Protectors of Sheep
THE EPIMELIDES were nymphs of meadows and pastures--protectors of sheep flocks and guardians of fruit-trees. The name Epimelides was derived from the Greek words epi- "protector" and mêlon "sheep" or "apple-tree." The double meaning of the word mêlon gave them their dual role.
In genealogical terms the Epimelides were not a clearly defined class of nymph. Their numbers apparently included Okeanides (Oceanids) and Oreiades (Oreads), as well as daughters of the sun-god Helios and of the rustic gods Hermes, Seilenos and Pan. Even Nereides--such as Galateia and Psamathe--were occasionally portrayed as Epimelides in myth.
FAMILY OF THE EPIMELDIES
Probably daughters of OKEANOS, HELIOS, the OUREA, HERMES, SEILENOS and PAN
MA′LIADES (Maliades numphai), nymphs who were worshipped as the protectors of flocks and of fruit-trees. They are also called Mêlides or Epimêlides. (Theocrit. i. 22, with Valck. note, xiii. 45; Eustath. ad Hom. p. 1963.) The same name is also given to the nymphs of the district of the Malians on the river Spercheius. (Soph. Philoct. 725.)
Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.
CLASSICAL LITERATURE QUOTES
LIST OF EPIMELIDES
GALATEIA (Galatea). The "milk-white" Nereid nymph was often represented as an Epimelid--she was a lover of the Sicilian shepherd Akis (Acis) and possessed a rustic shrine on the slopes Mount Aitna (Etna).
HESPERIDES. Three nymphs who guarded the fabulous, golden-apple tree of the gods.
NEAIREIDES (Neaerides). Two nymphs named Lampetie and Phaethousa who tended the herds and flocks of their father, the sun-god Helios,on the mythical island of Thrinakie (Thrinacia).
NOMIA. An Oreiad nymph of Mount Nomia in Arkadia (Arcadia) associated with the god Pan, whose name means "She of the Pastures".
PENELOPEIA (Penelope). An Epimellid nymph of Mount Kyllene (Cyllene) in Arkadia who was the mother of the god Pan by Hermes.
PSAMATHEIA (Psamathe). A Nereid nymph who, in the story of Peleus, assumes the guise of an Epimelid nymph when she sends a wolf to destroy his flocks.
SINOE. An Epimelid nymph of Mount Sinoe in Arkadia who nursed the infant god Pan.
SOSE. An Oreiad or Epimelid nymph prophetess loved by the god Hermes who bore him a rustic Pan.
Of Sheep or Apples
Protectors of Sheep
Pastoral Nymphs (boukolos)
CLASSICAL LITERATURE QUOTES
Homer, Iliad 20. 4 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"But Zeus, from the many-folded peak of Olympos, told Themis to summon all the gods into assembly. She went everywhere, and told them to make thier way to Zeus' house. There was no Potamos (River) that was not there, except only Okeanos (Oceanus), there was not one of the Nymphai (Nymphs) who live in the lovely groves (alsea) [i.e. Alseides], and the springs of rivers (pegai potamon) [i.e. Naiades] and grass of the meadows (pisea poiêenta) [i.e. Epimelides], who came not. These all assembling into the house of Zeus cloud-gathering took places among the smooth-stone cloister walks."
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 (Nymphs) who live on high mountain-tops (orea) [i.e. Oreiades] or in river-springs (pegai potamon) [i.e. Naiades] or in grassy meadows (pisea) [i.e. Epimelides]?"
Homeric Hymn 5 to Aphrodite 94 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th to 4th B.C.) :
"[The herdsman Ankhises (Anchises) of Mount Ida speaks :] ‘The Nymphai (Nymphs) who haunt the pleasant woods [Dryades], or of those who inhabit this lovely mountain (oros) [i.e. Oreiades] and the springs of rivers (pegai potamoi) [i.e. Naiades] and grassy meads (pisea) [i.e. Epimelides]. I will make you an altar upon a high peak in a far seen place, and will sacrifice rich offerings to you at all seasons. And do you feel kindly towards me and grant [good fortune].’"
