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Greek deities
Primordial deities
Titans and Olympians
Aquatic deities
Chthonic deities
Personified concepts
Other deities
  • Asclepius, god of medicine
  • Leto, mother of Apollo
    and Artemis
  • Pan, shepherd god
  • Alseid
  • Auloniad
  • Crinaeae
  • Dryads
  • Hamadryads
  • Hesperides
  • Limnades
  • Meliae
  • Naiads
  • Napaeae
  • Nereids
  • Oceanids
  • Oreads
  • Pegaeae

In Greek mythology, a nymph is any member of a large class of female entities in human form, that is either bound to a particular location, or landform, or is part of the retinue of a god, such as Dionysus, Hermes, or Pan, or a goddess, generally Artemis.[1] Nymphs were the frequent target of satyrs.

Nymphs live in mountains and groves, by springs and rivers, and in valleys and cool grottoes. They are frequently associated with the superior divinities: the huntress Artemis; the prophetic Apollo; the reveller and god of wine, Dionysus; and rustic gods such as Pan and Hermes.

The symbolic marriage of a nymph and a patriarch, often the eponym of a people, is repeated endlessly in Greek origin myths; their union lent authority to the archaic king and his line.[citation needed]


Meaning of nymph

"The idea that rivers are gods and springs divine nymphs," Walter Burkert remarks (Burkert III.3.3) "is deeply rooted not only in poetry but in belief and ritual; the worship of these deities is limited only by the fact that they are inseparably identified with a specific locality." Nymphs are personifications of the creative and fostering activities of nature, most often identified with the life-giving outflow of springs.[citation needed] The Greek word νύμφη has "bride" and "veiled" among its meanings: hence a marriagable young woman. Other readers refer the word (and also Latin nubere and German Knospe) to a root expressing the idea of "swelling" (according to Hesychius, one of the meanings of νύμφη is "rose-bud").

Nymph classifications

    As Rose (1959, p. 173) states, "all these names are simply feminine adjectives, agreeing with the substantive nympha, and there was no orthodox and exhaustive classification of these shadowy beings." He mentions[2] dryads and hamadryads as nymphs of trees generally, meliai as nymphs of ash trees, and naiads as nymphs of water, but no others specifically.

The following is not the Greek classification, but is intended simply as a guide:

  • Land nymphs
    • Alseids (glens, groves)
    • Auloniads (pastures)
    • Hesperides (nymphs of the west, daughters of Atlas)
      • Aegle ("dazzling light")
      • Arethusa
      • Erytheia (or Eratheis)
      • Hespera (or Hespere)
      • Hesperia (or Hispereia)
      • Saraesa (beautiful wind)
    • Leimakids (meadows)
    • Minthe (mint)
    • Napaeae (mountain valleys, glens)
    • Oreads (mountains, grottoes)
  • Wood nymphs
    • Dryads (trees)
      • Hamadryads (oak tree and others)
      • Epimeliad (apple tree)
      • Leuce (white poplar tree)
      • Meliae (manna-ash tree)
  • Water nymphs ("ephydriads")
    • Helead (fen)
    • Naiads (usually fresh water)
      • Crinaeae (fountains)
      • Eleionomae (marshes)
      • Hyades (rain)
      • Limnades or Limnatides (lakes)
      • Pegaeae (springs)
      • Potameides (rivers)
    • Nereids (daughters of Nereus, the Mediterranean Sea)
    • Oceanids (daughters of Oceanus and Tethys, any water, usually salty)
  • Other nymphs
    • Corycian Nymphs (Corycian Cave)
    • Lampades (underworld)
    • The Muses

Foreign adaptations

The Greek nymphs were spirits invariably bound to places, not unlike the Latin genius loci, and the difficulty of transferring their cult may be seen in the complicated myth that brought Arethusa to Sicily. In the works of the Greek-educated Latin poets, the nymphs gradually absorbed into their ranks the indigenous Italian divinities of springs and streams (Juturna, Egeria, Carmentis, Fontus), while the Lymphae (originally Lumpae), Italian water-goddesses, owing to the accidental similarity of name, could be identified with the Greek Nymphae. The mythologies of classicizing Roman poets were unlikely to have affected the rites and cult of individual nymphs venerated by country people in the springs and clefts of Latium. Among the Roman literate class their sphere of influence was restricted, and they appear almost exclusively as divinities of the watery element.

Nymphs in modern Greek folklore

  The ancient Greek belief in nymphs survived in many parts of the country into the early years of the twentieth century, when they were usually known as "nereids". At that time John Cuthbert Lawson wrote: "...there is probably no nook or hamlet in all Greece where the womenfolk at least do not scrupulously take precautions against the thefts and malice of the nereids, while many a man may still be found to recount in all good faith stories of their beauty, passion and caprice. Nor is it a matter of faith only; more than once I have been in villages where certain Nereids were known by sight to several persons (so at least they averred); and there was a wonderful agreement among the witnesses in the description of their appearance and dress." Lawson (1910, p. 131)

Usually female, they were dressed in white, decked with garlands of flowers, but they frequently had unnatural legs, like those of a goat, donkey or cow. They were so beautiful that the highest compliment was to compare some feature of a woman (eyes, hair, etc.) with that of nereid. They could move swiftly and invisibly, ride through the air and slip through small holes. Although not immortal, their lives exceeded man's tenfold, and they retained their beauty until death.

They tended to frequent areas distant from man, but could be encountered by lone travellers outside the village, where their music might be heard, and the traveller could spy on their dancing or bathing in a stream or pool, either during the noon heat or in the middle of the night. They might appear in a whirlwind. Such encounters could be dangerous, bringing dumbness, besotted infatuation, madness or stroke to the unfortunate human. When parents believed their child to be nereid-struck they would pray to Saint Artemidos, the Christian manifestation of Artemis. Tomkinson (2004, chapter 3)

Stock stories about nereids include the girl who fell ill and died and was seen after death dancing with the nereids; the nereid changeling; and the man who won a nereid as his wife by stealing a piece of her clothing. The latter would become an ideal wife until she recovered her clothing and returned to her own people. Nereids

Modern sexual connotations


Due to the depiction of the mythological nymphs as females who mate with men at their own volition and are completely outside male control, the term is often used for women who are perceived as behaving similarly.

The term "Nymphomania" was created by modern psychology as referring to a "desire to engage in human sexual behavior at a level high enough to be considered clinically significant", "Nymphomaniac" being the person suffering from such a disorder.

Due to widespread use of the term among lay persons (often shortened to "nympho") and stereotypes attached, professionals nowadays prefer the term "Hypersexuality" which can refer to males and females alike.

See also

  • Animism
  • Apsaras
  • Genius loci
  • Houri
  • Huacas
  • Kami
  • Landvaettir
  • Lampades
  • Melusine
  • Ondine (mythology)
  • Pitsa panels
  • Siren
  • Slavic fairies
  • Sprite (creature)
  • Succubus
  • Calypso


  1. ^ But see Jennifer Larson , "Handmaidens of Artemis?" The Classical Journal 92.3 (February 1997), pp. 249-257.
  2. ^ (pp. 172–3)


  • Burkert, Walter (1985). Greek Religion, 1st edition, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.. ISBN 0-674-36281-0. 
  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
  • Lawson, John Cuthbert, Modern Greek Folklore and Ancient Greek Religion, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1910 p131
  • Tomkinson, John L., Haunted Greece: Nymphs, Vampires and other Exotika, Anagnosis, Athens, 2004, ISBN 960-88087-0-7
  • Information page
  • Nereids
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Nymph". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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