oil on canvas (60 x 80 cm.)
EKHO (or Echo) was an Oreiad nymph of Mount Kithairon (Cithaeron) in Boiotia. The goddess Hera cursed her with the voice of the echo, to only repeat the last words of what was said before, as punishment for distracting her with chatter. She was loved by the god Pan, and herself became enamoured of the boy Narkissos (Narcissus). When the youth spurned her advances the faded away, leaving only her echoing voice behind. In ancient Greek vase painting Ekho was depicted as a winged nymph with her face shrouded in a veil.
"Cephisius [i.e. the boy Narkissos, Narcissus] now had reached his sixteenth year and seemed both man and boy; and many a youth and many a girl desired him, but hard pride ruled in that delicate frame, and never a youth and never a girl could touch his haughty heart. Once as he drove to nets the frightened deer a strange-voiced Nymphe observed him, who must speak if any other speak an cannot speak unless another speak, resounding Echo. Echo was still a body, not a voice, but talkative as now, and with the same power of speaking, only to repeat, as best she could, the last of many words, Saturnia [Hera] had made her so; for many a time when the great goddess might have caught the Nymphae lying with Jove [Zeus] upon the mountainside, Echo discreetly kept her talking till the Nymphae had fled away; and when at last the goddess saw the truth, ‘Your tongue’, she said, ‘with which you tricked me, now its power shall lose, your voice avail but fro the briefest use.’ The event confirmed the threat: when speaking ends, all she can do is double each last word, and echo back again the voice she's heard.
Now when she saw Narcissus wandering in the green byways, Echo's heart was fired; and stealthily she followed, and the more she followed him, the nearer flamed her love. As when a torch is lit and from the tip the leaping sulphur grasps the offered flame. She longed to come to him with winning words, to urge soft please, but nature now opposed; she might not speak the first but--wheat she might--waited for words her voice could say again. It chanced Narcissus, searching for his friends, called ‘Anyone here?’ and Echo answered ‘Here!’ Amazed he looked all round and, raising his voice called ‘Come this way!’ and Echo called ‘This way!’ He looked behind and, no one coming, shouted ‘Why run away?’ and heard his words again. He stopped, and cheated by the answering voice, called ‘Join me here!’ and she, never more glad to give her answer, answered ‘Join me here!’ And graced her words and ran out from the wood to throw her longing arms around his neck. He bolted, shouting ‘Keep your arms from me! Be off! I’ll die before I yield to you.’ And all she answered was ‘I yield to you’.
Shamed and rejected in the woods she hides and has her dwelling in the lonely caves; yet still her love endures and grows on grief, and weeping vigils waste her frame away; her body shrivels, all its moisture dries; only her voice and bones are left; at last only her voice, her bones are turned to stone, so in the woods she hides and hills around, for all to hear, alive, but just a sound.
Thus had Narcissus mocked her; others too, Nymphae of Hill and Water and many a man he mocked; till one scorned youth, with raised hands, prayed, ‘So may he love-- and never win his love!’ And Rhamnusia [Nemesis] approved the righteous prayer . . . [and caused Narkissos to fall in love with his own reflection and waste away in grief.]
No longer lasts the body Echo loved. But she, though angry still and unforgetting, grieved for the hapless boy, and when he moaned ‘Alas’, with answering sob she moaned ‘alas’, and when he beat his hands upon his breast, she gave again the same sad sound of woe. His latest words, gazing and gazing still, he sighed ‘alas! The boy I loved in vain!’ And these the place repeats, and then ‘farewell’, and Echo said ‘farewell’. On the green grass he drooped his weary head, and those bright eyes that loved their master’s beauty closed in death . . . His sister Naides wailed and sheared their locks in mourning for their brother; the Dryades too wailed and sad Echo wailed in answering woe. And then the brandished torches, bier and pyre were ready--but no body anywhere; and in its stead they found a flower--behold, white petals clustered round a cup of gold!" Ovid, Metamorphoses 3. 350 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :