Narcissus was the son of the river god Cephissus and nymph Liriope and known for his beauty. He had told the mountain nymph Echo to leave him alone after she fell in love with him. She was so heartbroken that she spent the rest of her life in lonely glens until nothing but an echo sound remained of her. Narcissus scorned many others, and one of them exclaimed ‘So may he himself love, and so may he fail to command what he loves!’. When the goddess Nemesis heard this she lured Narcissus to a pool. When he saw his reflection, he did not realize it was an image and he fell in love with it.
He is unable to tear himself away:
“Fool, why try to catch a fleeting image, in vain? What you search for is nowhere: turning away, what you love is lost! What you perceive is the shadow of reflected form: nothing of you is in it. It comes and stays with you, and leaves with you, if you can leave!”
In his typical style, Caravaggio shows Narcissus gazing at himself in the pool. His hands are locked with the hands of his reflection forming a circle out of which he can’t break free.