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N.S. Gill

Narcissus

By June 1, 2006

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NarcissusMany myths from Greek mythology come to us via the first century A.D. Roman poet Ovid who wrote a Metamorphoses ('Transformations') about the physical changes of mostly humans and nymphs into other things or vice versa. For example, in the story of the great flood, when the only remaining humans, Pyrrha and Deucalion (children of the titans Epimetheus and Prometheus), threw rocks behind their backs, the rocks turned into living creatures to repopulate the world, and when Lycaon offended Jupiter with his predatory behavior he was turned into a wolf. If you're a fan of horror movies, the word lycanthrope is related to the name Lycaon, which is derived from the Greek, rather than Latin, even though that was the language in which Ovid wrote.
Etymology: Lupus is the Latin for wolf. The proto-IndoEuropean word for wolf is *wlqwos/*lukwos, which gives us 'wolf' in English, 'lykos' in Greek, and 'lupus' in Latin. Were, which is Old English for 'man', is cognate with the Latin 'vir' >> werewolf.

One of the more familiar stories from Ovid is that of Echo and Narcissus. Narcissus was a beautiful youth who spurned the love of the nymph Echo. Echo pined away into a mere echo of her former self, only capable of repeating what others said, and Narcissus turned into the flower we know as a narcissus. Oxyrrhynchus online reports on a papyrus from the first century B.C. that also tells a story of Narcissus, but its details are different, suggesting that Ovid may have altered the traditional story of Narcissus. It has been suggested that the papyrus should be attributed to Parthenius of Nicaea. In this version there is no Echo, there are only male lovers, and Narcissus kills himself. Read more about it in New light on the Narcissus myth: P.Oxy. LXIX 4711.

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