A nymph is any member of a large class of mythological entities in human form. They were typically associated with a particular location or landform. Others were part of the retinue of a god, such as Dionysus, Hermes, or Pan, or a goddess, generally Artemis.Nymphs were the frequent target of satyrs.

Nymphs live in mountains and groves, by springs and rivers, also in trees and in valleys and cool grottoes. They are frequently associated with the superior divinities: the huntress Artemis; the prophetic Apollo; the reveler and god of wine, Dionysus; and rustic gods such as Pan and Hermes.

The ancient Greek belief in nymphs survived in many parts of the country into the early years of the twentieth century, when they were usually known as "nereids". At that time John Cuthbert Lawson wrote: "...there is probably no nook or hamlet in all Greece where the womenfolk at least do not scrupulously take precautions against the thefts and malice of the nereids, while many a man may still be found to recount in all good faith stories of their beauty, passion and caprice. Nor is it a matter of faith only; more than once I have been in villages where certain Nereids were known by sight to several persons (so at least they averred); and there was a wonderful agreement among the witnesses in the description of their appearance and dress."

Usually female, they were dressed in white, decked with garlands of flowers, but they frequently had unnatural legs, like those of a goat, donkey or cow. They were so beautiful that the highest compliment was to compare some feature of a woman (eyes, hair, etc.) with that of nereid. They could move swiftly and invisibly, ride through the air and slip through small holes. Although not immortal, their lives exceeded man's tenfold, and they retained their beauty until death.

They tended to frequent areas distant from man, but could be encountered by lone travelers outside the village, where their music might be heard, and the traveler could spy on their dancing or bathing in a stream or pool, either during the noon heat or in the middle of the night. They might appear in a whirlwind. Such encounters could be dangerous, bringing dumbness, besotted infatuation, madness or stroke to the unfortunate human. When parents believed their child to be nereid-struck they would pray to Saint Artemidos, the Christian manifestation of Artemis.

Stock stories about nereids include the girl who fell ill and died and was seen after death dancing with the nereids; the nereid changeling; and the man who won a nereid as his wife by stealing a piece of her clothing. The latter would become an ideal wife until she recovered her clothing and returned to her own people.

Nymphs of Note

    Acantha was another beautiful nymph with the misfortune to be loved by someone she didn't love back. Apollo was the culprit in this case. He "loved" the nymph so much he tried to rape her. The nymph fought back, scratching the Sun God's face. As a result, the little nymph was transformed into the acanthus tree, a "sun-loving" but thorny plant.

    She was the nurse, in Crete, who took care of Zeus and hung his cradle from a tree so that he wasn't in the sea, the earth, or Heaven.

    This was the daughter of Asopus, a river god, and Metope (she had TONS of siblings). She was abducted by Zeus, as it every nymph eventually is, it seems, and carried off to the island of Attica (which was renamed after her for a period). There she had a son, Aeacus, and he became the monarch of the island. To make love to her, Zeus changed into a flame of fire. Later, she became a lover of Actor's and had three children by him.
   Agamede was the mother of Actor by Poseidon. She was one of the first to use herbs in healing.

   Amaltheia was a nymph who nursed baby Zeus with the milk from a goat. Or, perhaps she was the goat. Both had the same name. Either way, she was responsible for the cornucopia, or horn of plenty. Zeus put the goat and the horn in the sky as constellations.
   Arethusa was one of the many water nymphs who attended Artemis. As one of the Virgin Goddesses followers, she had no interest in men. So when the river-god Alpheus pursued her, Artemis helped her out by turning her into a fountain. Alpheus, however, would not be denied, and changed himself to flow underground so that he could touch her.
   In a Hymn to Artemis, Britomartis is described as the nymph Artemis loves best. She is the fawn-slaying, sharpshooting nymph of Gortyn here, but originally she was a Cretan goddess who was adopted by the Artemis cult. Anyway, the story goes that Minos, madly in love with her, chased her all over Crete. She hid in oaks and marshes, but couldn't shake him. Nine months he chased her without relenting until at last he cornered her on a cliff. She leapt off, and was caught by a fishing net and was called, from then on the Lady of the Net.

