LLR Books

The narcissus: a flower rooted in mythology


By Ishrat Hyatt

The narcissus is a pretty, small, creamy white -- there are yellow varieties as well -- flower on a long stem, somewhat like a miniature daffodil and it has a strong, heady scent which fills the room if you put a bunch of them in a vase. The narcissus blooms in winter, especially around Christmas time,  so now they are available in plenty and you can find them at flower shops and clutched in the hands of small boys and girls, men and women, who try and sell them at traffic lights or by the roadside, besides being available in flower shops. Come to think of it you rarely see these roaming flower sellers during daylight hours, maybe because they could be considered beggars and would be whisked away by the police, who are trying to control the menace of begging. They can be seen, though, in the evening and at night, unmindful of the cold but hoping you will buy a bunch at the inflated prices they quote – which is okay, I guess, considering not many people succumb to their pleas.
The word Narcissus is derived from the Greek word 'narke', meaning numbness or stupor. Some attribute the naming of the flower to its narcotic fragrance while others debate that it is associated with the poisonous nature of the Narcissus bulbs but according to Greek mythology, Narcissus or Narkissos was a hero of the territory of Thespiae in Boeotia who was renowned for his beauty. Several versions of his myth have survived: it is said that he was so enamoured of his looks that he kept looking into a stream until he turned into the flower known by his name!  Another story is a lesser known variant in which Narcissus had a twin sister. Both dressed similarly and hunted together. Narcissus loved her a lot and when she died, Narcissus pined after her and pretended that the reflection he saw in the water was his sister. Yet another story is that the Narcissus flower was created to entice Demeter's daughter Persephone away from her companions to enable Hades to abduct her.

There are many other myths and legends in the same vein -- mainly about his good looks and the effect they had on people and himself they make for fascinating reading if you into mythology. The term ‘narcissus complex’ has been coined from his behaviour and applies to those who think that they are the most beautiful people on earth and therefore have a superiority complex about their looks -- I’m sure you know a number of such people. I do!

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