Mythology And Legend

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According to Culpeper's Herbal (Potterton, 1983), yellow daffodils are under the dominion of Mars.

Daffodil flowers, though beautiful to the sight, leave a feeling of sadness when the history and folklore of the plant is examined. In classical mythology there was a handsome Greek shepherd boy named Narcissus. Though he was loved by all the wood nymphs, there was one called Echo who loved him more than the rest. Unfortunately, she could not tell him of her love, because she was only able to repeat his last words. It comes as no surprise to learn that Narcissus was totally unaware of Echo's love and adoration for him. He was equally unaware of the pain and suffering that his ignorance of her love was causing her. Echo became thinner and thinner as her love robbed her of her appetite, until she slowly pined away to nothing more than a spirit who took sanctuary in the mountains. Only her soft voice remained. Venus, the goddess of love, came to hear of Echo's hopeless devotion and immediately assigned the blame for her condition on Narcissus, who she decided should be punished. One day Narcissus was hunting in the forest. Little did he know that Venus had arranged with Cupid to set a magic spell on him so that he would fall in love with the first person that he saw. Coming to a crystal clear pool he stopped for a cooling drink to assuage his thirst and there in the water he saw another face rise up to meet his own as he leant over. Narcissus immediately succumbed to Cupid's spell and fell in love. Again and again he tried to catch the face of the spirit who appeared to live in the water. In vain he called out to this vision, but all that could be heard was the faint and sad echo coming from the mountains. Narcissus had fallen in love with his own reflection. Every day he returned to the pool in the hope of capturing the face that he saw there, and every day his tears added to the water in the pool. Slowly, like Echo, he began to waste away with unrequited love. The Immortals were not totally heartless and turned him into a delicate white papery flower, which would grow forever by the pool in memory of the egotistical youth. Another story continues by saying that when the nymphs came to look for him, they only found 'A rising stalk with yellow blossoms crown'd', and that the cup in the flower's centre of all varieties contains the tears of Narcissus (Pickles, 1990).

This story has led to the name being used as the term 'narcissism' or 'narcissistic personality disorder', in which people described by this condition have a grandiose view of their own uniqueness and abilities; they are preoccupied with fantasies of great success. To say they are self-centred is an understatement (Davison and Neale, 1998). These characteristics have been validated in empirical studies (Ronnington and Gunderson, 1990) and are often a factor with borderline personality disorders (Morey, 1988). Such people are constantly seeking attention and adulation, and are, underneath, extremely sensitive to criticism and have a deep fear of failure. Many of the contemporary studies have been carried out by Heinz Kohut (Kohut, 1971, 1977; Kohut and Wolf, 1978).

The flower has another legend, which is even more gruesome than the former! Earth first put forth the flowers to lure the lovely Prosperine for Pluto, god of the underworld. The maid was so taken with the beauty of the daffodil that she stopped to admire it and as she stooped to pick it, the very worst happened. Pluto looking out from his hiding place took advantage of this momentary lack of attention and pounced out from his lair and seized her. It was, therefore, quite understandable why the ancients labelled the narcissus the flower of deceit. It was also the flower of imminent death, since it was the last bloom she plucked (MacFadyen, 1992).

Another version of this story is told by Perdita in William Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, where it was Proserpina who was picking lilies and was subsequently captured by Pluto. However, in this story, as she dropped the lilies in her fear, they turned into daffodils as they touched the ground.

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