Echo – The Cursed Nymph

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In Greek mythology, Echo belongs to the long list of figures who suffered the wrath of Hera. A voracious talker, Echo is supposedly the reason we have echoes today. Here’s a closer look.

Who Was Echo?

Echo was a nymph who lived on Mount Cithaeron. She was a minor female divinity, and her origins and parentage are unknown. As an Oread, she was a nymph of the mountains and caves. The name Echo comes from the Greek word for a sound. Echo is known for her connections to Hera and Narcissus. Her depictions typically show her as a beautiful young girl.

Echo and Hera

Zeus, the god of thunder, liked to visit the nymphs of Mount Cithaeron and engage in flirtations with them. This was one of the many adulterous acts of Zeus. His wife, the goddess Hera, was always attentive to Zeus’ deeds and was extremely jealous and vengeful regarding his infidelity.

When Zeus visited the nymphs, Echo had the task of distracting Hera with her endless talking, so that the queen goddess would not know what Zeus was up to. That way, Echo would distract Hera, and Zeus would escape without Hera catching him in the act.

Hera, however, discovered what Echo was doing and was furious. As a punishment, Hera cursed Echo. From then onwards, Echo no longer had control over her tongue. She was forced to remain silent and simply to repeat the words of others.

Echo and Narcissus

After she was cursed, Echo was wandering in the woods when she saw the handsome hunter Narcissus looking for his friends. Narcissus was handsome, haughty and proud and couldn’t fall in love with anyone as he had a cold heart.

Echo fell in love with him and began to follow him around the woods. Echo couldn’t talk to him and could only repeat what he was saying. As Narcissus called for his friends, Echo repeated what he was saying, which intrigued him. He called out to the ‘voice’ to come to him. Echo ran to where Narcissus was, but seeing her, he rejected her. Heartbroken, Echo ran away and hid from his sight, but continued to watch him and pine for him.

Meanwhile, Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection and languished by the pool of water, talking to his reflection. Echo continued to watch him and slowly pined away to her death. As Echo died, her body disappeared, but her voice remained on earth to repeat the words of others. Narcissus, for his part, stopped eating and drinking and slowly died too, in pain over his unrequited love from the person in the water. 

A Variation to the Myth

While the story of Echo and Hera is the most popular explanation of how Echo came to be cursed, there’s an unpleasant variation.

Accordingly, Echo was an excellent dancer and singer, but she rejected the love of men, including that of  the god Pan. Angry at the rejection, Pan had some maddened shepherds dismember the nymph. The pieces were scattered across the globe, but Gaia, the goddess of the earth, collected them and buried all of the pieces. However, she couldn’t collect the voice and therefore we still hear Echo’s voice, still repeating the words of others.

In yet another variation to the myth, Pan and Echo had a child together, known as Iambe, the goddess of rhyme and merriment.

To Wrap Up

Greek mythology attempted to explain many natural phenomena that we take for granted today. The story of Echo gives a reason for the existence of echoes, taking a natural factor and turning it into a romantic and sorrowful tale.