Web Theoi
NEPHELE
 
Greek Name Transliteration Latin Name Translation
Νεφελη Nephelê Nebula, Nubes Cloud (nephelê)

NEPHELE was the cloud nymph wife of Lord Athamas of Athamantia in Boiotia (central Greece). When Athamas' second wife Ino plotted to have Nephele's children sacrificed to the gods, she sent the golden-fleeced Ram to carry them away to safety.

Nephele may have been one of the Okeanides, which were sometimes represented as clouds. Alternatively she might have been the same as the mother of the Kentauroi (Centaurs) who was also named Nephele.

PARENTS
Perhaps a daughter of OKEANOS & TETHYS
OFFSPRING
[1.1] PHRIXOS, HELLE (by Athamas) (Hesiod Catalogues Frag 38, Apollodorus 1.80, Hyginus Fabulae 1)
[1.2] HELLE (Ovid Metamorphoses 11.195)

ENCYCLOPEDIA

NE′PHELE (Nephelê). The wife of the Thessalian king Athamas, by whom she became the mother of Phrixus and Helle. (Apollod. i. 9. § 1.)

Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.


Hesiod, Catalogues of Women Fragment 38 (from Erastothenes, Catast. 19. 124) (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or 7th B.C.) :
"The Ram [Krios]. This it was that transported Phrixos and Helle. It was immortal and was given them by their mother Nephele (Cloud), and had a golden fleece, as Hesiod and Pherekydes say."

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 80 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Athamas, lord of Boiotia, sired by Nephele a son Phrixos (Phrixus) and a daughter Helle. Then he took a second wife, Ino, by whom he had Learkhos (Learchus) and Melikertes (Melicertes). Now Ino, as a plot against the children of Nephele . . . persuaded the messengers to report that the oracle prophesied an end to the dearth if Phrixos were to be sacrificed to Zeus. When Athamas heard this and was pressured by the joint efforts of the inhabitants, he had Phrixos placed on the altar. But Nephele seized both him and her daughter, and gave them a golden-fleeced ram which she had received from Hermes, by which they were borne through the sky over and across the land and the sea."

Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 1 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Athamas, son of Aeolus, had by his wife Nebula [Nephele], a son Phrixus and a daughter Helle . . . and by Ino, daughter of Cadmus, two sons, Learchus and Melicertes."

Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 2 :
"Ino, daughter of Cadmus and Harmonia, wishing to kill Phrixus and Helle, Nebula's [Nephele's] children, formed a plan with the women of the entire tribe, and conspired to parch the seed grain to make it unfertile, so that, when the sterility and scarcity of grain resulted, the whole state should perish, some by starvation, others by sickness. With regard to this situation Athamas sent a servant to Delphi, but Ino instructed him to bring back a false reply that the pestilence would end if he sacrificed Phrixus to Jove [Zeus]. When Athamas refused to do this, Phrixus voluntarily and readily promised that he alone would free the state from its distress. Accordingly he ws led to the altar, wearing fillets of sacrifice, but he servant, out of pity for the youth, revealed Ino’s plans to Athamas."

Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 3 :
"While Phrixus and Helle under madness sent by Liber [Dionysos] were wandering in a forest, Nebula [Nephele] their mother is said to have come there bringing a gilded ram, offspring of Neptune [Poseidon] and Theophane. She bade her children to mount it, and journey to Colchis to King Aeetes, son of Sol [Helios], and there sacrifice the ram to Mars [Ares]. This they were said to have done, but when they had mounted, and the ram had carried them over the sea, Helle fell from the ram; from this sea was called Hellespont. Phrixus, however, was carried to Colchis, where, as his mother had bidden, he sacrificed the ram, and placed its gilded fleece in the temple of Mars [Ares]--the very fleece which, guarded by a dragon, it is said Jason, son of Aeson and Alcimede, came to secure."

Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 20 :
"Constellation Aries (the Ram). This is thought to be the ram which carried Phrixus and Helle through the Hellespont. Hesiod and Pherecydes say that it had a fleece of gold; about his we shall speak at greater length elsewhere. Many have said that Helle fell into the Hellespont . . . Phrixus, on coming safely to Aeetes, sacrificed the ram to Jove [Zeus], and hung the fleece up in the temple. The image of the ram itself, put among the constellations by Nubes [Nephele], marks the time of year when grain is sown, because Ino earlier sowed it parched--the chief reason for the flight . . . Stirred by this report [i.e. the false accusation that Phrixus attempted to violate his wife], Cretheus, as was fitting for one who deeply loved his wife and was king, persuaded Athamas to put Phrixus to death. However, Nubes [Nephele] intervened, and rescuing Phrixus and Helle his sister, put them on the ram, and bade them flee as far as they could through the Hellespont. Helle fell off and paid the debt to nature, and the Hellespont was nemd from her name. Phrixus came to the Colchians, and, as we have said, hung up the fleece of the slain ram in a temple."

Ovid, Metamorphoses 11. 195 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"The side of Helle Nepheleis' [the daughter of Nephele] narrow strait."

Ovid, Fasti 3. 853 ff (trans.Boyle) (Roman poetry C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"The seeds were burnt by the wicked stepmother's [Ino's] trick and no customary grain had sprouted. A messenger visits the oracle to fetch Delphi's sure help for the barren earth. Corrupt like the seed, he reports the oracle seeks the deaths of Helle and young Phrixus. People, time and Ino compelled a stubborn king to endure the unspeakable orders. Phrixus and his sister, headbands scarfing their brows, stand at the altars and wail their joint fate. Their mother [Nephele the cloud nymphe] sees them as she hangs upon the air, and hammers her naked breast in shock. She dives into the Dracon-born city [Thebes], enveloped in clouds, and snatches her children away. She provides a Ram shimmering with gold for their escape: it carries the two across the wide seas."

Ovid, Heroides 19. 123 ff (trans. Showerman) (Roman poetry C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"With what great waves the shores [of the Hellespontos] are beaten, and what dark clouds envelop and hide the day! It may be the loving mother [Nephele the cloud] of Helle has come to the sea, and is lamenting in downpouring tears the drowning of her child--or is the step-dame [Ino], turned to a goddess of the waters [Leukothea, Leucothea], vexing the sea that is called by her step-child's hated name?"

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 9. 303 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"The bed of his [Athamas'] first wife Nephele had given him two children."

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 10. 67 ff :
"[Ino fleeing from Athamas, who had been driven mad by Hera, cries out:] ‘I know where this disaster came from, rolling upon your mother: I know! It is Nephele sends the Erinyes after me, that I may die in this sea where maiden Helle fell. I have heard that Phrixos was carried through the air to the Kolkhian (Colchian) country, guiding aloft the Ram who took him off, and he still lives in a distant land. O that my son Melikertes too might escape to another country, and travel the high path of the Krios Khrysopokos (Gold-fleece Ram)!’"


Sources:

  • Hesiod, Catalogues of Women - Greek Epic C8th-7th B.C.
  • Apollodorus, The Library - Greek Mythography C2nd A.D.
  • Hyginus, Fabulae - Latin Mythography C2nd A.D.
  • Hyginus, Astronomica - Latin Mythography C2nd A.D.
  • Ovid, Fasti - Latin Epic C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
  • Ovid, Heroides - Latin Poetry C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
  • Nonnos, Dionysiaca - Greek Epic C5th A.D.