Revisiting the Classics – Narcissus

I’m in my final year of university now, and the thought that in just a few months that my experience of education will end is as much exciting as it is terrifying. One of the things I love, but often forget that I do is learning. Sure, I hate exams and essays as much as the next person, but sitting in a lecture or a seminar and listening to someone teach me something entirely new is a thrill. Sharing knowledge is a lot like telling stories, in the way that you’re opening up someone’s mind and imagination, helping someone grow with every word. And that’s something that I don’t want to lose. Of course, no matter what job I do, I will be learning something – whether that’s continued on in the bookshop for a while and learning about new books, or if it’s in a new job and learning how to sort out accounts, or even if it’s learning a new trade. But, at least for now, my formal learning of Classics and English is coming to an end. Which is why I want to start a new series on this blog, an infrequent one much like ‘On Being Happy’ and ‘Guide to University’.

So, here is the first post of ‘Revisiting the Classics’. 

I want this series to be about ‘Classics’, predominantly ancient classical myths and stories but also occasionally looking at the more recent use of the classic canon, from Milton to Bronte and beyond. The revisiting of ancient stories is a common trope, and there’s a reason for that – hell, it’s what I’m doing my whole dissertation on. Everything from phrases like ‘Achilles’ heel’ to references of Herculean strength and flying too close to the Sun all stem from these ancient myths. Throughout all my years of study, I haven’t even come close to covering all the various myths that we know about, so through this series I want to look at a few favourites, ones that I know and ones that I don’t.

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So here’s a short one for today: Narcissus. Most people have a vague knowledge of the myth, and it stems around a beautiful man who falls in love with his own reflection. There are other aspects that go with this myth, like that of the cursed Echo who can only repeat the words others say, who falls in love with Narcissus but is scorned and turned away. Because of this, Nemesis lured Narcissus to the pool in which he saw himself, and he died from longing and frustration of loving himself.

Today, Narcissus remains in our language – the word ‘narcissism’ means to be fascinated with yourself and associated with extreme vanity. The myth is used as a cautionary tale on pride and self-love, and it is evoked throughout literature. It’s within Milton’s Paradise Lost, where Eve sees her reflection and falls in love, and within countless sonnets. For the vast majority, Narcissus is used as a negative portrayal of self-love, but the more I think about it the more I wonder if maybe there can be something positive to be gained here.

Often people want to be the opposite of Narcissus, to not be vain or arrogant or proud – but surely there should be some sort of middle ground where we aspire to have certain aspects of Narcissus, but not fall in too deeply. It shouldn’t be that we don’t love ourselves to the point where we hate our reflection, but rather that we love ourselves, as we all should, just not to the point that we can’t see past our own reflection. To have the ability to love yourself, but still be able to see past that, to be able to act selflessly with others and have empathy for the sufferings of those around us. After all, Narcissus is originally punished for cruelly dismissing Echo, and his punishment is an extreme version of his inability to look beyond himself. It is not the fact that he’s beautiful that causes his downfall, but his own cruel disposition to those around him.

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Narcissus is a cautionary tale, but there is more to learn from it that some let on. But one thing myths like this demonstrate is how they are still relevant today, and that is why Classics is so important that it deserves to be revisited over and over again.

Or, at least, that’s what I think.

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Here’s some advice

I’m at the stage where the end of my university career is within sight, and so the job hunt is beginning. Suddenly it’s like I’m eighteen again, trying to decide what I’m going to do for the rest of my life – except then I ended up continuing on in the bubble of education, and now it’s like someone is going to take a sledgehammer to said bubble, hitting me with taxes, even more bills, and no student loan.

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The past few months I’ve been attending various talks, panels, and discussions about the field of work I want to go into along with general job advice, so I thought now would be a good time to tell you (and remind myself) three of the best pieces of advice I’ve had so far. Let’s hope it works.