   There are three important parts to this story, the first is that Callisto was very beautiful. This is lucky, considering her name means "most beautiful". The second is that, at some point, she was turned into a bear and/or killed. The third is that it had to do with Zeus and Artemis. See, Callisto was one of Artemis' nymphs (and thus not supposed to be getting down with any men), but Zeus got wise and came to her as Artemis and seduced her. (Hooray for subliminalized lesbianism!) One story says that Zeus immediately turned her into a bear to hide her from Hera, which of course didn't work, since Hera promptly got Artemis to "accidentally" shoot her. Another story says that Zeus just busted and peaced, and that Artemis found out when they were bathing at a spring and she noticed that Callisto was chubbier than she ought to be (she was pregnant - my opinion on this is that they were all bleeding at the same time and she noticed that Callisto was late, but, that's just me) and Artemis then changed her into a bear and hunted her down. Other stories say that Hera hunted her down much later and the death involved Callisto's own son from that union, Arcas. Together, she and her son are the Big Bear and the Little Bear, respectively.

Calypso Calypso:
    I started off liking her, but now I just think that she's a bore. She was the daughter of Atlas. She is in the story of Odysseus. She takes a fancy to him, and keeps him prisoner for seven years, during which time they sleep together, although Odysseus remains loyal to Penelope (which I don't understand), and eventually Zeus orders her to set him free. She is also in the Goddesses section, because she was a goddess as well as a nymph.

    This poor nymph got turned into a turtle because she refused to attend the wedding of Hera and Zeus. The gods condemned her to eternal silence because of her insulting words.

    She was the daughter of Asopos the River/God that ran through the Pelopennesus. She was something like a water nymph, then, and there was a town named after her.

    Clymene was but a simple Oceanid, but for a simple Oceanid, she had a lot going on. She was the wife of the Titan Iapetus, and by him bore Atlas, Epimetheus, Prometheus, and Menoetius. In another version, she was the wife of Helios and the mother of Phaeton (who is generally accepted as Apollo's offspring, but oh well). In yet another version she was the mother of Atalanta. Some other sources say that she was the granddaughter of King Minos of Crete and mother of Palamedes. Her name means Famous Might, which is an interesting name for a Oceanid. She's interesting.

    Clytie was an Oceanid, a daughter of Ocean and of Tethys. She was a victim of love. She and Helios dated for a while, then he dropped her from some other chick named Leucothoe. After that, she immediately went and told the King of Babylon, Leucothoe's pops, about the affair (non-virgins = a waste of the money it costs to raise a woman), and Pops immediately buried the chick. Now I won't say that Clytie intentionally killed the girl, but I'm positive she knew that her dad wouldn't be thrilled, and thus I'd say good move by Helios to get out of the whole relationship. Clytie, on the other hand, was a pathetic example of an early Greek stalker, and kept on keepin' on after ol' Helios. In her defense, it's not like she could just decide she didn't want to see him anymore, being the Sun and everything. Anyway, she eventually stared so long without surcease that she transformed into that sun-loving flower the "Heliotrope" (means "turned sunward"). That transformation is what got her into Ovid's Metamorphoses (a book you should certainly read if you dig this kind of myth).

    Daphne was the unfortunate Naiad pursued by Apollo. Apollo wouldn't leave her alone, despite her obvious aversion to him. She ran to her father, a river god, and begged for help. Her father did the only thing he could do and transformed her. Just as Apollo would have caught her Daphne grew bark and transformed into a laurel tree. But the God still wouldn't let her be and plucked some of her branches and made them into a wreath, saying she would be his sacred tree. Poor kid.

    Echo is probably the most famous of all the nymphs. Her name and her voice live on to this day. She was the nymph who had a fling with Zeus and lost her voice when she tried to protect her lover from Hera's vengeance. Then she fell in love with Narcissus. If you are interested in the story, check out the long (and good) version in the Myth Pages. It should not be forgotten that she also had a thing with Pan and gave birth to two daughters to him (including Iambe).

    Euboea was the daughter of the Asopus (river than ran through the Peloponnesus) and gave her name to an island. She also slept with Poseidon and had a baby by him named Tychius that no one knows anything about.

