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the bloody truth about Narcissus

Thursday, May 08, 2008 - 12:45 PM

Hello Jad here. First off, thanks to everyone who sent me Starbucks cards for my birthday (what a nice surprise!)

And while we're on the subject of ME, let me say a few words about about narcissism. Actually, no. What I'd really like to do is to play you a song I've had on repeat for the last month, a song about a boy who falls in love with another boy who lives in a river.

The singer of the song (Bradford Cox, of Atlas Sound) seems to be doing his own spin on the classic Narcissus myth.

Here's an excerpt from Ovid's version, written in 8 AD...

'While he is drinking he beholds himself reflected in the mirrored pool—and loves; loves an imagined body which contains no substance...He cannot move, for so he marvels at himself...consumed, and slowly wasted by a hidden flame…And in his body's place a sweet flower grew, golden and white, the white around the gold.'

In Ovid's telling, poor forlorn Narcissus stares so long at the `stranger' in the water that he turns into a flower. A nice notion.

But why? What exactly is so nice about a guy so entranced with his own reflection that he starves and then drowns? Seems deranged to me.

Well, it turns out Ovid's is not the only verison.

In 1896, two Oxford archaeologists discovered a giant rubbish heap outside the town of Oxyrhynchus, Egypt containing 7 centuries of trash (Grocery lists, census forms, porn, you name it). The dump was packed up into boxes, shipped to England, and for the past hundred years, scholars at Oxford have been working to read it all (much is very very faded). Recently, a guy named Ben Henry discovered a scrap of papyrus which contains the earliest known version of the Narcissus myth. The poem was written fifty years before Ovid, likely by a fellow named Parthenius. And Parthenius takes a much less romantic view of Narcissus.

Listen at the top...

In Parthenius' version, before turning into a flower, Narcissus drowns in a pool of his own blood.

My guess is that Ovid read this version and thought 'oh dear, that will never sell!' And so he did what Hollywood producers do all the time nowadays: he sanitized the ending.

But I think Parthenius had it right: obsessive self love can only end badly. With blood, not flowers.

Still, this song is amazing. It's called River Card by Atlas Sound (a solo project from Bradford Cox of the band Deerhunter). Let me know what you think of it...

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Comments [6]

G from New York

I tried to read the show but it didn't load, could you fix it I really love the topic

Aug. 29 2011 02:01 PM
Alan

I took a classical mythology class with Ben Henry at UT. It's cool to find him in your blog.

Nov. 11 2008 06:50 PM
Ramona

Okay, so we have a woman, let's call her Pixies, and she is currently sleeping with two men - Sonic Youth and The Unicorns. Pixies gets preggers and that freaky thing happens where she has twins but each twin is one from each father? Then, these twins grow up and start a band - and they just played that song.

Sep. 12 2008 12:30 PM
Connor Walsh

Maybe Ovid's Narcissus was just like a young (or not so young, ahem) guy today, looking at the image of his ideal, on the flat reflective surface of… a computer screen. Looking at the photo of a vague acquaintance on Facebook and sees an imagined body, a mirror of himself or his own dreams…

(ok I know that's not what Ovid, and certainly not Parthenius were on about)

May. 09 2008 05:39 PM
Clara Kitongo

Generally I like it. The sounds are out of this world which makes it all the more interesting.

May. 09 2008 05:04 PM
Sean Hennessey

Good music choice! Very ethereal, reminds me of something granddaddy would do but with a deer hunter flair to it. Nice!

May. 08 2008 03:46 PM

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