  1. If you come to me with a problem, have a solution

Ok, so at face value this doesn’t really look like advice for getting a job, but I still adore it. I was at a talk with some publishers and one of them said that this is what one of her past employers told her. I like it even more when I think of how to apply it to everyday scenarios, that when there is a problem you need to vent about or run around panicking, tot think of a solution first. It’ll certainly be helpful in the work place, and look good to any employers if you go to them with an issue but also suggest a possible solution.

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2. People love being asked for advice

Ok, again, I know I promised advice and saying one of my pieces of advice is to ask for advice doesn’t sound so helpful, but just hear me out. I really worry about bothering people, especially when I’m stuck, and so emailing all the contacts I have to ask for help isn’t something that gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling. But then at a panel last week, one of the speakers told us that people love being asked for advice. You forget that although you’re looking for help and a favour, it’s a huge compliment to have someone ask you for advice. It shows that they value your judgement and opinion and, let’s face it, if someone can help you bridge the gap between you and your dream job, an ego boost always goes down well.

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3. Act Like You’re One

And by ‘one’, I mean act like you’re already an *insert job title here*. At a talk I went to, one woman said that she wanted to move up the ladder from something like a senior editor to associate, and so at her next job she just started acting like an associate editor would, calling shots and making those decisions. Soon enough, she claimed, everyone – including herself – believed her to be an associate editor, and she hasn’t looked back since. Having that deeper sense of confidence is definitely beneficial, whether you’re in an interview or on your first day, and the only word of warning is to ensure that that confidence doesn’t come across as arrogance. There is always a step to far, and one example I have is of someone who started off at my part-time job but was so ‘confident’, that she started telling other people what to do and how things should be done – this was on her third day, addressing those who had been working there for months. Always good to have a dash of humbleness mixed in there.

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And those are my three favourite pieces of advice. I hope in the coming months I can put them to action and see what happens, fingers crossed that it works out. And good luck to anyone out there job hunting as well – let me know if you have any other great tips, I’m going to need them.

 

Guide to University: Coming Home

Home has always been my ultimate happy place. Spending time with family always lifts my mood, whether it’s slamming my head against the table because my Dad has made another terrible (but admittedly funny) joke or playing hide and seek with the dog. It’s where my Mum cooks the best food and I seem to have far fewer worries and concerns, probably because I don’t have to worry about mundane ‘adult’ things like what I’m going to eat or whether I need to go to the shops or if I can stretch out my toothpaste for another day.

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For now when I think of home, I think of the ocean and the pebbled beaches that the dog rolls on. I think of seagulls waking me up during the night and the Chinese supermarket that makes the best pad thai. Before me moved, home was the place of more cows than people and a large wood where I would always walk the dog, filled with memories of picnics with friends and climbing fallen trees after primary school. I find it strange that I don’t miss that place as much as I thought it would, and then I remember that it isn’t the physical place, but the people. It’s not the specific walls or floorboards that I miss, but the place where someone is always making cups of tea and where there is always a stash of biscuits. It’s not the rooms where I spent my childhood or the stains of memories on the carpet, but the hugs and warmth and laughter.

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And these reasons are why I find leaving home so difficult, even though I’ve done it countless times now. Having to leave my family at the train station, watching as the scenery changes from fields and houses to built up London blocks and cranes constantly building new things. I get back to my flat and flop onto the sofa, suddenly having to think again about buying some food and sorting out my things for the coming days. London is my home as well though, and it’s hard to always remember that when I’m coming back to it. But there is a familiarity with London, from the odd little shortcuts through the city to the riverside with an endless stream of tourists and selfie sticks. I start to see my friends and discover new haunts, or be reminded of old ones. University is in London, and as much stress as it causes me at times, it’s also where I get to learn about everything from Milton to weird mythology involving gods having liaisons with swans.

So, although I’m leaving one home, I’m coming back to another. And as much as I love them both, sometimes you need the act of leaving to remember why you love coming back.