Sunday, February 7, 2016

Arlene Corwin writes

Oh, How I Understand Vanity 

Oh, how
I now
‘Get’ vanity
And why
It means in vain
And why it is
Hard to dismiss
And why it is so
Glued to ego
                & to pain.
Oh, how I get it!

  Image: Franz von Stuck - v.Stuck / Narcissus / c.1926

Narcissus - Franz von Stuck


  1. Narkissos (Narcissus), the son of the river god Cephissus and the nymph Liriope, was a hunter from Thespiae known for his beauty and pride, in that he disdained those who loved him. Konon, in the 1st century, wrote that Aminias fell in love with him, but Narkissos, spurning him, gave him a sword, with which he killed himself at Narkissos' doorstep after praying that Narkissos be punished for the pain he had caused. Konon's more famous contemporary, Publius Ovidius Naso ("Ovid"), wrote about an oread (mountain nymph) named Echo (from the Greek word for "sound") who resided on Mount Cithaeron. Zeus (Jupiter) often consorted with nymphs, and his jealous wife Hera (Juno) tried to catch him in the act of infidelity. Echo tried to protect Zeus by distracting the goddess with lengthy conversations, and Hera punished her by condemning her to be able only to speak the last few words spoken to her. She saw Narkissos hunting with his friends and was immediately smitten by him and quitly follow him. The hunters became separated, and Narkissos, hearing Echo rustling nearby, called out, "Is anyone there?" Echo repeated, "Is anyone there?", and Narkissos ordered, "Come here." "Come here," Echo repeated. Narkissos, confused, said, "This way, we must come together." Echo answered, "We must come together" and rushed to embrace him. "Hands off!" shouted Narkissos."May I die before you enjoy my body." "Enjoy my body," responded and ran away, humiliated and ashamed. Nemesis (from the Greek "némein," meaning "to give what is due"), the daughter of Zeus and Oceanus, the primeval river-ocean that encircled the world (or maybe the daughter of Erebus [darkness] and Nyx [night]), was a winged goddess wielding a whip or a dagger who bore the epithet "Adrasteia," ("the inescapable"). Deciding that Narkissos must be punished, she lured him to a pool, where he fell in love with own reflection in the water and could not leave. He eventually realized that his love could not be reciprocated and committed suicide. Looking one last time into the pool, he uttered, "Oh marvellous boy, I loved you in vain, farewell." Echo, still infatuated with him and secretly following him, chorused, "Farewell." Then she too began to waste away, her beauty faded, her skin shriveled, her bones turned to stone, and all that remained was the sound of her voice. (In the 2nd century Longus gave a different account of her fate: The Muses had taught Echo to play a number of musical instruments. The nymphs' companion Pan (from "paein," meaning "to pasture"),the god of the wild, shepherds and flocks, rustic music, fields, groves, and wooded glens, became jealous of Echo's musical virtuosity and covetous of her virginity, which she would yield neither to men nor gods. He unwisely chose someone other than Aphrodite in a beauty contest, and she retaliated by having him fall in unrequited love with Echo.In frustration, Pan drove some farmers crazy; they dismembered Echo and scattered the still singing fragments of her body across the fields they were tilling. Gaia (the earth) hid the shreds of Echo within herself to shelter her music, and, at the Muses’ command, Echo’s body continued to sing, imitating with perfect likeness the sound of any earthly thing. Pan, hearing the sound of his own pipes, continued to search frenziedly for the secret student he could never find. According to Lucius Apuleius Madaurensis ("Apuleius"), however, Pan taught Echo to repeat his songs, and in the 10th century the "Suda" claimed that Echo bore Pan a daughter, Inyx, and various fragments mention a second daughter, Iambe.)

  2. Iambe was the daughter of Pan and Echo, granddaughter of Hermes, the goddess of humor and poetry. When Demeter, the goddess of the harvest who presided over grains, soil fertility, the sacred law, and the cycle of life and death, in search of her daughter Persephone after the abduction by Hades (Pluto), arrived in Attica, she was roused from depression by Iambe's bawdy jokes and dance in the iambic meter. Eventually Iambe hanged herself in consequence of the cutting speeches in which she had indulged. "Iambus" (iambic poetry) was originally a genre of Greek poetry that denoted its content rather than its meter. It featured insulting and obscene language and is sometimes referred to as "blame poetry," ranging from humorous ribbing of friends to merciless attacks on outsiders or deviants. It seems to have been particularly popular during times of social change and political dissent, when poets felt entitled or empowered to preach and condemn. It may also have been associated with the phallic rites connected to the cult of Dionysus, which employed the dithyramb, a poetic form that appears to include the same root as "iambus." Eventually, however, it came to mean any poetry of an informal kind that was intended to entertain. It had less status than lyric poetry because of its undignified content and because iambic meter was the simplest of verse forms, the nearest to common speech. An iamb now refers to a metrical foot comprising an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable, the most common metrical form in English prosody.

  3. English poets who regarded themselves as opposed to literary tradition often abandoned iambic poetry altogether. For example, they adopted free verse or wrote prose poems instead, as in "The Disciple" by Oscar Wilde:

    When Narcissus died the pool of his pleasure changed from a cup of sweet waters into a cup of salt tears, and the Oreads came weeping through the woodland that they might sing to the pool and give it comfort.

    And when they saw that the pool had changed from a cup of sweet waters into a cup of salt tears, they loosened the green tresses of their hair and cried to the pool and said, 'We do not wonder that you should mourn in this manner for Narcissus, so beautiful was he.'

    'But was Narcissus beautiful?' said the pool.

    'Who should know that better than you?' answered the Oreads. 'Us did he ever pass by, but you he sought for, and would lie on your banks and look down at you, and in the mirror of your waters he would mirror his own beauty.'

    And the pool answered, 'But I loved Narcissus because, as he lay on my banks and looked down at me, in the mirror of his eyes I saw ever my own beauty mirrored.'


Join the conversation! What is your reaction to the post?