News and Events

Library List

Mission Statement

Contact us

Carl Jung

Temenos

Other Jung Socs.

Jungian analyst Rae Chittock recently spent an evening with us
exploring the myth of Narcissus. Here Rae outlines our exploration.


Thinking about the myth of Narcissus
and what it means to bear a Narcissistic wound

By Rae Chittock


We began the evening by acknowledging the original myth, wondering why it had survived for thousands of years. Our project on the night was to listen to the Narcissus myth – a recent version by poet Ted Hughes (1997) – and wonder why it has survived and how relevant it might be for people like us in Canberra in 2019.



We gathered as our ancestors might have done, in a semicircle around the presentation, with the invitation to join in, make comment, as moved. Our approach was to listen to the story, then to contemplate each of the named characters in order of appearance, use the data offered by the myth to extract clues about the developmental range and story each character appeared to contain. We then watched each character in conversation with a Jungian Analyst (Canberra’s Katina Ellis) in order to connect the myth with twenty-first century Jungian work. Beautiful, sixteen years old Narcissus, whom we know to be central, is the last character we meet. By the end of the evening we wondered whether the myth had offered us glimpses of Narcissism and Narcissistic personality disorder, set in a world of people remarkably like our ourselves.

Just to give ourselves a little more data we read the story of Tiresias, the one before Narcissus in the Ovid order of presentation, for a little more background on the blind seer Tiresias who in the Narcissus myth utters his first, mysterious prophetic vision. We decided he is the survivor and mature personality, the reference point against the other might be contrasted.

These are the myth’s protagonists in the order that they appear, and the descriptions of them that came to our minds as we met them and thought about them.

 

Jupiter / Zeus

King of the world on Olympus : arbitrary, powerful, self-referencing

Juno / Hera

Wife of the King of the world: often angry, vengeful. In anger struck Echo unable to speak except the last words of others

Tiresias

Seer blinded by angry Hera who did not like his answer to a question, and given, in consolation, inner sight and secrets of the future by Zeus.

We concluded Tiresias is the ‘mature personality’ in the story.

Liriope

Mother of Narcissus. She does not speak. Gossips ask Tiresias about the  future of her beautiful child. His answer is mysterious, unclear.

Cephisus

A major powerful river in Beotia, where the myth grew, and father of Narcissus. He traps Liriope by changing course, leaving her with child

Gossips

Crowd. Curious about his unnatural beauty and chance of survival, they ask Tiresias to interpret Narcissus for them

Echo

Smart Nymph of the fountain who distracted Hera with wit to buy time for her friends, consorting with Zeus, to escape Hera’s rage

Nymphs and youths rebuffed by Narcissus

Nameless group of young men and women who had found Narcissus attractive and tried, and failed, to have them notice him

Rebuffed youth who prays for justice

Asks the gods to let Narcissus suffer and know the pain of unrequited love. Nemesis takes up his cause.

Nemesis

She who acts to right the world – the corrector – grants the prayer of the slighted youth and Narcissus is struck down by all-consuming self love

Narcissus

He whose love-laden torments as he gazes, unrequited, at his own image form the core of the myth

In order to bring the myth into relationship with Jungian perspec

In order to bring the myth into relationship with Jungian perspectives, after meeting the players in the myth we followed each to a visit to the Analyst. This gave us more focus on the Narcissistic wound each carries. We heard each character speak his/her mind in a therapeutic conversation and learnt more about how each experienced the world, and what brought either pain or pleasure.

 

Jupiter / Zeus

Concerned with his power and entitlements as visitor to earth and King on Olympus

Juno / Hera

Justifying her fury and need for respect by Zeus, other gods and mortals

Tiresias

Mature discussion about the suffering of people and the difficulty and perhaps rarity of the transition from youth to maturity

Liriope

Unable to cope with her distant, difficult, beautiful, suffering son

Gossips

Holders of the shared mind, the general opinion: no therapeutic visit

Cephisus

Proud of the beauty of his son Narcissus, frustrated by his own inability to intervene, disappointed by Liriope’s mothering ineptness

Echo

Unable to speak but willing to echo the therapist’s interpretations when they capture her own thoughts: that she set off Hera’s spite; she has been given a terrible punishment; she is a victim of love for Narcissus.

Nymphs and youths rebuffed by Narcissus

These do not emerge individually. We know there are several, each hurt by offering love to Narcissus and receiving none in return

Nemesis

Full of righteous simplicity in her decision to punish Narcissus, to force him to experience unrequited love, to know what he’d done to others, to set the world right. Proud of her capacity to perform this difficult task. 

Narcissus

The beautiful 16year old youth, so paralysed by his love for his own image in a pond, an image of someone who will not love him in return. A young man so hungry to love and be loved that he wastes away and dies rather than leave the image, his body replaced by a small white flower.

 

Once we had gathered what we could from the myth as primary source and what each of us understood of Narcissism, group discussion became more speculative and original. The qualities of Tiresias were identified. Feeling and concern emerged, particularly for Echo and Narcissus, the two characters felt to be most like ourselves.

 

Echo was seen as probably an exceptionally smart and probably beautiful young woman – sassy and witty, but perhaps naive and without worldly power or male protection – kept in check and hurt beyond recovery by Hera, seen as a powerful, older matronly woman highly invested in maintenance of the status quo and in her control of a recalcitrant, philandering husband. Talk drifted into what happens to young women who meet this treatment in the workplace, and what must be learnt to bypass Hera. Echo’s treatment was recognised as surprisingly commonplace and sad.

 

Narcissus remained disturbed and disturbing. There was discomfort and disbelief for someone dying for the contents of a mirror, although understanding of the power of it as a device which, can entrap. Why he could not get up and walk away remained a fixed and powerful mystery which no group member could quite penetrate. What the flower might mean – new beginning? move to another phase? symbol that appearance is not so important? - became the final focus of the work of the night.

 

Hughes, Ted. Tales From Ovid. (1997). London. Faber and Faber.  

~0~

<-Home