"Her name is Echo; she always answers back"
Ovid, Metamorphoses 3
Poor Echo. Like a computer, she could only repeat what she'd been told. Perhaps her doomed love affair with Narcissus is the ultimate metaphor for the relationship between Man and Machine.
he wretched girl was always a chatterbox. Her friends, Juno's special attendants, found a way of cashing in on her weakness. All of them looked forward to a little "attention" from Jupiter, when their mistress' back was turned, and Echo volunteered to keep Juno chatting whilst they got on with the job. Echo was the only one who never slept with Jupiter - but she was the one Juno punished. And what a sadistic punishment it was! She did not strike her dumb (for this she could have been pitied), but she made her able only to repeat the last words of someone else's speech. At best she would sound ridiculous: at worst ... wait and see!
arcissus was young and drop-dead gorgeous. He was not yet quite a man, but was not still a boy. His beauty appealed to women and men alike - each gender seeing in him enough of the opposite sex to be overpoweringly attractive. [Would he today be fronting Westlife, or be a Back Street Boy?] But Narcissus was only capable of feeling love for one person - himself.
unting was Narcissus' passion. While he was out one day with his friends, chasing the deer, Echo spotted him. She was smitten. She began to stalk him. The nearer she got, the more demanding her lust became. But, because of her problem, she couldn't just go up to him, or use any normal seduction tricks. She had to hide, and wait, and hope he'd say something that could express what she felt when she repeated it back. But meanwhile, Narcissus had got himself lost, and separated from his friends ...
arcissus [shouts]: "Is there anyone here?"
Echo [eagerly, scarcely believing her luck]: "Here!"
Narcissus: "Come to me!"
Echo: "Come to me!"
Narcissus [starting to get irritated]: "Why are you avoiding me?"
Echo: "Why are you avoiding me?"
Narcissus: "Here! Come with me!"
Echo [shouting in ecstasy, well aware of the sexual innuendo]: "Come with me!"
She rushes out of her hiding place and flings herself at him. Narcissus, repelled by the idea of physical contact, pushes her away, and starts to run.
Narcissus [savagely]: "Take your hands off me! No! How dare you touch
Echo [screaming]: "Touch me!"
e was gone. Echo was alone, frustrated by her unrequited passion. Gradually she pined away. Her beauty dried up, shrivelled and wasted away. Finally only her voice remained. Because she was immortal, she could not die for love, however much she longed to.
ne of his other rejected lovers (male as it happened) prayed to Diana:
let him find out what it's like to love someone you can never have. Hunting
as usual one day, he found a pool - cool, sheltered and remote. As he
bent to drink he saw a sight so irresistibly attractive that he immediately
fell in love. At last he knew what it was like to be at the mercy of passion;
at last Narcissus was in love - with his own reflection.
He tried to kiss the tantalising image, to hug it. He could not tear himself away from the beauty he hungered to possess. He knew it was himself, but he was powerless to resist.
nd so, like Echo, Narcissus began to pine away, wasted by an impossible
love. Soon his beauty and his strength were gone - consumed by the fire
inside. Echo saw it happen. She was still angry, but she knew the pain
he was suffering. He cried "Alas!" "Alas!" she repeated. His last words
took on a terrible irony:
"Ah, the boy I loved in vain!"
"The boy I loved in vain" she echoed.
"Goodbye" said Narcissus to his reflection.
"Goodbye!" repeated Echo, as he breathed his last.
here was no sign of his body. Echo and the other nymphs who'd loved him came to mourn but found no one. But a new flower was growing by the pool, its white petals surrounding a red circle: the Narcissus. Men still hear Echo's voice, in the woods or mountains where she hides.