Ovid’s Echo and Narcissus Myth in English Petrarchan Poetry

Anthony Archdeacon


In the many English Petrarchan sonnet sequences published during the 1590s, references to the tales in Ovid’s Metamorphoses were extensive, and a favourite of these was the tale of Echo and Narcissus, which featured, sometimes repeatedly, in at least ten of those sequences. This essay explores both the reasons for this and the way the myth was employed, arguing that it could be used to subvert conventional gender roles by identification with Echo, or to explore narcissistic aspects of relationships, with their negative and sometimes violent consequences. It was therefore an alternative to the simplistic erotic scenarios provided by Venus and Cupid, the standard references in English Petrarchan verse, prompting a more psychologically complex and therefore more convincing account of human relationships. The article also traces in Echo and Narcissus sonnets a meta-poetic significance of the myth via the tropes of echoing and mirroring, which imitate the structure and form of the sonnet sequence itself.



Ovid; English Petrarchism; poetry; sonnet sequences; Echo and Narcissus; narcissism; 1590s; English renaissance

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