For the first time I can remember, some form of mental illness has been regular front-page news. First, the brain disease of addiction that killed 80,000 Americans last year from opioid overdoses. Then the obscene charge that it’s the mentally ill, not the right-wing fanatics carrying assault rifles, who commit mass murders. But lately one more specific mental disorder has increasingly surfaced as a topic of general conversation and in the news.

Like our words ‘atlas’, ‘Achilles’ Heel’, and ‘ocean’ for the water god Oceanus, the name for this particular pathological sickness comes from Greek mythology. It is named for the 16-year old Greek male named Narcissus. And to share Narcissus’ tragic story requires telling the sad tale of Echo, the beautiful nymph whose name lives on as another myth-to-English word.

As the Roman poet Ovid would have it in the First Century A.D., this drop-dead gorgeous Narcissus spent his time hunting deer in the lush forests of ancient Greece. But while every female who saw him begged to be his lover, he coldly rejected them all.  One day the beautiful mountain nymph Echo saw him hunting in the woods and she, too, fell madly in love. But poor Echo couldn’t call out to him as Zeus’s hatefully jealous wife Hera had unjustly disabled her. The lovely nymph was cursed never to speak, but could only repeat what she heard—as in an echo.

So when Narcissus called to his hunting pals, Echo repeated his last word “together.” Now Narcissus spotted Echo and dismissed her as he had all the other would-be lovers saying he and she would never be “together.” The hopeless Echo retreated to a cave where she withered away and died, leaving behind only an echo. But then  Nemesis—now another English word—the goddess of vengeance, stepped in for all the women like Echo whom  the cold-hearted Narcissus  had mistreated by making him fall in love with himself.

After Nemesis’s curse, the first pond Narcissus came to was his last for he saw his reflection in the water. Immediately  he became so enamored of his own image, he couldn’t stop looking at it. Ever. And like Echo in her cave, Narcissus stayed at the pond and slowly starved to death because he was obsessively in love with his face in the water. Certainly the mental illness named for him is nothing to be proud of. But the lovely spring daffodil-like flower called a narcissus perhaps softens his legacy as a mental illness.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders(DSM), the definitive code book of psychiatry,  borrows from Ovid to describe this mental illness.

Individuals with narcissistic personality disorder, according to the DSM-5, exhibit five or more of the following, which are “present by early adulthood and across contexts:”

Among these are a “grandiose sense of self-importance,”  “a need for excessive admiration,” a lack of empathy,” and “exploitation of others.” Other symptoms include arrogance, haughty behavior, and a tendency “to react with rage and belittle others to make themselves appear superior.”

So now if the term “narcissist” comes up in conversations about public figures, you’ll know why 2000 years later, it’s such a good name for this mental sickness. As Paul Harvey always said, “And that’s the rest of the story.”