Web Theoi
NYMPHAI
 
Greek Name Transliteration Latin Name Translation
Νυμφη
Νυμφαι
Nymphê
Nymphai
Nympha
Nymphae
Nymph, Girl of
Marriageable Age
River-God & Naiad Nymph | Campanian red-figure amphora C4th B.C. | British Museum, London
River-God & Naiad Nymph, Campanian red-
figure amphora C4th B.C., British Museum

THE NYMPHAI (or Nymphs) were female spirits of the natural world, minor goddesses of the forests, rivers, springs, meadows, mountains and seas. They were responsible for the crafting of nature's wild beauty, from the arrangement and growth of the plants, flowers and trees, to the nurture of wild birds and animals, and the formation of rocky caverns, springs, wetlands and brooks.

Nymphs were also companions of the gods. Dionysos had his wild-eyed Mainades and Bakkhai, Artemis was accompanied by a band of huntress nymphs, Hekate by the dark Lampades nymphs of the underworld. Poseidon's court was attended by Nereides and sea nymphs, and the Olympian court by nymph handmaidens.

Other nymphs were nurses of the gods, including the Idaian nymphs that nursed the god Zeus, and the Nysian nymphs who cared for Dionysos.

INDEX OF NYMPH PAGES

PART 1: INTRODUCTION

LIST: NAMES OF NYMPHS 1

LIST: NAMES OF NYMPHS 2

PART 2: THE DRYADES

PART 3: THE NAIADES

  • Waters of the Nymphs
  • Of Nymphs & Drought
  • Grottoes of the Nymphs
  • Tears of the Nymphs

PART 4: THE EPIMELIDES

PART 5: NYMPH STORIES 1

PART 6: NYMPH STORIES 2

PART 5: NYMPH NURSES

PART 6: NYMPH ATTENDANTS

PART 7: BAKKHIC NYMPHS

PART 8: CULT OF NYMPHS

 
PARENTS
Various, see the NYMPH CATALOGUE
NAMES
For a comprehensive list see the NYMPH CATALOGUE

ENCYCLOPEDIA

NYMPHAE (Numphai), the name of a numerous class of inferior female divinities, though they are designated by the title of Olympian, are called to meetings of the gods in Olympus, and described as the daughters of Zeus. But they were believed to dwell on earth in groves, on the summits of mountains, in rivers, streams, glens, and grottoes. (Hom. Od. vi. 123, &c., xii. 318, Il. xx. 8, xxiv. 615.) Homer further describes them as presiding over game, accompanying Artemis, dancing with her, weaving in their grottoes purple garments. and kindly watching over the fate of mortals. (Od. vi. 105, ix. 154, xiii. 107, 356, xvii. 243, Il. vi. 420, 616.) Men offer up sacrifices either to them alone, or in conjunction with other gods, such as Hermes. (Od. xiii. 350, xvii. 211, 240, xiv. 435.) From the places which they inhabit, they are called agronomoi (Od. vi. 105),orestiades (Il. vi. 420), and nêïades (Od. xiii. 104).

All nymphs, whose number is almost infinite, may be divided into two great classes. The first class embraces those who must be regarded as a kind of inferior divinities, recognised in the worship of nature. The early Greeks saw in all the phenomena of ordinary nature some manifestation of the deity; springs, rivers, grottoes, trees, and mountains, all seemed to them fraught with life; and all were only the visible embodiments of so many divine agents. The salutary and beneficent powers of nature were thus personified, and regarded as so many divinities; and the sensations produced on man in the contemplation of nature, such as awe, terror, joy, delight, were ascribed to the agency of the various divinities of nature. The second class of nymphs are personifications of tribes, races, and states, such as Cyrene, and many others.

