Narcissus in Greek myth is a beautiful Greek boy who finds himself so attractive, he falls in love with his own reflection. From this tale we derive the term narcissism meaning being obsessed with one’s self. There are several variants to the tale of Narcissus, which more or less support this meaning.
An alternate version of the Narcissus myth is that Narcissus had a twin sister who he loved greatly. In some versions he is in love with his sister, which was not uncommon in Greek mythology. The two dress the same and are always together until the sister dies. Narcissus chances to look at the water after her death, and seeing his own reflection, believes it to be his sister.
As a result, Narcissus is not mesmerized by himself, but instead mesmerized by a lost love. This myth is somewhat beautiful in the concept that a person literally creates the memories of lost love ones and thus keeps them alive. However, Narcissus dwells too long at the water. The Narcissus flowers, which often grow near lakes and water sources, are so named to symbolize Narcissus still waiting by the water for his lost sister, and always caught by the past.
Ovid’s Metamorphoses contains the most frequently known stories. Narcissus is so vain, that he neglects and spurns the advances of the nymph Echo. She literally becomes “a whisper of herself,” and can no longer be seen. The goddess Nemesis decides to punish Narcissus for his wanton pride by causing him to fall in love with himself. Thus when Narcissus finds his reflection, he falls in love with it and ultimately dies because he cannot leave the source of his admiration.
In most tales of Narcissus, there is essentially a warning about the dangers of vanity, and of always considering one’s self before others. The film Alfie for example is a modern retelling of narcissism and sexual conquest. The end result, in most retellings is either death, or epiphany through awakening to one’s relative lack of importance in the grand scheme of things.
In both Greek and Roman government, Narcissus is particularly important politically. Since both governments were initially constructed along democratic lines, the individual has rights but is less important. In fact the individual citizen who could vote would and should consider the needs of all above individual desires. The idea of a collective government negates narcissism since an individual’s vote counts only once.