Narcissus – beauty awakens

Changes in society don’t mean a change in individual values.

The meaning of words, the feelings they produce may change, but individuals share experiences across space, time and cultures

Narcissus represents self admiration, to love looking at yourself in the mirror, the appearance of Beauty, being-in-itself.

Narcissus (Caravaggio) 1597–1599

This story is so simple, yet so profound because every self admiring individual, regardless of their circumstances, will experience this moment.

Narcissus, at the flower of his youth, the prepubescent boy arrives at the pool, and sees his image reflected in the water. This moment announces the appearance of the Self, his consciousness comes to a fatal realization, the self conceit that no one will ever reach the level of beauty he was born with. That nothing in society (desire for riches, affection, fame, etc.) can ever compare with the unalienable, priceless and fragile grace his lithe body exudes.

The age of Narcissus, the teenage boy just before puberty is essential to his story so people can relate to his youthful self realization. If he was a full grown man, then he could not be so easily related to because he has already hardened into his own unique life experiences. The age of prepubescence marks his inner and outer softness and unformed personality that can be internalized by the audience.

His father was a river god and his mother a nymph, which means that he is an aquatic deity representing the purity of nature, he rebels against society’s rules like getting married and finding employment, he doesn’t like the dirty town or the people who expect him to contribute to society. He is a prince of nature.

Narcissus never develops any significant relationships with any other person. He remains the eternal virgin, never letting anyone come close to the pool of water.

Beautiful preteen boys look like girls, and he saw his feminine counterpart in the pools reflection, falling in love with the girl looking back to him.

He wants to be free forever in the beautiful, clean and calming virgin forest for all time, Narcissus symbolizes humanity that wants to reject the conventions of society and return to the primordial garden of immortality.

Narcissus poeticus (plant)

His death by the pool of water signifies his rejection of the dictates of society which forces individuals to live for each other’s needs. The renunciation of society and the worship of the self image, inculcating the feeling of being too pure for the company of others. Aristotle’s quote that a man living without society is either a beast or a god applies to Narcissus as he deifies himself and turns into a flower.

The introspection of Narcissus, his feeling about himself, is shared by future stories of heroes. This is the most accessible and personal myth, the gateway into other stories with beautiful protagonists. They start at this level of self reflection, and will move on from the pool of water to achieve their destiny.

The following from Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit highlights his fate:

  1. The transition is made from the form of the one or unit into that of universality, from one absolute abstraction into the other, from the purpose of pure being-for-self which has thrown off all community with others, into the sheer opposite which is thus equally abstract being-in-itself. Consequently, the form in which this appears is that the individual has simply perished, and the absolute unyieldingness of individual existence is pulverized on the equally unrelenting but continuous world of actuality. Since it is, as consciousness, the unity of itself and its opposite, this downfall is still for it its goal and realization, as also the contradiction of what was for it essence and what is in itself essence. It experiences the double meaning implicit in what it did, viz. when it took hold of life and possessed it; but in doing so it really laid hold of death.

The transformation of Narcissus into a flower, emphasizes the trancendence from an individual consiousness of self admiration and beauty into an immutable, universal experience of beauty in nature.

The story of Narcissus shares symbolic elements with the story of Jesus, especially the pool of water. Narcissus became infatuated with his own eternally clean reflection in the pool of water, and he was immortalized for his self love.

Jesus, on the other hand, would utilize the pool of water for baptism, to clean the bodies and souls of all humankind, symbolic of purification, of spiritual cleansing, rebirth, and a new way of life focused on love and compassion for salvation.

Narcissus and Jesus both felt the same intensity of love to such an unparralled extent that they would die for their love, but while Narcissus only died for himself, the Messiah sacrificed his life to prove Gods love for humanity.

First Temple Era Christian Ruins in Jerusalem with pool of water

In conclusion, the story of Narcissus is a timeless narrative that transcends cultures and eras. It serves as a powerful symbol of self-admiration, beauty, and the individual’s relationship with society and nature. From his youthful self-realization to his transformation into a flower, Narcissus represents the universal human experience of self-reflection and the desire to connect with unblemished beauty.

Jan Roos

The parallels between the Narcissus myth and other narratives, such as the story of Jesus and philosophical concepts like those discussed by Hegel, highlight the enduring relevance of this simple yet profound story. It reveals that the themes of self-love, transcendence, and the tension between the individual and the universal continue to captivate our imaginations.

As we explore the depths of mythology and philosophy, we find that the narrative of Narcissus is not only a gateway into understanding other stories with beautiful protagonists but also a mirror to our own introspection. We, like Narcissus, grapple with questions of self-worth, beauty, and our place in the world. The Narcissus myth, with its themes of self-love and transformation, offers a mirror to our own introspection, inviting us to contemplate the relationship between our individual experiences and the universal human journey

Pool of Water for Baptism, Self Reflection, Transformation