The nymphs of the first class must again be sublatter divided into various species, according to the different parts of nature of which they are the representatives. 1. Nymphs of the watery element. Here we first mention the nymphs of the ocean, Ôkeaninai or Ôkeanides, numphai hagiai, who are regarded as the daughters of Oceanus (Hes. Theog. 346, &c., 364; Aeschyl. Prom.; Callim. Hymn. in Dian. 13; Apollon. Rhod. iv. 1414; Soph. Philoct. 1470); and next the nymphs of the Mediterranean or inner sea, who are regarded as the daughters of Nereus, whence they are called Nereides (Nêreïdes; Hes. Theog. 240, &c.). The rivers were represented by the Potameides (Poramêïdes), who, as local divinities, were named after their rivers, as Acheloides, Anigrides, Ismenides, Amniisiades, Pactolides. (Apollon. Rhod. iii. 1219; Virg. Aen. viii. 70; Paus. v. 5. § 6, i. 31. § 2; Callim. Hymn. in Dian. 15; Ov. Met. vi. 16; Steph. Byz. s.v. Amnisos.) But the nymphs of fresh water, whether of rivers, lakes, brooks, or wells, are also designated by the general name Naiades, Nêïdes, though they have in addition their specific names, as Krênaiai, Pêgaiai, Hegeionimoi, Limnatides, or Limnades. (Hom. Od. xvii. 240; Apollon. Rhod. iii. 1219; Theocrit. v. 17; Orph. Hymn. 50. 6, Argon. 644.) Even the rivers of the lower regions are described as having their nymphs; hence, Nymphae infernae paludis and Avernales. (Ov. Met. v. 540, Fast. ii. 610.) Many of these presided over waters or springs which were believed to inspire those that drank of them, and hence

the nymphs themselves were thought to be endowed with prophetic or oracular power, and to inspire men with the same, and to confer upon them the gift of poetry. (Paus. iv. 27. § 2, ix. 3. § 5, 34. § 3; Plut. Aristid. 11; Theocrit. vii. 92; comp. MUSAE.) Inspired soothsayers or priests are therethe fore sometimes called numphogêptoi. (Plat. Phaedr. p. 421, e.) Their powers, however, vary with those of the springs over which they preside; some were thus regarded as having the power of restoring sick persons to health (Pind. Ol. xii. 26; Paus. v. 5. § 6, vi. 22. § 4); and as water is necessary to feed all vegetation as well as all living beings, the water nymphs (Hydriades) were also worshipped along with Dionysus and Demeter as giving life and blessings to all created beings, and this attribute is expressed by a variety of epithets, such as karpotrophoi, aipolikai, nomiai, kourotrophoi, &c. As their influence was thus exercised in all departments of nature, they frequently appear in connection with higher divinities, as, for example, with Apollo, the prophetic god and the protector of herds and flocks (Apollon. Rhod. iv. 1218); with Artemis, the huntress and the protectress of game, for she herself was originally an Arcadian nymph (Apollon. Rhod. i. 1225, iii. 881; Paus. iii. 10. § 8); with Hermes, the fructifying god of flocks (Hom. Hymn. in Aphrod. 262); with Dionysus (Orph. Hymn. 52; Horat. Carm. i. 1. 31, ii. 19. 3); with Pan, the Seileni and Satyrs, whom they join in their Bacchic revels and dances.

2. Nymphs of mountains and grottoes, are called Orodemniades and Oreiades but sometimes also by names derived from the particular mountains they inhabited, as Kithairônides, Pêliades, Korukiai, &c. (Theocrit. vii. 137; Virg. Aen. i. 168, 500; Paus. v. 5. § 6, ix. 3. § 5, x. 32. § 5; Apollon. Rhod. i. 550, ii. 711; Ov. Her. xx. 221; Virg. Eclog. vi. 56.)

3. Nymphs of forests, groves, and glens, were believed sometimes to appear to and frighten solitary travellers. They are designated by the names Alsêïdes, Holêôroi, Aulôniades, and Napaiai. (Apollon. Rhod. i. 1066, 1227; Orph. Hymn. 50. 7; Theocrit. xiii. 44; Ov. Met. xv. 490; Virg. Georg. iv. 535.)

4. Nymphs of trees, were believed to die together with the trees which had been their abode, and with which they had come into existence. They were called Dryades, Hamadruades or Hadryades, from drys, which signifies not only an oak, but any wild-growing lofty tree; for the nymphs of fruit trees were called Mêlides, Mêliades, Epimêlides, or Hamamêlides. They seem to be of Arcadian origin, and never appear together with any of the great gods. (Paus. viii. 4. § 2; Apollon. Rhod. ii. 477, &c.; Anton. Lib. 31, 32; Hom. Hymn. in Ven. 259, &c.)

