead to beauty.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team