the name of a numerous class of inferior female divinities, though they are designated by the title of Olympian, are called to the 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.
Various Groups of Nymphs
Cabeirian: the daughters of Camillus. The Cabeiri are mystic divinities who occur in various parts of the ancient world
In this capacity they are also called the Nysaean nymphs.
Dryades: nymphs of the Forest, or wood nymphs and were immortal. They were the hunting companions of Artemis.
Epimeliades: the Protectors of sheep.
Hamadryades: nymphs of oak trees.
Hespirides or Atlantides: The Hespirides were the nymphs who guarded the Tree of the Golden Apples.
Hyades: When Lycurgus threatened the safety of Dionysus the Hyades fled with the infant god to Thetis or to Thebes, where they entrusted him to Ino (or Juno), and Zeus showed his gratitude by placing them among the stars.
Lamusides: the nymphs who cared for the young Dionysus. They were sent mad by Hera but before they could harm the child he was rescued by Hermes.
Limnaea: the Limnaea were nymphs that dwelt in lakes or marshes and were also known as Limnetes or Limnegenes. It is also a surname of several divinities who were believed either to have sprung from a lake, or had their temples near a lake. Instances are, Dionysus at Athens, and Artemis
Maliades: the protectors of flocks and of fruit-trees. The same name is also given to the nymphs of the district of the Malians on the river Spercheius.
Meliades: the same as the Maliades, or nymphs of the
district of Melis, near Trachis. The nymphs that nursed Zeus are likewise called Meliae.
Nysaian: nymphs from the area of Nysa who, another tradition states, brought up the infant god Dionysus.
Naiades: the Naiades were the nymphs of fresh water, whether of rivers, lakes, brooks, or wells,
Pleiades: The Pleiades were the sisters of the Hyades, and seven in number, six of whom are described as visible, and the seventh as invisible. Some call the seventh Sterope, and relate that she became invisible from shame, because she alone among her sisters had had intercourse with a mortal man
Hamadryad by J.W. Waterhouse
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.
Men offer up sacrifices either to them alone, or in conjunction with other gods, such as Hermes.
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 Gyrene, and many others.
The nymphs of the first class must again be subdivided 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, Oceanides, who are regarded as the daughters of Oceanus (Theogony of Hesiod 346, 364, Argonautica); and next the nymphs of the Mediterranean or inner sea, who are regarded as the daughters of Nereus, whence they are called Nereides (Theogony of Hesiod 240).
The rivers were represented by the Potameides who, as local divinities, were named after their rivers, as Acheloides, Anigrides, Ismenides, Amnisiades, Pactolides. (Argonautica. The Aeneid Book VIII. Metamorphoses by Ovid VI)
But the nymphs of fresh water, whether of rivers, lakes, brooks, or wells, are also designated by the general name Naiades, though they have in addition their specific names.
Many of these presided 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.
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 and as water is necessary to feed all vegetation as well as all living beings, the water nymphs were also worshipped along with Dionysus and Demeter as giving life and blessings to all created beings, and this attribute is expressed by a variety of epithets.
As their influence was thus exercised in all departments of nature, they frequently appear in connection with higher divinities, as, for example, with Apollo, the prophetic god and the protector of herds and flocks (Argonautica); with Artemis, the huntress and the protectress of game, for she herself was originally an Arcadian nymph (Argonautica); with Hermes, the fructifying god of flocks; with Dionysus; with Pan, the Seileni and Satyrs, whom they join in their Bacchic revels and dances.
Although they were generally benevolent, they could become dangerous to those mortals whom they distinguished with their favours. They sometimes dragged mortals down into the depths of the waters. This was the fate of Hermaphroditus, victim of the nymph Salmacis. A similar fate overtook Hylas, the handsome companion of Heracles. When the ship of the Argonauts reached the coasts of the Troad Hylas was sent to shore in search of water. As it happened he discovered a fountain. but the nymphs of the place were so charmed by his beauty that they carried him to the depths of their watery abode, and in spite of the cries of Heracles which made the shores reverberate with the name Hylas. the young man was never seen again.
2. Nymphs of mountains and grottoes, Oreads, are also called by names derived from the particular mountains they inhabited. The Napaeae, the Auloniads, the Hylaeorae and the Alsaeids haunted the woods and valleys.
Among the nymphs who followed Hera there was an Oread named Echo who, every time that Zeus paid court to some nymph, would distract Hera's attention with her chattering and singing. When Hera discovered this she deprived Echo of the gift of speech, condemning her to repeat only the last syllable of words spoken in her presence.
Now shortly afterwards Echo fell in love with a young Thespian named Narcissus. Unable to declare her love she was spurned by him and went to hide her grief in solitary caverns. She died of a broken heart. her bones turned into stone, and all that was left of her was the echo of her vioce. Her unhappy end was also attributed to the wrath of Pan who was unable to win her love and had her torn to pieces by shepherds. Gaea received her mortal remains but even in death she retained her voice.
As for Narcissus, the gods punished him for having spurned Echo by making him fall in love with his own image. The soothsayer Teiresias had predicted that Narcissus would live only until the moment he saw himself. One day when he was leaning over the limpid waters of a fountain Narcissus caught sight of his own reflection in the water. He conceived so lively a passion for this phantom that nothing could tear him away from it, and he died there
3. Nymphs of forests, groves, and glens, were believed sometimes to appear to and frighten solitary travellers.
4. Nymphs of trees, were believed to die together with the trees which had been their abode, and with which they had come into existence. They are designated by the names Dryads, Nymphs of the Oak, Meliads Nymphs of the Ash-trees, Hamadryads tree-Nymphs and Heleads Nymphs of the Fen.
They seem to be of Arcadian origin, and never appear together with any of the great gods.
Crowned with oak-leaves, sometimes armed with an axe to punish outrages against the trees which they guarded. they would dance around the oaks which were sacred to them. Certain of their number, the Hamadryads, were still more closely united with trees of which, it was said, they formed an integral part.
The second class of nymphs, who were connected with certain races or localities usually have a name derived from the places with which they are associated, as Nysiades, Dodonides, Lemniae. (Fasti by Ovid. Apollodorus iii)
The sacrifices offered to nymphs usually consisted of goats, lambs, milk, and oil, but never of wine. 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, in Attica, at Olympia, at Megara, between Sicyon and Phlius 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. ( Metamorphoses by Ovid V)