The second class of nymphs, who were connected with certain races or localities (Numphai chthoniai, Apollon. Rhod. ii. 504), usually have a name derived from the places with which they are associated, as Nysiades, Dodonides, Lemniae. (Ov. Fast. iii. 769, Met. v. 412, ix. 651; Apollod. iii. 4. § 3; Schol. ad Pind. Ol. xiii. 74.)

The sacrifices offered to nymphs usually consisted of goats, lambs, milk, and oil, but never of wine. (Theocrit. v. 12, 53, 139, 149; Serv. ad Virg. Georg. iv. 380, Eclog. v. 74.) They were worshipped and honoured with sanctuaries in many parts of Greece, especially near springs, groves, and grottoes, as, for example, near a spring at Cyrtone (Paus. ix. 24. § 4), in Attica (i. 31. § 2),at Olympia (v. 15. § 4, vi. 22. § 4), at Megara (i. 40. § 1), between Sicyon and Phlius (ii. 11. § 3), and other places. Nymphs are represented in works of art as beautiful maidens, either quite naked or only half-covered. Later poets sometimes describe them as having sea-coloured hair. (Ov. Met. v. 432.)

Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.


CLASSIFICATION OF NYMPHS
Ancient Greek writers describe many types of nymph. However the classes were mostly fluid. The Naiad nymph of a local spring, for example, might also be the Dryad of the large tree growing by its waters. Only in modern compendiums are they presented in clearly divisible classes.
FRESH-WATER NYMPHS
1. OKEANIDES were the eldest of the Nymphai, daughters of the great, earth-encircling River Okeanos. They presided over the sources of fresh-water and were responsible for the nurture of the natural world. As such they were often described as nurses not only of nature but of the gods themselves. Their numbers included Naiades (nymphs of springs and fountains), Nephelai (nymphs of rain-clouds), Aurai (of moist, cool breezes), Dryades (of trees), Epimelides (of grassy pastures), and Leimonides (nymphs of flowery meadows). In modern compilations Okeanides are often described as "ocean" nymphs. A deceptive phrase since Okeanos in old Greek myth was a mythical fresh-water river and not the salt sea ocean.
2. NAIADES were nymphs of the earthly sources of fresh-water, including springs, rivers, streams, wells and fountains. Some were daughters of the earth-encircling river Okeanos (i.e. the Okeanides), while others were born of local River Gods. They were sometimes also associated with rainclouds (Naiad-Nephelai), trees (Naiad-Dryades), and flowery meadows (Naiad-Leimonides).
3. HYDRIADES were fresh-water nymphs, named for hydros, the Greek word for water. They were essentially the same as the Naiades.
TREE NYMPHS
4. DRYADES were the nymphs of the trees, forests and groves. Some Dryades were the Naiad nymphs of rivers and springs who presided over the trees sprouting on their banks. Others were Oreiades (mountain nymphs) connected with the dry-growing mountain fir and manna ash trees.
5. HAMADRYADES or HADRYADES were Dryad nymphs whose life force was bound to that of a tree. They were particularly associated with lofty trees growing in sacred groves of the gods. Some were also the Naiades of springs which seemed to sprout from the base of their roots.
6. MELIAI were nymphs of the mountain ash tree and honey bees. They were Hamadryades, Oreiades, and Melissai. Many a Melia was also named nymph of a local spring (a Naiad).
7. MELISSAI were nymphs of the honey bees. They were usually classed as Meliai or Oreiades, nymphs of ash trees and mountain forests.
8. OREIADES were mountain dwelling nymphs. Some were Hamadryads of mountain-loving fir and ash-trees, others were spirits of rocky grottos, some were Naiades of the mountain springs, and others were Epimelides of the mountain pastures.
MEADOW NYMPHS
9. EPIMELIDES were the nymphs of grassy pastures, who fed the cattle, sheep and goats of human herdsmen. They were also the nymphs who nurtured orchard trees. (The Greek word melos meant both fruit-tree and sheep, hence the double function).
10. LEIMONIDES were the nymphs of flowery water meadows. They were usually described as a type of Okeanid or Naiad nymph. The Leimonid companions of spring-time Persephone were a band of Okeanides.
11. ANTHOUSSAI were nymphs of flowers. They were Okeanides, Naiades, Epimelides and Leimonides.
SKY NYMPHS
12. NEPHELAI were the nymphs of rain-clouds. They were numbered amongst the Okeanides.
13. AURAI were nymphs of cooling, damp breezes. They were described as daughters of either watery Okeanos or Boreas, the god of the north wind.
14. ASTERIAI were nymphs of the stars. They were mostly daughters of the Titan Atlas such as the Hyades and Pleiades. Both of these were also classed as Oreiades (mountain nymphs).
SEA NYMPHS
15. HALIAI were the nymphs of sea and shore. They were spirits of the deep, the waves, fish, coastal caverns, sandy beaches, rocks and pebbly shores. Most were daughters of the sea-gods, including the fifty famed Nereides. A few also appear in the guise of Naiad nymphs who guide fresh-water beneath the sea.
16. NEREIDES were nymphs of the sea. They were numbered amongst the Haliai, marine nymphs.
UNDERWORLD NYMPHS
17. LAMPADES were the torch-bearing nymphs of the underworld. They were spirits in the train of Persephone and Hekate. Many underworld nymphs were described as daughters of the infernal River Gods.
OTHER NYMPHS
18. MAINADES (also known as Bakkhantes, Bakkhai, Bassarides, Thyiai, and Mimallones) were orgiastic nymphs in the train of the god Dionysos. These thyrsos (pine-cone tipped staff) bearing spirits who consorted with Satyrs and Silenoi were a mixture of Dryades, Naiades, and Oreiades.
19. NYMPHAI of no specific class appeared as daughters of a variety of gods, e.g. Kalypso daughter of Atlas, Lampetia and Phaethousa daughters of Helios the sun, etc.

