Phrase: "May he himself love as I have loved him...without obtaining his beloved..."

"May he himself love as I have loved him...without obtaining his beloved..." (Ovid. Metamorphoses: Narcissus. Book III. Pg 106. Line 521-522.).

This curse, placed upon our dear main character of Narcissus, is, of course, a foreshadowing of the calamity soon to hit the vain young man. With the gods involved, he really has no chance of escaping such an interesting and (what they would have considered) entertaining fate, thought up by a mere mortal admirer. The phrase obviously is a cry to the gods from one of Narcissus' spurned, want-to-be lovers for Narcissus to suffer the pain of unrequited love, as he has made all of his admirers, both male and female, suffer. To "love as I have loved him" suggests that there will be an insatiable passion and depth to this love that Narcissus' admirer wants him to have to feel.

The importance of this passage lies not only in its foreshadowing, but also in its abstract quality. Although, at first glance, the phrase seems to perfectly explain what will happen - especially to one who is familiar with the story - the details are actually unclear. The phrase does not call for a curse of Narcissus loving himself. In fact, the phrase could actually call for Narcissus falling in love with some fair maiden with no reciprocal feelings for him. The curse even leaves Narcissus' love-sickness open to creatures or objects. Picture Narcissus in love with the hind end of a donkey...perhaps fitting for him. The point is that the phrase does not clarify what Narcissus is supposed to fall in love with - only that his affections won't be returned. A question to ask, therefore, is whether the decision to have him fall in love with his own reflection is wittily made by the gods, the fates, or a clearer statement that was perhaps made by the angry speaker of the curse.

If one studies the end of the phrase: "obtaining his beloved," the key word "obtaining" might stand out. To obtain something typically is used in reference to a non-living object of some sort, which could be one explanation for why Narcissus falls for his non-living reflection, rather than another person, deity, flora, or fauna. "Obtaining" something means to be in possession of it, so this word choice could also be seen as very odd. Since Narcissus is basically in love with himself, does this mean that he is never truly in possession of himself? If he cannot give of himself to someone who would love him, then it is possible that his true punishment is not simply to not be able to obtain his reflection, but to never obtain his identity. If identity could, in Narcissus' case, only be found by seeing how he could love and be loved by others, then his identity - the very meaning of himself - would never lie within his possession.

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