This book addresses man’s growing understanding of the death of self in the mirror of other across the corridors of time – from Narcissus’ ancient pool, to Cicero’s Roman forum, to Rousseau’s Parisian theater, to Diderot’s convent in The Nun, to Sartre’s twentieth-century hell.
2. Ovid 37
Chapter Two Ovid I am he. I sense it and I am not deceived by my own image…Why court then? What I want I have. —Ovid, Metamorphoses (8 AD), 3.463–66 The notion of searching for self outside of self was expressed by the ancient Greeks in the myth of Narcissus (Greek Νάρκισσος). In this legend Narcissus was the son of the river god Cephisus in Boeotia and the nymph Liriope. He was distinguished for his very attractive looks and many fell in love with him, including immortals and mortals, males and females. According to Ov- id’s Metamorphosis, Book 3, the blind seer Tiresias told his mother that her son would have a long life only “If he does not know himself.” As usually happens with such prophecies in classic literature, the characters do not give them another thought, for years and years, until the cryptic words come true. There are several legends that recount what happened after that. Accord- ing to one, he was loved by the nymph Echo, but he, vain and aloof, spurned her love. Rejected, Echo was overcome by grief and wasted away to nothing, leaving only her melodious voice. According to an earlier legend, he rejected a young man by the name of Ameinias. In both versions, his rejection of those who loved him drew the gods’ vengeance upon him and as punishment, Artemis or Nemesis, depending on the version of the story, caused him to stop for a drink at a spring; he fell...
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