O18.1 NAIAD NYMPH
RIDING RIVER GOD
O19.2 NAIAD NYMPH
AT SPRING
T37.1 AURA NYMPH
ON ROCK
P12.4 NEREID NYMPHS
RIDING DOLPHINS

TYPES OF NYMPHAI BY ANCIENT WRITER

Ancient poets and writers introduce various types of nymph. References to sea nymphs (Nereides, etc.) are not included here.

1) HOMER, TYPES OF NYMPH

Homer classifies Nymphs by habitat as follows: those of the springs (pegai, krenai), rivers (potamoi), tree groves (alsea), grassy meadows (pisea), and mountain-tops (orea). These were named Naiades, Dryades, Leimonides and Oreiades by later authors.

Homer, Iliad 20. 4 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"The Nymphai who live in the lovely groves (alsea), and the springs of rivers (pegai potamon) and the grassy meadows (pisea poiêenta)."

Homer, Odyssey 6. 121 ff (trans. Shewring) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"A shriek rang in my ears just then--womanish, it seemed. Did it come from girls--did it come from Nymphai who live on high mountain-tops (orea) or in river-springs (pegai potamon) or in grassy meadows (pisea)?"

Homer, Odyssey 10. 348 ff :
"They [Nymphai] come from springs (krênai), they come from groves (alsea), they come from the sacred rivers (potamoi) flowing seawards."

Homeric Hymn 5 to Aphrodite 94 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th to 4th B.C.) :
"The Nymphai [of Mount Ida] who haunt the pleasant woods (alsea), or of those who inhabit this lovely mountain (oros) and the springs of rivers (pegai potamoi) and grassy meads (pisea)."

2) HESIOD, TYPES OF NYMPH

Hesiod describes two classes of Nymph in his Theogony: the Okeanides of fresh water springs, streams and water meadows, and the Meliai, tree nymphs of the hills and mountains. In the Catalogues he introduces the Oreiades of the mountains (similar to the Meliai) and the Naiad daughters of the River-gods.

Hesiod, Theogony 346 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or 7th B.C.) :
"There are three thousand light-stepping daughters of Okeanos scattered far and wide, bright children among the goddesses, and all alike look after the earth [trees, plants and flowers?] and the depths of the standing water [i.e. springs, streams, lakes and wells]."

Hesiod, Theogony 176 ff :
"The bloody drops that gushed forth [from the castration of Heaven] Gaia (Earth) received, and as the seasons moved round she bare the strong Erinyes and the great Gigantes with gleaming armour and the Nymphai whom they call Meliai all over the boundless earth."