    Galatea was a Nereid loved by the Cyclop Polyphemus (you know, the stupid one from the Odyssey). This could be bad enough on its own, but matters were complicated because she loved a human named Acis. Acis was murdered by Polyphemus and then one of three things happened. Either she threw herself into the ocean and drowned (odd, being a Nereid), wept so much she was turned into a always-flowing fountain, or accepted Polyphemus and had a child named Galates by him.

    Lethe was another Naiad, but her river was in the Underworld. The Lethe was the river of Forgetfulness and Oblivion. Lethe was a daughter of Eris. The rockin' thing about Lethe is that she stayed involved. A lot of these ladies did their own thing, but Lethe worked for a living. Well, now, I'm not sure that "living" is the right word, but anyway, the water from her river was given to those who died so that they might be freed from the lives they had lived before, that they might not miserably remember the earth and the pleasures of the mortality.

    Maia, who was sort of a Goddess, has more written about her in the Minor Goddesses section. But, to make a long story short, she slept with Zeus and bore the Messenger God Hermes. She was also one of the Pleiades.

    Melissa was one of the nymphic nurses of Zeus, sister to Amaltheia, but rather than feeding the baby milk, Melissa, appropriately for her name (which means honey bee) fed him honey. Or, alternatively, the bees brought honey straight to his mouth. Because of her, Melissai became the name of all the nymphs who cared for the patriarch god as a baby.

    There is a story that Hades once cheated on his wife, Persephone, with an Underworld nymph named Minthe who had the arrogance to say that she was better than the Queen of the Dead, more beautiful, and that, in fact, Hades was going to make her Queen instead. Persephone couldn't have it, and either she or her mother trampled the girl and subsequently transformed her into the mint plant we know so well today.

    Nephele was a nymph who was the first wife of Athamas, King of Orchomenus. He dropped her for this human chica, Ino. She was very bitter and complained to Hera, after which this whole drama ensued. She was the mother of Phrixes and Helle, who she had to protect from Ino, their stepmother.

    Called Oenone in Latin, this Naiad was the daughter of the rivergod Kebren. She was a Phrigian nymph who lived during the Trojan War. Now, there are two stories. She was abducted by Paris (yes, you DEFINTELY should know who Paris is) and became his first wife. Later, when he died, she hung herself. Apollodorus, however, says she married Alexandros and bore his son, Corythus. She had learned to prophesy from Rhea, and tried to convince her husband that he would be mortally wounded in Troy, but only she would be able to heal him. He ignored her, and was indeed mortally wounded. Oinone was pissed, and had no interest in helping him. Upon her summoning she refused to heal him, but later changed her mind and hurried to Troy. By the time she got there it was too late and so she threw herself on his funeral pyre. Either way, she kills herself.

    Orphne was a nymph who lived in the Underworld. But though she chilled with Persephone, her hubby (Acheron, the ferry-man of the Dead) worked above ground (sort of).

    Pallas, according to Apollodorus, was the childhood playmate of Athena. She was a Naiad, the daughter of the rivergod Triton, and both she and Athena were raised to love to fight. One time when they were dueling, Zeus mischievously held up the aegis. Pallas looked away for only a moment, but that was enough, and she fell and died. Athena was distraught, and made a wooden statue of her friend placing the aegis on its breast.

    Pitys was a nymph who became a pine tree. She either loved Pan or was loved by him. If she loved him, then she chose Pan over Boreas, the North wind, and Boreas in a jealous rage threw her off a cliff. Gaia took pity on her and changed her into a pine tree which weeps when the wind blows through it. Alternatively, she ran away from Pan and in running away was so changed (like Syrinx and Daphne). Either way, the pine was sacred to Pan and often showed up in his costume.

    Rhodus was a nymph who was a daughter of Poseidon. I believe she was also called Rhode. She was the mother of the Heliadae with Helios. The island she lived on was named after her: Rhodes. Eventually the island became the home of the Pillars of Heracles and a certain very cool person named Ramsi.

    Rhodope was a nymph from Thrace whose intelligence-impaired-if-enthusiastic husband compared himself and Rhodope to Zeus and Hera. I think this stupidity must have been based from the fact that he was the son of the King of Thrace (the husband's name was Haemus). Anyway, the gods were not having that, so they changed the couple into a mountain range with the same names. Rhodope into the mountain range now called Despoto, and her husband into the Balkan mountain range. There was another Rhodope who was turned into the River Nymph Styx.

