It was often the case that the goddess Juno would search for her errant husband in order to catch him at his most beloved hobby, that of seducing the fair nymphs that lived on the mountainsides and in the streams of the world. But during her search she would often be waylaid by one particularly clever Nymph who went by the name of Echo. Echo would prattle on to the goddess about this and that and distract her long enough that Juno’s husband would have time to get back to Mount Olympus and pretend that nothing had ever happened. It was not for the sake of mighty Jupiter that Echo would slow down Juno’s rampage, but for her own sisters who would often be on the business end of the goddess’ tantrums. Alas for Echo it was only a matter of time before Juno grew aware of the trick and as punishment she altered Echo’s speech so that she could only speak when others had spoken, and could only repeat what she had heard. The loquacious Echo was devastated by her lack of speech and fled from her sisters to wander the world.
After a time Echo spied a young man walking in the woods. He was the most beautiful creature she had ever seen and Echo immediately fell madly in love with him. He seemed lost in thought, but Echo ran out to talk to him. She beamed in delight but could say no words until he spoke first. Alas for poor Echo she had encountered a man who was under his own curse. He could not fall in love with anyone less beautiful than himself, and although Echo was a nymph of exceptional splendour, she was not quite the equal of the young man. He had never known love, only the attentions of many who he could never find companionship with. Now yet another woman was gazing at him but saying nothing. He turned away but she was insistent and followed his every move.
“You are quite the most annoying creature!”
“Annoying creature” she replied.
“What do you want?”
“What do you want?”
“I want you to go away and leave me!”
“Yes, I just want to be left alone!”
Echo fled from the young man, weeping as she did. She could not communicate with him, could not speak and explain what had happened. She fled to a lonely mountain and stayed there, crying and sobbing, never sleeping, always awake. For weeks she cried and neither ate nor drank and she slowly wasted away until nothing of her remained but her voice.
Many months later Echo returned to the woods. No longer a nymph, merely a spirit, she once again spied the young man. This time he was kneeling by the edge of a calm and clear pool of water. He looked as if he had been there some time and he spoke to his reflection.
“Oh my love, I hate this barrier between us, how I long to kiss your lips. How I wish you would talk to me.”
“Talk to me.” replied Echo.
“You speak! Finally you speak to me! Oh how I have waited for this moment, to ask do you love me?”
“Do you love me?”
“Oh yes, yes, a thousand times yes! I love you!”
“I love you.” she replied.
“Then answer me this one question and I will happily live here forever, but if you should not I would sooner die than stay here.”
“Oh I will, but I must say this quietly, I may have to come closer.”
“Come closer.” said Echo.
The young man bent over the pool and bowed down until his lips kissed the waters. There he whispered his question, but it was so quiet that Echo could not hear it and could not reply. The man waited for an answer but when none came tears started to run down his cheeks.
“Is that your answer then? Can you not speak aloud the thing that I cannot?”
“Then I cannot live.” He pulled a dagger from his side and plunged the blade in deeply. Blood welled up around his mouth and he collapsed at the side of the pool.
“Live!” cried Echo, but it was too late. The handsome man was dead, his curse played out. Echo left the forest again vowing not to return. She would stay in the canyons and the caves, and perhaps the vaulted chambers of the cities. But never again would she speak in the woods, and a whisper would always bring a tear to her eye.