1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Nymphs

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Nymphs, in Greek mythology, the generic name of a large number of female divinities of inferior rank, personifications of the creative and fostering activities of nature. The word is possibly connected with the root of νἐφος, nubes (“cloud”), and originally meant “veiled,” referring to the custom of a bride being led veiled from her home to that of the husband: hence, a married woman, and, in general, one of marriageable age. Others refer the word (and also Lat. nubere and the Ger. Knospe) to a root expressing the idea of “swelling” (according to Hesychius, one of the meanings of νὐμφη is “rose-bud ”). The home of the nymphs is on mountains and in groves, by springs and rivers, in valleys and cool grottoes. They are frequently associated with the superior divinities, the huntress Artemis, the prophetic Apollo, the reveller and god of trees Dionysus, and with rustic gods such as Pan and Hermes (as the god of shepherds).

The nymphs were distinguished according to the different spheres of nature with which they were connected. Sea nymphs were Oceanids or Nereids, daughters of Oceanus or Nereus. Naiades (from Gr. νάειν, flow, cf. νᾶμα, “stream ”) presided over springs, rivers and lakes. Oreades (ὄρος, mountain) were nymphs of mountains and grottoes, one of the most famous of whom was Echo. Napaeae (νάπη, dell) and Alseïdes (ἄλσος, grove) were nymphs of glens and groves. Dryades (q.v.) or Hamadryades were nymphs of forests and trees.

The Greek nymphs, after the introduction of their cult into Latium, gradually absorbed into their ranks the indigenous Italian divinities of springs and streams (Juturna, Egeria, Carmentis, Fons), while the Lymphae (originally Lumpae), Italian water-goddesses, owing to the accidental similarity of name, were identified with the Greek Nymphae. Among the Romans their sphere of influence was restricted, and they appear almost exclusively as divinities of the watery element.

F. G. Ballentine, “Some Phases of the Cult of the Nymphs” in Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, xv. (1904).