Hesiod, Fragments of Unknown Position 6 (from Strabo 10. 3. 19) (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or 7th B.C.) :
"But of them [the Hekaterides] were born the divine Nymphai of the Mountains (Oreiai) and the tribe of worthless, helpless Satyroi."

3) ALKMAN, TYPES OF NYMPH

The poet Alkman (whose poems are no longer extant) described three main types of nymph: fresh-water Naiades; torch-bearing Lampades of the underworld (connected with the Mysteries of Demeter); and thyrsos-bearing Thyiades of the Dionysiac orgy. The latter were no doubt associated with the Oreiades (mountain nymphs) of Hesiod, sisters of the Satyrs.

Alcman, Fragment 63 (from Scholiast on Iliad) (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric II) (C7th B.C.) :
"Some say there are many kinds of Nymphai, e.g. Alkman: Naides and Lampades and Thyiades, Thyiades being those who revel and go wild, i.e. go out of their minds, with Dionysos, Lampades those who carry torches and lights with Hekate."

4) STRABO, TYPES OF NYMPH

The ancient geographer Strabo lists the types of orgiast Nymph in the train of Dionysos. These include Lenai (wine-press dancers), Thyiai (orgiastic), Mimallones (musical), and Naiades (fresh-water).

Strabo, Geography 10. 3. 10 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Bakkhai, and also the [Nymphai] Lenai and Thyiai and Mimallones and Naïdes Nymphai . . . [are attendants] of Dionysos."

5) PAUSANIAS, TYPES OF NYMPH

The geographer Pausanias describes Nymph-cults throughout the Peloponnese. These were most commonly dedicated to Naiades of the springs, grottos and town fountains, but Dryad cults were not unknown.

Pausanias, Description of Greece 8. 4. 2 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"They used to call some Nymphai Dryades (of the trees), other Epimeliades (of the sheep), and others Naides (of the fresh-water), and Homer in his poetry talks mostly of Naides Nymphai."

6) OVID & VIRGIL, TYPES OF NYMPH

Ovid and Virgil's celebrated poems immortalise the pairing of "Naiades and Dryades" of the countryside. (Their poems contain many other references to individual nymphs and groupings - such as those inhabiting specific mountains or river streams).

Ovid, Metamorphoses 6. 453 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Richer still her beauty; such the beauty of the Naides and Dryades, as we used to hear, walking the woodland ways."

Ovid, Metamorphoses 5. 538 ff :
"[Orphne] not the least famous of Avernus' [Hades'] Nymphae." - Ovid, Metamorphoses 5.538

Ovid, Metamorphoses 2. 15 ff :
"On the land people and cities, woods and beasts . . . Flumina (Rivers) and Nymphae and Rural deities (Numina Ruris)."

7) OTHER CLASSICAL WRITERS, TYPES OF NYMPH

Late classical writers used a variety of names to describe the three or four main classes of Nymphs, i.e. those of trees and forests, springs and streams, water meadows, and pastures.

Philostratus the Elder, Imagines 2. 11 (trans. Fairbanks) (Greek rhetorician C3rd A.D.) :
"[Description of an ancient Greek painting:] Here are the Nymphai in a group, but do you look at them by classes; some are Naides (Water Nymphai)--these who are shaking drops of dew from their hair; and the lean slenderness of the Boukolai (Pastoral Nymphai) is no white less beautiful than dew; and the Anthousai (Flower Nymphai) have hair that resembles hyacinth flowers."

Oppian, Cynegetica 4. 265 ff (trans. Mair) (Greek poet C3rd A.D.) :
"The Dryades and the Nymphai that have bees in their keeping [i.e. Meliai or Melissai]."

Statius, Thebaid 4. 259 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"Forest-queens [Dryades] and spirits enshrined in rivers [Naiades] . . . [and] Napaea (Nymphs of the Glade)."

8) NONNUS, TYPES OF NYMPH

A poet of late antiquity, Nonnus described many types of Nymphs, but most commonly pairs "Neiades and Hadryades" as a catch-all.

