Goldmund and Narcissus respect each other, but they are two very different people, and the former is a student and the latter a teacher. They also feel that one is dangerous to the other. Narcissus takes care of Goldmund, and the polarity between the two becomes clearer over time. It is Narcissus who is the ascetic, the thinker; he does not accept that love is going to come into his life, regardless that he truly loves Goldmund. On the other hand, Goldmund, a man of outwardly love, sees his love unreturned. How can a man of the mind and a man of emotion and spirit find equality and friendship? Narcissus says to disappoint Goldmund: "It is not our aim to merge into one another, but to understand one another, to see and appreciate the other as he is: the other's contradiction and complement." Nor does Narcissus take Goldmund seriously, since he is not a deep thinker.
Goldmund travels for a number of years and gets his fill of life and women. When he returns, Narcissus once again relates the distinction between the two men. Goldmund always had "a dislike of the abstract," thinking in images, but "thinking has nothing to do with images, but with concepts and formulas. Exactly there, where the images end, philosophy begins." If Goldmund had instead become a thinker, he would have become a mystic, and mystics "are all unhappy people." Rather, Goldmund becomes an artist, which pleases Narcissus: "Be yourself, try to fulfill yourself," Narcissus says, to reach perfection. Goldmund leaves one more time and returns a broken man. Narcissus now says: "Let me now tell you, how deeply I love you, how much you always have been to me, how rich you made my life," and kisses him. Goldmund responds: "I have always loved you, Narcissus, half my life has been an attempt to attract you." Narcissus cares for his friend, until he dies. "Goldmund's last words burned in his heart like fire." Similarly, Asterios returns to Hana, and the two sit quietly together, at one and at peace.
Mazzucchelli, David. Asterios Polyp. New York: Pantheon, 2009