Comparing the Myth in Ovid’s Echo and Narcissus and Wilde’s Dorian Gray

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Contemporary Ancient Myth in Ovid’s Echo and Narcissus and Wilde’s Dorian Gray Each time a story is told, elements of the original are often changed to suit new situations and current societies, or to offer a new perspective. Over the centuries, Ovid’s tale of "Echo and Narcissus" has been told many times to new audiences, and in the late nineteenth-century, it took the form of The Picture of Dorian Gray. "Echo and Narcissus" is the tale of a beautiful boy who fell in love with his reflection in a pond, and spurned others who loved him because he was so fixated upon himself. As a result of his extreme self-worship and consequent inability to love another, Narcissus perishes. Although several aspects of the original myth are retained in Wilde’s novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray is shocking and its characters commit acts that lead to ultimate decay and destruction. By changing elements of Ovid’s original tale, Wilde expands the myth of Echo and Narcissus to express the inevitable punishment and ruin that excessive desire brings. The prophet Tiresias in Ovid’s "Echo and Narcissus" can be compared to Basil Hallward and Lord Henry Wotton in The Picture of Dorian Gray in that all play a role in determining the protagonists’ fate. Tiresias enigmatically determines Narcissus’ fate by revealing that Narcissus will "live to see ripe old age...If he never knows himself" (Hendricks 93). In foreseeing the boy’s future, the prophet acts as a sort of father figure to Narcissus, whose real father is absent from his life. Narcissus cannot escape from Tiresias’ prophecy, and when he gains knowledge of his beauty, or "knows himself," Narcissus is plagued by self-love which destroys him. Thus, the prophet influences the boy’s fut... ... middle of paper ... Cambridge University Press, 1989. 141-175. McCormack, Joshua. "The Mirror of Dorian Gray." The Cambridge Companion to Oscar Wilde. Ed. Peter Raby. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. 112-114. Miller, Robert Keith. "Oscar Wilde." Twentieth Century Literary Criticism 41 (1982). 384-389. Nassar, Christopher. "The Darkening Lens." Modern Critical Views: Oscar Wilde. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1985. 107-114. Nassar, Christopher. Into the Demon Universe: A Literary Exploration of Oscar Wilde. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974. Shewan, Rodney. Oscar Wilde: Art and Egotism. London: The Macmillan Press Ltd, 1977. Spivey, Ted R. "Oscar Wilde and the Tragedy of Symbolism." Twentieth Century Literary Criticism 8 (1980). 501-502. Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. New York: Penguin Books, 1949.

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