Thursday, August 27, 2015

Nazir 4b: The anti-Narcissus

A brayta cited on Nazir 4b reminded me of Narcissus:
אמר שמעון הצדיק מימי לא אכלתי אשם נזיר טמא חוץ מאדם אחד שבא אלי מן הדרום יפה עינים וטוב רואי וקווצותיו סדורות לו תלתלים אמרתי לו בני מה ראית לשחת שער נאה זה אמר לי רועה הייתי לאבי בעירי והלכתי לשאוב מים מן המעיין ונסתכלתי בבבואה שלי ופחז יצרי עלי וביקש לטורדני מן העולם אמרתי לו ריקה מפני מה אתה מתגאה בעולם שאינו שלך שסופך להיות רמה ותולע' העבודה שאגלחך לשמי' עמדתי ונשקתיו על ראשו אמרתי לו כמותך ירבו נזירים בישראל עליך הכתוב אומר (במדבר ו, ב) איש כי יפליא לנדור נדר נזיר להזיר לה'
 Simon the Just17 said: In the whole of my life, I ate of the guilt-offering of a defiled nazirite [only once].18 This man who came to me from the South country, had beauteous eyes and handsome features with his locks heaped into curls. I asked him: ‘Why, my son, didst thou resolve to destroy such wonderful hair?’ He answered: ‘In my native town. I was my father's shepherd, and, on going down to draw water from the well, I used to gaze at my reflection [in its waters]. Then my evil inclination assailed me, seeking to compass my ruin,19 and so I said to it, "Base wretch! Why dost thou plume thyself on a world that is not thine own, for thy latter end is with worms and maggots. I swear20 I shall shear these locks to the glory of Heaven!"’ Then I rose, and kissed him upon his head. and said to him: ‘Like unto thee, may there be many nazirites in Israel. Of such as thou art, does the verse say, When a man shall clearly utter a vow, the vow of a nazirite to consecrate himself unto the Lord.’21

Compare this with Narcissus, who was described by Ovid as follows, in Book 3 of Metamorphosis. Note in particular the third paragraph ("Flat on the ground"), which describes his eyes, handsome features, and hair fit for Bacchus or Apollo:
 As Narcissus had scorned her, so he had scorned the other nymphs of the rivers and mountains, so he had scorned the companies of young men. Then one of those who had been mocked, lifting hands to the skies, said ‘So may he himself love, and so may he fail to command what he loves!’ 
There was an unclouded fountain, with silver-bright water, which neither shepherds nor goats grazing the hills, nor other flocks, touched, that no animal or bird disturbed not even a branch falling from a tree. Grass was around it, fed by the moisture nearby, and a grove of trees that prevented the sun from warming the place. Here, the boy, tired by the heat and his enthusiasm for the chase, lies down, drawn to it by its look and by the fountain. While he desires to quench his thirst, a different thirst is created. While he drinks he is seized by the vision of his reflected form. He loves a bodiless dream. He thinks that a body, which is only a shadow. He is astonished by himself, and hangs there motionless, with a fixed expression, like a statue carved from Parian marble.
Flat on the ground, he contemplates two stars, his eyes, and his hair, fit for Bacchus, fit for Apollo, his youthful cheeks and ivory neck, the beauty of his face, the rose-flush mingled in the whiteness of snow, admiring everything for which he is himself admired. Unknowingly he desires himself, and the one who praises is himself praised, and, while he courts, is courted, so that, equally, he inflames and burns. How often he gave his lips in vain to the deceptive pool, how often, trying to embrace the neck he could see, he plunged his arms into the water, but could not catch himself within them! What he has seen he does not understand, but what he sees he is on fire for, and the same error both seduces and deceives his eyes.
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!
The nazir realizes that this beauty and path would be his downfall - וביקש לטורדני מן העולם. Narcissus doesn't realize this and, unable to leave his reflection, drowns.

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