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 14. 203 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"The wild Oreiades with hearts of men trailing their long robes. Many a year had they seen roll round the turning-point as they lived out their long lives. Some were the Epimelides who lived on the heights near the shepherds; some were from the woodland glades [Alseides], and the ridges of the wild forest Nymphai Meliai of the mountain ash-coeval with their tree."

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 14. 1 ff :
"One all-comprehending summons was sounded for Trees and for Rivers, one call for Neiades and Hadryades, the troops of the forest."

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 24. 123 ff :
"The Hydriades (Water-Nymphs) mingled with the Hamadryades of the trees."


PARENTAGE OF NYMPHS

1) DAUGHTERS OF ZEUS

The Nymphs in Homer (and sometimes Hesiod) are the daughters of Zeus. Antoninus Liberalis relates a myth in which the Nymphs take offence at being described as daughters of a the local river-god.

Homer, Odyssey 9. 152 ff (trans. Shewring) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"The Nymphai, the daughters of sovereign Zeus."

Hesiod, The Precepts of Chiron Frag 3 (from Plutarch de Orac. defectu 2. 415C) (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or 7th B.C.) :
"The rich-haired Nymphai, daughters of Zeus the aigis-holder."

Alcaeus, Fragment 306c (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric I) (Greek lyric C6th B.C.) :
"They say that the Nymphai were created by aigis-bearing Zeus."

2) DAUGHERS OF OKEANOS

According to Hesiod, the fresh-water Nymphs were daughters of the earth-encircling River Okeanos. They were responsible for the flourshing of nature. The Orphic Hymns describe their all-nurturing power in more detail.

Hesiod, Theogony 346 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or 7th B.C.) :
"She [Tethys] brought forth also [in addition to the River-Gods] a race apart of daughters [the Okeanides] . . . there are three thousand light-stepping daughters of Okeanos scattered far and wide, bright children among the goddesses, and all alike look after the earth [trees, plants and flowers?] and the depths of the standing water [i.e. springs, streams, lakes and wells]."

Homeric Hymn 2 to Demeter 415 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th or 6th B.C.) :
"The deep-bosomed daughters of Okeanos . . . were playing in a lovely meadow [with the goddesses Persephone, Artemis, Aphrodite and Athene]."

Aristophanes, Clouds 264 ff (trans. O'Neill) (Greek comedy C5th to 4th B.C.) :
"Come, oh! Nephelai (Clouds) . . . tarrying in the gardens of Okeanos, your father, forming sacred Choruses with the Nymphai [Okeanides]."

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 8 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"The Titanes had children. Those of Okeanos and Tethys were called Okeanides."

Callimachus, Hymn 3 to Artemis 12 ff (trans. Mair) (Greek poet C3rd B.C.) :
"[Artemis to her father Zeus:] ‘And give me sixty daughters of Okeanos (Okeanines) for my choir--all nine years old, all maidens yet ungirdled [Nymphai].’"

Orphic Hymn 51 to the Nymphs (trans. Taylor) (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.) :
"Nymphai, who from Okeanos famed derive your birth, who dwell in liquid caverns of the earth . . . who nourish flowers . . . who in meadows dwell, and caves and dens . . . who swiftly soar through air, fountains, and dews, and winding streams your care . . . and gentle course through flowery vales to glide . . . whom woods delight . . . whose streams exhale the breeze refreshing, and the balmy gale: with goats and pastures pleased, and beasts of prey, nurses of fruits . . . whom oaks delight, lovers of spring."

3) DAUGHTERS OF GAIA

According to Hesiod, the Meliai Nymphs of the mountain ash-tree were daughters of Gaia (Mother Earth). These were probably the nurses of Zeus. The "Gigantes" (Earth-born) Hesiod names as brothers of the Meliai were probably the Kouretes and Satyrs, rather than the enemies of the gods.

Hesiod, Theogony 176 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or 7th B.C.) :
"The bloody drops that gushed forth [from the castration of Heaven] Gaia (Earth) received, and as the seasons moved round she bare the strong Erinyes and the great Gigantes with gleaming armour and the Nymphai whom they call Meliai all over the boundless earth."

4) DAUGHTERS OF THE HEKATERIDES

The Oreiades of Hesiod's Catalogues (?) are Hamadryad nymphs of the mountain pines, sisters of the tribes of Kouretes and Satyrs. These were probably identical to the "Meliai and Gigantes" born of Gaia in Hesiod's Theogony (above), despite the divergent genealogies.

