What's in a Word | All Blogs


Vanity, thy name is Narcissus

By Debra Dobbins

David Brooks’ commentary on Mel Gibson’s inflated ego ran with the headline above on Sunday.

The word narcissism comes from Greek mythology. Ancient Greeks told numerous stories, or myths, to explain occurrences in nature. When the sun rose, for example, Phaethon, the sun god, was beginning another chariot ride across the sky. In stormy weather, Zeus, god above all, was hurling thunderbolts in yet another temper-fit.

After seeing reflections in a spring, the Greeks devised the story of Narcissus, a handsome but egotistic youth who was condemned to staring at his own reflection for the rest of his days. In the water Narcissus saw the face of his beloved, but his attempts to reach him and speak to him were in vain.

Legend has it that when Narcissus died, a white flower in the lily family grew where he had been. The flower still bears his name.

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