Echo (mythology)

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Alexandre Cabanel - Echo.jpg
Echo by Alexandre Cabanel. Painted in 1874 the piece now hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Abode Mount Kithairon
Children Iynx[1] and Iambe[2]

In Greek mythology, Echo (/ˈɛk/; Greek: Ἠχώ, Ēkhō, "echo",[3] from ἦχος (ēchos), "sound"[4]) was an Oread who resided on Mount Kithairon.[5] Zeus loved consorting with beautiful nymphs and visited them on Earth often. Eventually, Zeus's wife, Hera, became suspicious, and came from Mt. Olympus in an attempt to catch Zeus with the nymphs.

Classical References[edit]


In Metamorphoses the poet, Ovid, tells of Hera and the jealousy she felt towards her husband Zeus for his many affairs. Though vigilant whenever she was about to catch him Echo distracted her with lengthy conversations. When at last Hera realized the truth she cursed Echo. From that moment on the once loquacious nymph could only parrot the final words of another.[6]

Sometime after being cursed Echo spied a young man, Narcissus, whilst he was out hunting deer with his companions. She immediately fell for him and, infatuated, followed quietly. The more she looked at the young man the more she longed for him. Though she wished with all her heart to call out to Narcissus the goddess’ curse prevented her.[7]

Echo and Narcissus (John William Waterhouse, 1903, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool)

During the hunt Narcissus became separated from his companions and called out, ‘is anyone there’ only for Echo to repeat his words. Startled Narcissus answered the voice, ‘come here’ only to be told the same. When Narcissus saw that nobody had emerged from the glade he concluded that the owner of the voice must be running away from him and called out again. Finally he shouted, ‘this way, we must come together.’ Taking this to be a reciprocation of her love Echo concurred ecstatically, ‘we must come together!’[8]

In her delight Echo rushed to Narcissus ready to throw her arms around her beloved. Narcissus however was appalled and, spurning her, exclaimed, ‘Hands off! May I die before you enjoy my body.’ All Echo could whisper in reply was, ‘enjoy my body’ and having done so she fled, scorned, humiliated and shamed.[9]

Despite the harshness of her rejection Echo’s love for Narcissus only grew.[10] When Narcissus died, wasting away before his own reflection - consumed by a love that could not be, Echo mourned over his body. When Narcissus, looking one last time into the pool uttered, ‘oh marvellous boy, I loved you in vain, farewell’ Echo too chorused, ‘farewell.’[11]

Eventually Echo too began to waste away. Her beauty faded, her skin shrivelled and her bones turned to stone. Today all that remains of Echo is the sound of her voice.[12]

Daphnis and Chloe[edit]

Daphnis recounting the tale of Echo to Chloe. (François Gérard, 1824, Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan)

The tale of Daphnis and Chloe is a 2nd century romance by Greek author Longus. At one point in the novel Daphnis and Chloe are staring out at the boats gliding across the sea. Chloe, having never heard an echo before, is confused on hearing the fisherman’s song repeated in a nearby valley. Daphnis promises to tell her the story of Echo in exchange for ten more kisses.[13]

Daphnis’ rendition differs radically from Ovid’s account. According to Daphnis, Echo was raised among the Nymphæ because her mother was a nymph. Her father however was merely a man and hence Echo was not herself a nymph but mortal. Echo spent her days dancing with the Nymphæ and singing with the Muses who taught her all manner of musical instruments. Pan however grew angry with her, envious of her musical virtuosity and covetous of her virginity which she would yield neither to men nor gods. Pan drove the men of the fields mad and, like wild animals, they tore poor Echo apart and scattered the still singing fragments of her body across the earth.[13]

Showing favour to the Nymphæ Gaia hid the shreds of Echo within herself providing shelter for her music and, at the Muses’ command, Echo’s body will still sing, imitating with perfect likeness the sound of any earthly thing. Daphnis recounts that Pan himself oft hears his very own pipes and, giving chase across the mountains, looks in vain for the secret student he can never find.[13]


Both the Homeric and Orphic Hymns to Pan reiterate Longus’ tale of Pan chasing Echo’s secret voice across the mountains.[14][15]

Codex 190 of Photius' Bibliotheca states that Pan's unrequited love for Echo was placed there by Aphrodite, angry at his verdict in a beauty contest.[16]

NonnusDionysiaca contains a number of references to Echo. In Nonnus’ account, though Pan frequently chased Echo, he never won her affection.[17] Book VI also makes reference to Echo in the context of the Great Deluge. Nonnus states that the waters rose so far that even high on the hills Echo was forced to swim. Having escaped the advances of Pan she feared now the lust of Poseidon.[18]

Whereas Nonnus is adamant that Pan never wins Echo, in Apuleius' The Golden Ass Pan is described with Echo in his arms, teaching the nymph to repeat all manner of songs.[19] Similarly in the Suda Echo is described as bearing Pan a child, Inyx.[1] Other fragments mention a second daughter, Iambe.[2]


  1. ^ a b Sudias, Translated by Ada Adler (1928–1938), Suda. Available at
  2. ^ a b Hornblower, Simon; Spawforth, Antony and Eidinow, Esther (2012). The Oxford Classical Dictionary. Oxford University Press. Page 720, "Iambe". ISBN 0199545561.
  3. ^ ἠχώ, Liddell, Henry George, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  4. ^ ἦχος, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  5. ^ Aristophanes, Translated by Eugene O'Neill, Jr (1938). Thesmophoriazusae. Lines 990-1000. Available at
  6. ^ Ovid, Translated by David Raeburn (2004). Metamorphoses. Penguin Classics. 3. 361-369. ISBN 014044789X
  7. ^ Ovid, op. cit, 3. 370-378
  8. ^ Ovid, op. cit, 3. 379-386
  9. ^ Ovid, op. cit, 3. 386-392
  10. ^ Ovid, op. cit, 3. 394
  11. ^ Ovid, op. cit, 3. 493-501
  12. ^ Ovid, op. cit, 3. 395-397
  13. ^ a b c Longus, Translated by Ronald McCail (2009). Daphnis and Chloe. Oxford University Press. Page 56, [3.22]. ISBN 0199554951
  14. ^ Hesiod and Homer, Translated by Hugh. G. Evelyn-White (2008). Hesiod, the Homeric Hymns, and Homerica. Homeric Hymn XIX. To Pan, p.127. ISBN 1420930753
  15. ^ Orpheus, Translated by Thomas Taylor (2013). The Mystical Hymns of Orpheus. Old Book Publishing Ltd. Orphic Hymn XI. To Pan, page 35. ISBN 1781071381
  16. ^ Photius, Translated by René Henry (2003). Bibliothèque: Tome III: Codices 186-222. Les Belles Lettres. Codex 190. ISBN 2251322221
  17. ^ Nonnus, Translated by W. H. D. Rouse (1989). Dionysiaca: Books 1-15. Loeb. Book XV, para. 306. ISBN 0674993799
  18. ^ Nonnus, op. cit, Book VI, para. 257.
  19. ^ Apuleius, Translated by P. G. Walsh (2008). The Golden Ass. Oxford University Press. Page 94, Book 5, para. 25. ISBN 0199540551

External links[edit]

Media related to Echo at Wikimedia Commons