In the most common version of the myth, Narkissos (Narcissus, Νάρκισσος) was a hunter from Thespiae in Boeotia who was known for his beauty. He was the son of the river God Kephissos (Cephissus) and nymph Liriope. He was proud, in that he disdained those who loved him. Nemesis noticed this behavior and attracted Narkissos to a pool, where he saw his own reflection in the water and fell in love with it, not realizing it was merely an image. Unable to leave the beauty of his reflection, Narcissus lost his will to live. Narkissos is the origin of the term 'narcissism', a fixation with oneself and one's physical appearance and/or public perception.

The Roman poet Ovid is our primary source on the myth of Narkissos, but he was, as I said, Roman. Ovid, and Roman mythology in general, has been a subject on this blog before, and always comes with a disclaimer that these views were not, in fact, Hellenic. I have mentioned in passing that I don't feel the Hellenic and Roman Gods are one and the same, although they are often painted as the same Gods with a different name, and often times, the myths the Romans knew were different from the Hellenic myths they were based on. Sometimes these differences are subtle, sometimes (like in the myth of Médousa) and also Narkissos, they are not.

The version by Ovid, found in book 3 of his Metamorphoses (completed 8 AD) is the story of Echo and Narcissus. One day Narcissus was walking in the woods when Echo, an Oread (mountain nymph) saw him, fell deeply in love, and followed him. Narcissus sensed he was being followed and shouted "Who's there?". Echo repeated "Who's there?" She eventually revealed her identity and attempted to embrace him. He stepped away and told her to leave him alone. She was heartbroken and spent the rest of her life in lonely glens until nothing but an echo sound remained of her. Nemesis learned of this story and decided to punish Narcissus. She lured him to a pool where he saw his own reflection. He did not realize it was only an image and fell in love with it. He eventually recognized that his love could not be reciprocated and withered away like Echo did.

The oldest version of the myth currently known to us, ascribed to the poet Parthenios of Nicaea (Παρθένιος ὁ Νικαεύς), composed around 50 BC, differs. It was found in fragments in ancient rubbish dumps at Oxyrhynchus in Egypt. The papyrus fragment is one of tens of thousands that were found in the late 19th and early 20th century. These dumps, now fully excavated, are the world's largest source of ancient writings, accounting for 70 percent of all known literary papyri. Many are kept at Oxford but the majority have still not been fully transcribed and translated. It was during work on these remaining manuscripts that the Narkissos fragment was found. This is what was written:

... god-like ...
... ...
He had a cruel heart, and hated all of them,
Till he conceived a love for his own form:
He wailed, seeing his face, delightful as a dream,
Within a spring; he wept for his beauty.
Then the boy shed his blood and give it to the earth
... to bear

There is also another ancient Hellenic version by Conon, in his Narrations 24, which differs from Ovid's account even though they were contemporaries. Conon was a Hellenic mythographer who lived from the 1st century BC to 1st century AD.

"Ameinias was a very determined but fragile youth. When he was cruelly spurned by Narkissos (Narcissus), he took his sword and killed himself by the door, calling on the goddess Nemesis to avenge him. As a result when Narkissos saw the beauty of his form reflected in a stream he fell deeply in love with himself. In despair and believing that he had rightly earned this curse for the humiliation of Ameinias, he slew himself. From his blood sprang the flower."

These versions of the Narcissus story is much more concise than Ovid's. Ovid devotes many verses to the nymph Echo, who in her unrequited love for Narkissos wastes away. There is no trace of her either in the papyrus text, nor Conon's account. There, Narkissos is a young boy and his lovers are all male. Ovid also distinguishes himself from the other two authors by having Narkissos, like Echo, simply waste away. His body mysteriously disappears, and when the nymphs come to collect it, they find a flower in its place. In Conon's version, as in the new papyrus, the boy kills himself. In Parthenios' version, no flower is mentioned, but (as a kind of midway form) the narcissus flower is mentioned by Conon.

There are no older versions of this myth we are aware of than the version by Parthenios, which stems from 50 BC. If the ancient Hellenes in the fourth or third century BC even knew of Narkissos is thus questionable. They may have, or they may not have. The more you know, right?