Echo

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Echo generally refers to the reflection of sound. However, its mythic origin illuminates current meaning.

In Greek mythology, Echo (Greek: Ἠχώ, Ēchō/Hēchō) was an Oread (a mountain nymph) who loved her own voice. Zeus loved consorting with beautiful nymphs and visited them on Earth often. Eventually, Zeus's wife, Hera, became suspicious, and came from Mt. Olympus in an attempt to catch Zeus with the nymphs.

Zeus, the King of the Olympians, was known for his many love affairs. Sometimes the young and beautiful Nymph Echo would distract and amuse his wife Hera with long and entertaining stories, while Zeus took advantage of the moment to ravish the other mountain nymphs. When Hera discovered the trickery she punished the talkative Echo by taking away her voice, except in foolish repetition of another's shouted words. Thus, all Echo could do was repeat the voice of another.[1]

Echo fell in love with a vain youth named Narcissus, who was the son of the blue Nymph Leirope of Thespia. The river god Cephisus had once encircled Leirope with the windings of his streams, and thus trapping her, had seduced the nymph. Concerned about the baby's welfare, Leirope went to consult the prophet Teiresias regarding her son's future. Teiresias told the nymph that Narcissus "would live to a ripe old age, as long as he never knew himself."[1]

One day when Narcissus was out hunting stags, Echo stealthily followed the handsome youth through the woods, longing to address him but unable to speak first. When Narcissus finally heard footsteps and shouted "Who's there?", Echo answered "Who's there?" And so it went, until finally Echo showed herself and rushed to embrace the lovely youth. He pulled away from the nymph and vainly told her to leave him alone. Narcissus left Echo heartbroken, and she spent the rest of her life in lonely glens pining away for the love she never knew until only her voice remained. However, in other versions Echo cries until she is stone and an invisible Echo (probably her ghost/spirit) haunts the Earth.

Ovid's version[1] of the tale states that a girl who had also fallen in love with Narcissus made a prayer to the gods, asking that Narcissus suffer from an unrequited lust just as he had done to others. The prayer was answered by the goddess Nemesis - (she who ruins the proud), makes him fall in love with his own reflection so he stares at himself in the river (as he thinks it is a beautiful person underwater) until he turns pale and eventually dies.

Alternatively, Echo was a nymph who was a great singer and dancer and scorned the love of any man. This angered Pan, a lecherous god, and he instructed his followers to kill her. Echo was torn to pieces and spread all over the Earth. The Titan goddess of the earth, Gaia, received the pieces of Echo, whose voice remains repeating the last words of others. In some versions, Echo and Pan had two children: Iambe and Iynx.

Notes

1. Ovid, 'Metamorphoses'. New york: Oxford University Press Inc., 1998. Print. Trans. Melville, A.D. (pages 61-66)