Hesiod, Fragments of Unknown Position 6 (from Strabo 10. 3. 19) (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or 7th B.C.) :
"Hesiod says that five daughters were born to Hekateros and the daughter of Phoroneus, ‘But of them were born the divine Nymphai Oreiai (of the Mountains) and the tribe of worthless, helpless Satyroi, and the divine Kouretes, sportive dancers.’"

Strabo, Geography 10. 3. 19 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Further, one might also find . . . these Daimones [Kouretes, Satyroi & Oreiades]... were called, not only ministers of gods, but also gods themselves. For instance, Hesiod says that five daughters were born to Hekateros and the daughter of Phoroneus, ‘from whom sprang the mountain (oureiai) Nymphaii, goddesses, and the breed of Satyroi, creatures worthless and unfit for work, and also the Kouretes, sportive gods, dancers.’"

5) DAUGHTERS OF SEILENOS

The Dryades and Satyrs were often called children or grandchildren of the old rustic god Seilenos. He is probably the same as Hesiod's figure of Hekateros (above).

Propertius, Elegies 2. 32 (trans. Goold) (Roman elegy C1st B.C.) :
"The band of sister Hamadryades as well as the Sileni and the father of the company himself [Silenos]."

6) DAUGHTERS OF OTHER RUSTIC GODS

Many individual Dryades and Oreiades were called daughters of various rustic gods.

7) DAUGHTERS OF RIVER GODS

The younger Naiades were daughters of the River-gods and the Okeanid sister-wives. These were Nymphs of the various sources of fresh-water: rivers, streams, wells, fountains. (There are numerous examples in classical literature, see individual Nymph and River-god pages.)

Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 1. 498 ff (trans. Rieu) (Greek epic C3rd B.C.) :
"He [Orpheus] sang of . . . how, together with their Nymphai [the Naiades], the murmuring Potamoi (Rivers) and all four legged creatures came to be."

8) DAUGHTERS OF SEA GODS

The daughters of the various Sea-gods were the nymphs of the sea, including the Nereides born of Nereus, and the daughters of Triton, Proteus and Phorkys.

9) DAUGHTERS OF OTHER GODS

The daughters of many other gods were also described as Nymphs, including the daughters of the Titan Atlas and the sun-god Helios.


IMMORTALITY OF THE NYMPHAI

Some of the elder Nymphs, including the Okeanides and Nereides, were immortal goddesses. Many of the younger ones, especially the tree-dwelling Dryades had a limited, albeit long, life-span.

Hesiod, The Precepts of Chiron Frag 3 (from Plutarch de Orac. defectu 2. 415C) (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or 7th B.C.) :
"A chattering crow lives out nine generations of aged men, but a stag's life is four times a crow's and a raven's life makes three stags old, while the Phoinix [magical bird] outlives nine raves, but we, the rich-haired Nymphai, daughters of Zeus the aigis-holder, outlive ten Phoinixes."

Homeric Hymn 5 to Aphrodite 256 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th to 4th B.C.) :
"The deep-breasted Nymphai Mountain-Dwelling (Oreskoioi) . . . They rank neither with mortals nor with immortals: long indeed do they live . . . at their birth pines or high-topped oaks spring up with them upon the fruitful earth . . . but when the fate of death (moira thanatoio) is near at hand, first those lovely trees wither where they stand, and the bark shrivels away about them, and the twigs fall down, and at last the life of the Nymphe and of the tree leave the light of the sun together."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 10. 31. 10 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"The poets say that the Nymphai live for a great number of years, but are not altogether exempt from death."

Cicero, De Natura Deorum 3. 17 (trans. Rackham) (Roman rhetorician C1st B.C.) :
"If gods exist, are Nymphae also goddesses? If the Nymphae are, the Panes and Satyri also are gods; but they are not gods; therefore the Nymphae also are not. Yet they posses temples vowed and dedicated to them."

Cicero, De Natura Deorum 3. 20 :
"If Terra the Earth is divine, so also is the sea . . . and therefore the Flumina [Potamoi, Rivers] and Fontes (Springs, Fountains) [i.e. Naiades] too."