Theocritus, Idylls 1. 22 (trans. Rist) (Greek bucolic C3rd B.C.) :
"[A goatherd speaks :] ‘Come, sit we under this elm tree, facing the Meliades and Priapos there by the rustics' seat and the oaks.’"
Pausanias, Description of Greece 8. 4. 2 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"They used to call some Nymphai Dryades (Dryad Nymphs), other Epimeliades, and others Naides (Naiads), and Homer in his poetry talks mostly of Naides Nymphai (Naiad Nymphs)."
Philostratus the Elder, Imagines 2. 11 (trans. Fairbanks) (Greek rhetorician C3rd A.D.) :
"[A description of an ancient Greek painting at Neapolis (Naples) :] Here are the Nymphai (Nymphs) in a group, but do you look at them by classes; some are Naides (Water Nymphs)--these who are shaking drops of dew from their hair; and the lean slenderness of the Boukolai (Pastoral Nymphs) [i.e. Epimelides] is no white less beautiful than dew; and the Anthousai (Flower Nymphs) have hair that resembles hyacinth flowers."
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 14. 210 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"Nymphai (Nymphs) hastened to join the soldiers of the thyrsos [i.e. the Bakkhai (Bacchae) of Dionysos in his war against the Indians], the wild Oreiades (Oreads) 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 (Medlars) who lived on the heights near the shepherds; some were from the woodland glades and the ridges of the wild forest Meliai (Meliae) nymphai of the mountain Ash coeval with their tree. All these pressed onwards together to the fray, some with brassbacked drums, the instruments of Kybelid (Cybelid) Rheia, others with overhanging ivy-tendrils wreathed in their hair, or girt with rings of snakes. They carried the sharpened thyrsus which the mad Lydian women then took with them fearless to the Indian War."
EPIMELIDES & THE APULIAN SHEPHERDS
Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses 31 (trans. Celoria) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Tellers of stories say that in the land of the Messapians [in southern Italy] near the so-called Sacred Rocks there appeared the choral troupe of the Nymphai (Nymphs) Epimelides. Young Messapians left their flocks to view them. They declared they themselves could dance better. What they said irritated the Nymphai and rivalry arose increasingly over their dancing. Because the youths did not know that they were competing with deities, they danced as they would in a contest with mortals of their own age. Their manner of dancing, being that of shepherds, was without art, while that of the Nymphai was entirely dedicated to beauty.
In their dancing they surpassed the youths and they said to them : ‘Young men, did you want to compete against the Nymphai Epimelides? So, you foolish fellows, now that you have been beaten, you will be punished. The youths, as they stood by the sanctuary of the Nymphai, were changed into trees. Even today one hears at night the sound of groans coming from the trunks. The place is called that of the Nymphai and the Youths."
Ovid, Metamorphoses 14. 513 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"The bays and pastures of Apulia [in southern Italy], there he had seen a grotto deep in shade, of forest trees, hidden by slender reeds, the home of half-goat Pan, though once the Nymphae (Nymphs) lived there. A local shepherd frightened them; they fled away at first in sudden fear, but soon recovering, disdained the lout who had pursued them and began again the nimble measure of their country dance. The shepherd mocked them, mimicking the dance with loutish leaps and shouts of coarse abuse and rustic insults. Nothing silenced him till wood enswathed his throat. For he's a tree, and from its juice you judge its character. The oleaster’s bitter berries bear the taint of that tart tongue; they keep today the sourness of the things he used to say."
- Homer, The Iliad - Greek Epic C8th B.C.
- Homer, The Odyssey - Greek Epic C8th B.C.
- The Homeric Hymns - Greek Epic C8th - 4th B.C.
- Theocritus, Idylls - Greek Idyllic C3rd B.C.
- Pausanias, Description of Greece - Greek Travelogue C2nd A.D.
- Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses - Greek Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Nonnus, Dionysiaca - Greek Epic C5th A.D.
- Ovid, Metamorphoses - Latin Epic C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
Other references not currently quoted here: Longus 2.39 (Epimelides), Alciphron 3.11 (Epimelides), Pollux 9.122 & 127 (Meliades).
A complete bibliography of the translations quoted on this page.