Nymphae in Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology
（Νύμφαι), 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. 6.123, &c.,
12.318, Il. 20.8, 24.615.) 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. 6.105, 9.154,
13.107, 356, 17.243, Il. 6.420, 616.) Men offer up
sacrifices either to them alone, or in conjunction with
other gods, such as Hermes. (Od. 13.350, 17.211, 240,
14.435.) From the places which they inhabit, they are called
ἀγρονόμοι (Od. 6.105),ὀρεστιάδες (Il. 6.420), and νηϊάδες
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, Ὠκεανῖναι or
Ὠκεανιδες, νύμφαι ἅγιαι, who are regarded as the daughters
of Oceanus (Hes. Th. 346, &c., 364; Aeschyl. Prom.; Callim.
Hymn. in Dian. 13; Apollon. 4.1414; 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 (Νηρεΐδες; Hes. Th. 240, &c.). The rivers
were represented by the Potameides (Ποραμηΐδες), who, as
local divinities, were named after their rivers, as
Acheloides, Anigrides, Ismenides, Amniisiades, Pactolides.
(Apollon. 3.1219; Verg. A. 8.70; Paus. 5.5.6, 1.31.2;
Callim. Hymn. in Dian. 15; Ov. Met. 6.16; Steph. Byz. s.v.
Ἀμνισός.) But the nymphs of fresh water, whether of rivers,
lakes, brooks, or wells, are also designated by the general
name Naiades, Νηΐδες, though they have in addition their
specific names, as Κρηναῖαι, Πηγαῖαι, Ἑγειονίμοι,
Λιμνατίδες, or Λιμνάδες. (Hom. Od. 17.240; Apollon. 3.1219;
Theocrit. 5.17; 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. 5.540, Fast. 2.610.) Many of these preconcealed sided
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. 4.27.2, 9.3.5, 34.3; Plut. Aristid.
11; Theocrit. 7.92; comp. MUSAE.) Inspired soothsayers or
priests are therethe fore sometimes called νυμφόγηπτοι.
(Plat. Phaedr. p. 421e.) 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. O. 12.26; Paus. 5.5.6, 6.22.4); and as water
is necessary to feed all vegetation as well as all living
beings, the water nymphs (ϝ̔δριάδες) were also worshipped
along with Dionysus and Demeter as giving life and blessings
to all created beings, and this attrixxiv. bute is expressed
by a variety of epithets, such as καρποτρόφοι, αἰπογικαί,
νόμιαι, κουροτρόφιο, &c. As their influence was thus
exercised in all departments of nature, they frequently
appear in conneccalled tion with higher divinities, as, for
example, with Apollo, the prophetic god and the protector of
herds and flocks (Apollon. 4.1218); with Artemis, the
huntress and the protectress of game, for she herself was
originally an Arcadian nymph (Apollon. 1.1225, 3.881; Paus.
3.10.8); with Hermes, the fructifying god of flocks (Hom.
Hymn. in Aphrod. 262); with Dionysus (Orph. Hymn. 52; Hor.
Carm. 1.1.31, 2.19. 3); with Pan, the Seileni and Satyrs,
whom they join in their Bacchic revels and dances.
2. Nymphs of mountains and grottoes
These are called Ὀροδεμνιάδες and Ὀρειάδες but sometimes
also by names derived from the particular mountains they
inhabited, as Κιθαιρωνίδες, Πηγιάδες, Κορύκιαι, &c.
(Theocrit. 7.137; Verg. A. 1.168, 500; Paus. 5.5.6, 9.3.5,
10.32.5; Apollon. 1.550, 2.711; Ov. Ep. 20.221; Verg. Ecl.
3. Nymphs of frests, groves, and glens
These were believed sometimes to appear to and frighten
solitary travellers. They are designated by the names
Ἀλσηΐδες, Ὁληωροί, Αὐλωνιάδες, and Ναπαῖαι. (Apollon.
1.1066, 1227; Orph. Hymn). 50. 7; Theocrit. 13.44; Ov. Met.
15.490; Virg. Georg. 4.535.)
4. Nymphs of trees
These were believed to die together with the trees which had
been their abode, and with which they had come into
existence. They were called Δρυάδες, Ἁμαδρυάδες or Ἁδρυάδες,
from δρῦς, which signifies not only an oak, but any wild-
growing lofty tree; for the nymphs of fruit trees were
called Μηλίδες, Μηλιάδες, Ἐπιμλίδες, or Ἁμαμηλίδες. They
seem to be of Arcadian origin, and never appear together
with any of the great gods. (Paus. 8.4.2; Apollon. 2.477,
&c.; Ant. Lib. 31, 32; Hom. Hymn. in Ven. 259, &c.)
The second class of nymphs, who were connected with certain
races or localities (Νύμφαι χθόνιαι, Apollon. 2.504),
usually have a name derived from the places with which they
are associated, as Nysiades, Dodonides, Lemniae. (Ov. Fast.
3.769, Met. 5.412, 9.651; Apollod. 3.4.3; Schol. ad Pind.
The sacrifices offered to nymphs usually consisted of goats,
lambs, milk, and oil, but never of wine. (Theocrit. 5.12,
53, 139, 149; Serv. ad Virg. Georg. 4.380, Eclog. 5.74.)
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.
9.24.4), in Attica (1.31.2), at Olympia (5.15.4, 6.22.4), at
Megara (1.40.1), between Sicyon and Phlius (2.11.3), 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. 5.432.) - A Dictionary of Greek and Roman
biography and mythology, William Smith, Ed.