The stories behind the Nymphs
Hylas and the Nymphs

Having already talked about the Mouses, it is a good reason to dedicate more blog posts to other smaller deities that enriched the daily lives of the Olympian Gods and the mortals with their supernatural attributes. In this article, we are going to focus on the Nymphs, the feminine divine spirits associated with nature. It is believed that the Nymphs were related to many Olympian Gods. It is said for example that they were daughters of Zeus, while others believe that they were daughters of a big river such as Achelous or Pineios, or even to the Okeanos.

Naiad
Naiad by Henri Fantin-Latour – credits: wikipedia.org

Nature

The Nymphs were uniquely connected to the element of water, and more specifically to freshwater. This connection is symbolic pointing out the importance of the water for the existence of life on our planet. Through the water flow, the Nymphs were spreading across the mountains and forests, being deeply related to the vegetation. This is why the version of being the daughters of big rivers or ever the daughter of Okeanos, stands. That is also why there are 3 types of Nymphs:

Naiads: the nymphs of the rivers, the lakes, the springs, and the fountains (they used to live into caves or under the freshwater).

Oreads (in Greek ‘Oros’ means mountain): the nymphs inhabited in the mountains where there were springs.

Dryads: the nymphs of the forests and the lonely trees.

The truth is that they weren’t immortals, but they lived for many years, as they were eating ‘Ambrosia’. Actually, they lived until the water dried out from the part of nature they were committed to and vice versa, something which means that for example, a pine tree started to grow as soon as the life of the Nymph into it started!

Love Affairs

Being considered as divine spirits and depicted as young beautiful women, usually, they were beloved by many men. There are also many stories of passionate pairings of the Nymphs with shepherds, who used to leave their sheep in the river shores to graze. After these rural matings, Nymphs were giving birth to mortal, but brave and wise men! However, the most known love affair was that of Apollo with the Nymph Dafne. Apollo was courting persistently the young Nymph for a long time. One day, he took the chance and started chasing her. At the moment he caught her, she was disappeared and replaced with the homonym plant, after the intervention of Gaia. 

The Nereids

Nereids were a special category of Nymphs that symbolized the different phases and characteristics of the sea, but especially those of the calm sea. They were the daughters of Nereus and Dorida, in total 50. Nereids were living in the sea bed of the sea, in their father’s palace, wearing white robes and wreaths of red corals on their heads, swimming and playing with the dolphins. They had also the power to calm the stormy sea, maybe due to being part of Poseidon‘s entourage and carriers of his trident.

Nereids were boasting all the time for their beauty. Actually, they were so proud of their elegance and grace that they had forbidden from all the women on Earth to compete with them in these characteristics. A typical example of this was when Cassiopeia, the wife of Cepheus King, claimed to be more beautiful than the Nereids. They get so mad at her that asked from Poseidon to punish her. And this is how the story of Perseus and Andromeda begins, but… be patient and wait for some next post..! 

Famous Nymphs and Nereids

Although the Greek Mythology stories are full of Nymphs and Nereids, there are some that stand out. Maybe the most important of all was Amphitrite, the wife of Poseidon and mother of Triton, as well as Thetis, the wife of Peleus and mother of Achilles. Likewise, Calypso has a very interesting story connected to her name, as she was detaining Odysseus on the island, Ogygia, for 7 years! On that note, Harmonia was the lover of Ares and mother of the Amazons, and Galateia was the vain love of Cyclops Polyphemus. You may also know Echo, whose name we hear in certain repetitions, famous from the myth of Narcissus.  

Echo and Narcissus
Echo and Narcissus by John William Waterhouse – credits: wikipedia.org

Word origins and modern use

In Greek folklore, Nymphs and Nereids are known as ‘Neraides’, including in this term the fairies and the mermaids. The word ‘Nymph’ in Greece means young woman at the peak of her attractiveness, bride or young wife. On the other hand, as you might have already noticed, the words ‘Neraides’ and ‘Nereids’ have the same root which is ‘nero’ that in Greek means ‘water’. 

 

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