Narcissus by Caravaggio
Public DomainNarcissus by Caravaggio
A human character from Greek myth, Narcissus was renowned for his beauty and his disdainful cruelty to others who loved him. The gods punish him for this by having him fall in love with his own reflection in the surface of a pond, not realizing it is himself. He dies there because he is unable to walk away from that spellbinding image.

Ovid wrote a more detailed version of the myth in his Metamorphoses, in which a nymph named Echo follows Narcissus on the hunt, is spurned by him in the woods, and remains there with only her voice leaving its traces of her existence. Nemesis, the goddess of divine retribution for hubris, hears Echo’s prayer and causes the boy to fall in love with his reflection, and upon his death he turns into or is replaced by the narcissus flower.

This 1594-96 painting of Narcissus admiring himself in the water is by Caravaggio.

The narrator refers to Narcissus as an incidental contrast to Adam and animals, who were and are so innocent that they never perceive their own reflection in a mirror or water. Because they are so unaware of themselves, Adam and the animals live(d) in Paradise, from which self-aware and mortal human beings have been ejected and toward which we forever desire to return. “The longing for Paradise is man’s longing not to be man.”

The notion of the duality of -- or opposition between -- body and mind (or soul) is part of what feeds Tereza’s disgust with her bodily functions, while she is not the least bit perturbed by the same functions (for example, menstruation) in her dog Karenin. According to the narrator, this is one of the signs that animals still live in Paradise, with mind and body fully integrated.