🔼The name Narcissus: Summary
- Narcissus, Dopey, Slow Poke
- From the verb ναρκαω (narkao), to grow stiff or numb.
🔼The name Narcissus in the Bible
Some scholars, among whom Spiros Zodhiates (The Complete Wordstudy Dictionary) maintain that the Narcissus whom Paul mentions us none other than Tiberius Claudius Narcissus, a freedman and the chief of staff of Caesar Claudius. This Narcissus was a particularly influential man. It is rumored that he was instrumental in the advancement of the career of Vespasian, who later became emperor, and whose son Titus sacked Jerusalem in 70 AD.
A famous first century Christian with this name is Narcissus of Athens, who tradition numbers among the seventy disciples (Luke 10:1-24), and who was purportedly ordained bishop of Athens by the apostle Philip. There is no indication that he was ever in Rome, or that he had a household there.
And all these men, of course, were named after the mythological Narcissus, son of a river god named Cephissus and a nymph named Liriope. He was ravishingly handsome, especially according to himself, and when he saw his own reflection in a pool, he fell in love with it. Unable to abandon his image, Narcissus died, yet his name lives on in that of narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder, which is a cluster B mental disorder from which about 1% of people suffer (says the American Psychological Association).
🔼Etymology of the name Narcissus
The name Narcissus is the same as the Latin noun narcissus (Pliny the Elder and Vergil used it all the time), which belongs to the genus of flowers we today still call Narcissus (from the Amaryllis family, and which includes, wouldn't you know, the narcissus, but also daffodils and dozens of other species).
This Latin word, and thus this name, came from the Greek noun ναρκισσος (narkissos), and that noun (according to Plutarch 2.647b) came from the noun ναρκη (narke), meaning numbness or deadness, in turn from the verb ναρκαω (narkao), meaning to grow stiff or numb, and which survives in modern English words such as narcosis and narcotic. Ancient authors also make mention of a certain fish named ναρκη (narke), which would benumb anyone who touched it, probably an electric eel of sorts, but it's not clear whether benumbing was named after the fish or vice versa.
Surprisingly, the Greek word ναρκη (narke) is cognate with the Latin verb torpere (hence the English words torpid and torpor), which occurs in Greek as τερπω (terpo), meaning to satisfy, delight or gladden. This seems to suggest that these Greek and Latin words were used mostly in a pleasant sense, in the narcotic sense we use them today.
In our modern world we know daffodils and narcissuses by their golden hues and their exuberant flowers and gracefully curved stems, but it appears that in the ancient world they were endowed with a dopey and sluggish (head-hanging) character. So yes, the name Narcissus means Narcissus, but primarily it means Dopey or Slow Poke.