The myth of Narcissus is well known. This son of the river god Cephissus and (a nymph [More on this later]) Liriope was led to a pool by Nemesis, the goddess of revenge (allegedly for ignoring/shunning the affections of Echo), and who, as expected fell in love with his own image, never realizing it’s not a real entity, and eventually committed suicide because of the futility of that love which could not be fulfilled.
Recently, while reading a popular answer to a question on quora (“Why do I look good in the mirror but bad in photos?”) I was reminded of the story of Narcissus. Do read the answer, it’s really interesting. But just to sum up, as a context to this post, the theory is that we don’t love our own photos because we’re used to seeing a flipped impression of us, and our face being asymmetric, we are conditioned by our mirror gazing, to love ourselves in a flipped sort of way.
At this point I’ve a few threads that are threatening to run away, so bear with me if I seem to go off in different directions. I’ll try to tie them up somewhere.
One: This really introduces an (or another?) element of (albeit dark) comedy in Narcissus’ story. I mean, he died falling in love with an image of himself, which was not even how he really looked. It was a flipped image of him! So Narcissus wasn’t even in love with himself. Now, in a sense this myth pretty much confirms to a very skin deep idea of love to begin with, in accordance with lot of the classical myths, eastern or western. But be it as it may, what we have here is double mirage! We’ve been told the apocryphal story of Narcissus — as a reminder of falling in love with oneself. But Narcissus wasn’t even in love with himself. He was in love with a flipped skin-deep version of himself.
Two: Is the original apocryphal tale more relevant to us? We with our selfie sticks, and front facing cameras, and instant push to Facebook/Instagram … Funny thing is, we hate our selfies, and spend so much time trying to make them better. When all we need to do is to flip them. But that raises another problem for groupies. Because if we flipped our groupies, everyone else in them would now not so good to us, as we’re used to seeing them non-flipped. So for us to like ourselves, we’d have to (slightly) hate others! The choice, then, like Narcissus, between liking us, or liking the world.
Three: Are those, who spend a lot of time taking their own pictures (and looking at them, and editing them) get more tuned to the other (as in non-flipped) version of themselves (skin-deep)? Do they start liking their selfies (and indeed pictures taken by others) more? And in that limited sense, are FB, Instagrams, and the likes, actually making us more comfortable with our real images? Fast forward a few years, and the generation that started with this online reality, as early as age four or so, may actually start not liking their reflection in the mirror after a while. Would that, then, be the end of narcissism as we know it (only skin-deep, again), or the beginning on the real (in the virtual sense, sigh) narcissism, corrected for the mirror bias?
Four: Maybe, Narcissus being so perfect, did actually have the perfectly symmetrical face, and so he was indeed in love with his own (or almost indistinguishable from his own) image.
Okay, there is no way I’m tying those threads up. So I’ll just touch upon what I promised to talk more about, later, earlier in the piece.
Nymph, wikipedia tells us, “is a minor female nature deity typically associated with a particular location or landform. Different from other goddesses, nymphs are generally regarded as divine spirits who animate nature, and are usually depicted as beautiful, young nubile maidens who love to dance and sing; their amorous freedom sets them apart from the restricted and chaste wives and daughters of the Greek polis“
This again, got me thinking. In popular culture, we’re used to hearing the term nympho/nymph (short for nymphomania) as a slur/abuse. It denotes someone (actually a female someone – unless used clinically) with uncontrolled or excessive libido. So how exactly did a word for minor nature deity transform into a less-than-flattering term (and even a psychological condition?) like that. Was this just a puritanical spin put by later day organized religion that wasn’t comfortable with the animistic worships (how better to diminish deities than to portray them as excessively sexual, especially female deities?). Or was it something else?
The same wikipedia entry was helpful:
Due to the depiction of the mythological nymphs as females who mate with men or women at their own volition, and are completely outside of male control, the term is often used for women who are perceived as behaving similarly. (For example, the title of the Perry Mason detective novel The Case of the Negligent Nymph (1956) by Erle Stanley Gardner is derived from this meaning of the word.)
Which got me wondering, if it was plain sexism, after all, as society turned more and more male dominated? How, indeed, dare females stay sexually out of control? Shame the nymph.