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 14. 203 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"The wild Oreiades with hearts of men trailing their long robes. Many a year had they seen roll round the turning-point as they lived out their long lives."


COLOURS OF THE NYMPHAI

The old Greek poets simply imagined the Nymphs as beautiful women. The painters and poets of late antiquity, however, gave them fantastically coloured hair and skin.

Anacreon, Fragment 35 (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric II) (C6th B.C.) :
"The blue-eyed Nymphai."

Anacreontea, Fragment 35 (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric II) (B.C.) :
"Rosy-armed Nymphai."

Orphic Hymn 55 to Aphrodite (trans. Taylor) (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.) :
"Beauteous Nymphai with eyes cerulean bright."

Philostratus the Elder, Imagines 2. 11 (trans. Fairbanks) (Greek rhetorician C3rd A.D.) :
"[Description of an ancient Greek painting:] Here are the Nymphai in a group, but do you look at them by classes; some are Naides (Water Nymphai)--these who are shaking drops of dew from their hair; and the lean slenderness of the Boukolai (Pastoral Nymphai) is no white less beautiful than dew; and the Anthousai (Flower Nymphai) have hair that resembles hyacinth flowers."

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 42. 98 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"The unveiled Naias . . . diving into her spring, which had one colour with her body."


HYMNS TO NYMPHAI

Orphic Hymn 51 to the Nymphs (trans. Taylor) (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.) :
"To the Nymphai, Fumigation from Aromatics. Nymphai, who from Okeanos famed derive your birth, who dwell in liquid caverns of the earth; nurses of Bakkhos, secret-coursing powers, fructiferous Goddesses, who nourish flowers: earthly-rejoicing, who in meadows dwell, and caves and dens, who depths extend to hell.
Holy, oblique, who swiftly soar through air, fountains, and dews, and winding streams your care, seen and unseen, who joy with wandering wide, and gentle course through flowery vales to glide; with Pan exulting on the mountains' height, inspired, and stridulous, whom woods delight: Nymphai odorous, robed in white, whose streams exhale the breeze refreshing, and the balmy gale: with goats and pastures pleased, and beasts of prey, nurses of fruits, unconscious of decay. In cold rejoicing, and to cattle kind, sportive, through ocean wandering unconfined. O Nysiai [Nysiades], insane (manikoi), whom oaks delight, lovers of spring, Paionian virgins bright; with Bakkhos and with Deo [Demeter] hear my prayer, and to mankind abundant favour bear; propitious listen to your suppliant's voice, come, and benignant in these rites rejoice; give plenteous seasons and sufficient wealth, and pour in lasting streams, continued health."


Sources:

  • Homer, The Iliad - Greek Epic C9th-8th BC
  • Homer, The Odyssey - Greek Epic C9th-8th BC
  • Hesiod, Theogony - Greek Epic C8th-7th BC
  • Hesiod, Fragments - Greek Epic C8th-7th BC
  • The Homeric Hymns - Greek Epic C8th-4th BC
  • Greek Lyric I Alcaeus, Fragments - Greek Lyric C6th BC
  • Greek Lyric II Alcman, Fragments - Greek Lyric C7th BC
  • Greek Lyric II Anacreon, Fragments - Greek Lyric BC
  • Apollodorus, The Library - Greek Mythography C2nd BC
  • Apollonius Rhodius, The Argonautica - Greek Epic C3rd BC
  • Aristophanes, Clouds - Greek Comedy C5th-4th BC
  • The Orphic Hymns - Greek Hymns BC
  • Callimachus, Hymns - Greek C3rd BC
  • Strabo, Geography - Greek Geography C1st BC - C1st AD
  • Pausanias, Guide to Greece - Greek Geography C2nd AD
  • Philostratus the Elder, Imagines - Greek Art History C3rd AD
  • Ovid, Metamorphoses - Latin Epic C1st BC - C1st AD
  • Propertius, Elegies - Latin Elegy C1st BC
  • Cicero, De Natura Deorum - Latin Philosophy C1st BC
  • Statius, Thebaid - Latin Epic C1st AD
  • Oppian, Cynegetica - Greek Poetry C3rd AD
  • Nonnos, Dionysiaca - Greek Epic C5th AD