NARCISSUS

Narcissus -- in Greek mythology, the son of the river god Cephissus and the nymph Leiriope; he was distinguished for his beauty. His mother was told that he would have a long life, provided he never looked upon his own features. His rejection, however, of the love of the nymph Echo or of his lover Ameinias drew upon him the vengeance of the gods. He fell in love with his own reflection in the waters of a spring and pined away (or killed himself); the flower that bears his name sprang up where he died. According to another source, Narcissus, to console himself for the death of his beloved twin sister, his exact counterpart, sat gazing into the spring to recall her features.

The story may have derived from the ancient Greek superstition that it was unlucky or even fatal to see one's own reflection. In psychiatry and especially psychoanalysis, the term narcissism denotes an excessive degree of self-esteem or self-involvement, a condition that is usually a form of emotional immaturity.

-- Encyclopedia Brittanica


The graceful narcissus flower takes its name from a Greek myth. Narcissus was a beautiful youth who refused the love of a nymph named Echo. In punishment the goddess Aphrodite condemned him to fall in love with his own image. Forced to gaze constantly at his reflection in a clear pool, he pined away and died. In pity the gods changed Narcissus into a lovely flower bending its head over the water. According to another source, Narcissus, to console himself on the death of his twin sister, gazed into the water to recall her features.

There are about 40 species of narcissus, most of which are native to Europe. Because of its hardiness, beauty, fragrance, and early spring blooming, narcissus is favored by gardeners. The plant has a bulb from which grow narrow grasslike leaves 2 inches (5 centimeters) to 4 feet (1.2 meters) high. The white, yellow, or pink blossoms grow on a straight central stalk. The cup-shaped center is called a corona, or crown. The most interesting feature of the plant botanically is this corona, or cup. It arises at the throat of the bloom and may be long and tubular, cup-shaped, or reduced to a ring in some forms.

Some bulbs are poisonous and were once used in medicines as cathartics or to induce vomiting. In The Netherlands during World War II, livestock accidentally were poisoned after being fed narcissus bulbs as emergency feed.

The common daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) bears a single yellow flower. It differs from other narcissuses in having a long bell-shaped corona. It is also called the lent lily or trumpet narcissus. The poet's narcissus, or pheasant's eye (N. poeticus), has a single white flower with a short, red-margined corona. The jonquil (N. jonquilla) bears several fragrant golden blossoms, the oil from which is used in perfumes. The paper-white narcissus carries as many as a dozen all-white flowers on a single stalk. It is a form of N. tazetta, a species that includes the Chinese sacred lily, or joss flower.

-- Excerpted from Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia

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