Echo was not really foolish. The fact is, she was just a little bit too clever.
The nymphs were lovely creatures who enjoyed a party more than just about any of the immortals, except maybe great Jupiter himself.
And, when it came to Jupiter and parties, nobody was more jealous than his wife, Juno.
When she suspected that he was off flirting with naiads or dryads or neireids or any of the other pretty little creatures of the woods and waters, she would come looking for him.
That was when the nymph Echo would pretend to be foolish. She would meet Juno and stop to talk with her, and while Juno tried to end the conversation, Echo would talk and talk and talk
By the time Juno got away from the chattering Echo, the party had broken up and all of Echo’s friends had scattered back to the trees and ponds and rivers where they lived.
Like most clever tricks, it worked very well once or twice. But Juno was no fool, and she quickly figured out what was going on.
The next time she came looking to find her husband and break up a party, Juno purposely took a path where she knew Echo would see her.
Sure enough, the sweet-looking young nymph came strolling through the woods and greeted the queen of Olympus with an innocent smile. But as soon as she started her silly chatter, Juno turned on her with fury.
“Madam, from this moment on you will not speak until you are spoken to!” she thundered, and Echo froze in terror, and in silence.
Juno stared at her for a moment, and then spoke again. “You will speak only when spoken to, and you will say no more than is said to you.”
And with that, Juno strode off to find her husband before he had a chance to sneak away again.
Poor Echo was doomed from that day to do no more than repeat what was said to her, and this made her very poor company. She began to keep to herself in the mountains.
There was one person Echo truly wanted to talk to. He was a young man named Narcissus, who was splendidly handsome. Echo had seen him in the forest once, and fell in love with him immediately.
This had been before she had angered Juno, but she had been too shy to talk to him then. And now she could not.
Narcissus was a most unusual fellow. When he was just a boy, it became clear that he was a great deal more good-looking than average. His mother began to wonder if he were destined for some great future, and went to an oracle.
“The boy will live a long, successful life,” the oracle promised, “as long as he never gets to know himself.”
The mother pondered this prophecy, and realized that it must have to do with his good looks. So she ridded their home of all mirrors to make sure that he grew up with no sense of how handsome he was.
And yet Narcissus knew he was somehow special, because everyone seemed to fall in love with him.
But he never loved anyone back. In fact, he wasn’t even particularly friendly or nice to them. He wasn’t really mean, but he acted as if other people didn’t matter, which is much the same thing.
This angered those who tried to get to know him. They complained to Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, asking that one day Narcissus might, too, fall hopelessly in love with someone as cold and uncaring as himself.
And so it happened that one day Narcissus was in the forest with some friends when he became separated from them. Echo saw him, and followed eagerly as he wandered the paths.
“Is anybody here?” he shouted.
“Here,” Echo called back.
“Come find me!” Narcissus shouted.
“Find me!” Echo answered.
She quickly realized that calling to him was not going to work, so she ran up to him and started to give him a hug.
But cold Narcissus acted as he always did. “Get away! I don’t want you near me!” he snapped.
“Want you near me ...” poor Echo said.
But Narcissus walked away, and Echo sadly went back into the forest, where she faded away to nothing more than a voice.
As for Narcissus, he paused at a pool of water to get a drink,and, when he looked into the water, Nemesis made sure there was a reflection in which he saw a very handsome face looking back at him.
It was such a handsome face, in fact, that Narcissus did just what all those people had wished he would do: He fell in love with a cold, uncaring person who could never love him back.
Narcissus stared into the pool and could not tear himself away. He knew it was a reflection, but he knew, too, that he could do nothing about it. He was hopelessly in love. Narcissus stretched out on the ground for days, gazing at his reflection until, as his body weakened from hunger, he could say only “Farewell ...” to the reflection that looked back up at him.
And deep in the forest, a voice sadly repeated “Farewell ...”
Text by Mike Peterson, c. 2005 - illustrations by Dylan Meconis, c. 2005