    This is a rape story, but reverse the common gender roles. In this case, the Naiad Salmacis becomes enchanted with the beautiful youth Hermaphroditos, and against his will, the two are made one. Now, in English, obviously, you know that "hermaphrodite" refers to an intersexed person - someone with both male and female physical traits - but that comes from this story. See, originally, Hermaphroditos was just the mix of Hermes, the boy's father, and Aphrodite, his mother. He was perfectly normal, except for perhaps being super-hot. So he's going through the woods, thinking of anything except sex, and Salmacis sees him and is totally smitten. Smitten like a kitten with a mitten. She does everything to get him to give her a little love, but he's like "Back off, nutso!" Well, she does, but only to hide in the bushes and watch him step into her stream. And bam! She runs out and grabs him. He's fighting her off, but it's no good, she's too much woman for him. She calls out to the gods to keep them together forever, and her wish is granted very literally. Their limbs meld, our boy trying to escape the whole time. By the end, he is "weak and soft" and has, you know, woman-junk. He curses the water to make any man who steps in it as effeminate as he. Salmacis has been absorbed. There is much to be learned here about the dangers of a strong and sexual ancient Greek woman. See more on that above.

   Styx was a Naiad. Her name meant literally Hateful. This may have been because her river was the one that all of the dead must pass (according to Virgil who was not Greek). Her river was the most holy and sacred, and to swear on it was the most holy oath a God could make, an honor given by Zeus because she helped the Olympian gods defeat the Giants. If an oath was about to be sworn, Iris was sent for some water to witness it, and if the oath was broken, the god could neither breathe, nor eat, nor drink for a full year - tho the water was apparently fatal to mortals. Styx was, according to Hesiod at least, even older than the gods, being the oldest child of Oceanus and Tethys (alternatively a daughter of Erebus (Darkness) and Nyx). Dark she was and is associated with powerful stories. She was a playmate (or mother, according to some) of Persephone, and the mother of Zelus (Zeal), Nike, Kratos (Power), and Bia. Styx was said to have her river outside of the Underworld by Greeks, but her water was still deadly, dangerous, and powerful. Poisonous to men and cattle, it broke through even iron (imagine the water in Tomb Raider), but Thetis knew how to use the water correctly, and it was her careful dipping of Achilles' in the dark river that made him all but invincible. The water of Styx also had a cameo in the story of Psyche, found in the Myth Pages. Another story of Styx is actually the story of a young woman named Rhodope who dedicated herself to Artemis which pissed off the sexually dangerous Aphrodite who caused her to fall in love with a young hunter with whom she did the horizontal mambo in a cave in the mountains. Artemis turned her into a spring called Styx that had the miraculous quality of determining virginity. (If they stood in the water, which would normally be up to their knees, and it came up to their neck, then they weren't virgins. I have two thoughts on this: 1) that's way better than saying you're a witch if you don't drown, and 2) it would suck to be super short if you lived near that spring.) The painting on the right is called Crossing the Styx.

   Syrinx is the nymph who was pursued by Pan who, to escape him, begged the gods to save her. They took pity and turned her into reeds. Pan, following Apollo's lead, cut some of the reeds in different sizes and made a set of pipes, called the pan pipes from then on.

   Syllis was one of Apollo's lovers and the mother of one of the kings of Sicyon. That's it! The rest (if there was ever more) has been lost to history.

   Thetis was the chief Nereid for a long time, and it was she who found the baby Hephaestos and nursed him back to health after he was thrown from Olympus (if you don't get it, check out the Myth Pages). Zeus wanted her for his lover, but she rejected him (good for her!). Then, the Goddess Themis prophesied that she would bear a son mightier than his father. Hearing that, Zeus stopped being horny and started being scared, and immediately decreed that she could only marry a mortal. She did, and ended up becoming wife to Peleus, and mother of Achilles. As his mother, she tried to make him invincible. There are two versions of what she did, and why she missed his heel. If you don't know them you should check out the Myth Pages.