In Greek mythology, nymphs were minor female deities associated with nature. Typically pictured as beautiful girls or young women, they could live for a very long time but were not immortal. Most nymphs were the daughters of Zeus* or of other gods. They generally had gentle natures and acted with kindness toward
Different kinds of nymphs were associated with particular parts of the natural world. The Oceanids were sea nymphs, daughters of the sea god Oceanus. One of the Oceanids married the sea god Nereus, and their daughters became the Nereids, nymphs who dwelled in both freshwater and saltwater. Another group of water nymphs, the Naiads were freshwater spirits associated with fountains, streams, rivers, and other forms of running water. Forest nymphs were divided into Dryads, originally linked specifically with oak trees but later known as nymphs of woods and forests in general, and the Hamadryads, who dwelled inside particular trees and perished when the trees died. Other types of nymphs included the Orestiads or Oreads (mountain nymphs), Meliae (nymphs of ash trees), and Leimoniads (meadow nymphs).
Nymphs rarely had a central role in Greek myths. Usually they played supporting parts as the companions of gods and satyrs. The goddess Artemis*, for example, often had nymphs attending her when she went hunting. Nymphs also became the lovers or wives of gods or heroes. The Dryad Eurydice married the poet and musician Orpheus. After Eurydice died from a snakebite, Orpheus tried to retrieve her from the underworld but failed to meet the conditions set for her return.
deity god or goddess immortal able to live forever
satyr woodland deity that was part man and part goat or horse
underworld land of the dead
Another nymph who gained mythic status as a wife was Oenone. Married to Paris, prince of Troy, Oenone predicted that if Paris left on a journey to Greece, the trip would be disastrous for Troy During that trip, Paris eloped with Helen, the wife of the Spartan king, setting in motion the events that led to the Trojan
* See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.
Warf and the eventual destruction of Troy. When Paris lay wounded from fighting, Oenone refused to help him, even though she had the gift of healing. Eventually she relented and rushed to Troy to save her husband, but she arrived too late. Upon discovering that Paris had died, Oenone committed suicide.