Narcissus was prophesied a long life by the seer Teiresias on the condition that he would never gaze upon himself. Narcissus's beauty was widely-known, and the affections of many went unrequited. One forlorn admirer asked the gods for revenge and his entreaty was answered by Nemesis. As such, while hunting, the weary Narcissus sat by a spring to slake his thirst. Catching his reflection in the water, he was overcome by his own beauty. Unable to divert his gaze, Narcissus remained by the water until his death, perishing from exhaustion, the pain of unrequited love, or drowning (see Rafn, "Narkissos" in LIMC, vol. VI).
Based on an original by Polykleitos of the late 5th century B.C, this sculptural type is known from numerous late Hellenistic and Roman copies, including an example at Holkham Hall, Norfolk (no. 171 in Beck, Bol and Bückling, Polyklet, Der Bildhauer der griechischen Klassik). The identification of the type as Narcissus is questioned by some, however it is supported by a carnelian gem in Copenhagen (see no. 54 in Rafn, op. cit.), which depicts Narcissus standing in the same pose before the spring of his demise, his name-sake flower already sprouting from the ground behind him.