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Waterhouse Hylas and the Nymphs Manchester Art Gallery 1896.15.jpg
In this 1896 painting by John William Waterhouse, Hylas is abducted by the Naiads, i.e. fresh water nymphs
Grouping Mythological
Sub grouping Nature spirit
Similar creatures Mermaid, huldra, selkie, siren
Mythology Greek mythology
Country Greece
Habitat Various

A nymph (Greek: νύμφη, nymphē) in Greek mythology and in Latin mythology is a minor female nature deity typically associated with a particular location or landform. Different from goddesses, nymphs are generally regarded as divine spirits who animate nature, and are usually depicted as beautiful, young nubile maidens who love to dance and sing; their amorous freedom sets them apart from the restricted and chaste wives and daughters of the Greek polis. They are believed to dwell in mountains and groves, by springs and rivers, and also in trees and in valleys and cool grottoes. Although they would never die of old age nor illness, and could give birth to fully immortal children if mated to a god, they themselves were not necessarily immortal, and could be beholden to death in various forms. Charybdis and Scylla were once nymphs.

Other nymphs, always in the shape of young maidens, were part of the retinue of a god, such as Dionysus, Hermes, or Pan, or a goddess, generally the huntress Artemis.[1] Nymphs were the frequent target of satyrs.


Nymphs are personifications of the creative and fostering activities of nature, most often identified with the life-giving outflow of springs: as Walter Burkert (Burkert 1985:III.3.3) remarks, "The idea that rivers are gods and springs divine nymphs is deeply rooted not only in poetry but in belief and ritual; the worship of these deities is limited only by the fact that they are inseparably identified with a specific locality."

The Greek word νύμφη has "bride" and "veiled" among its meanings: hence a marriageable young woman. Other readers refer the word (and also Latin nubere and German Knospe) to a root expressing the idea of "swelling" (according to Hesychius, one of the meanings of νύμφη is "rose-bud").


The Greek nymphs were spirits invariably bound to places, not unlike the Latin genius loci, and the difficulty of transferring their cult may be seen in the complicated myth that brought Arethusa to Sicily. In the works of the Greek-educated Latin poets, the nymphs gradually absorbed into their ranks the indigenous Italian divinities of springs and streams (Juturna, Egeria, Carmentis, Fontus), while the Lymphae (originally Lumpae), Italian water-goddesses, owing to the accidental similarity of their names, could be identified with the Greek Nymphae. The mythologies of classicizing Roman poets were unlikely to have affected the rites and cult of individual nymphs venerated by country people in the springs and clefts of Latium. Among the Roman literate class, their sphere of influence was restricted, and they appear almost exclusively as divinities of the watery element. Nymphs are also portrayed as selfish and as attention seekers who walk around naked in the middle of forests.

In modern Greek folklore[edit]

A Sleeping Nymph Watched by a Shepherd by Angelica Kauffman, about 1780, (V&A Museum no. 23-1886)

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."[2]

Nymphs tended to frequent areas distant from humans 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.[3][4]

Modern sexual connotations[edit]

Due to the depiction of the mythological nymphs as females who mate with men or women at their own volition, and are completely outside of male control, the term is often used for women who are perceived as behaving similarly. (For example, the title of the Perry Mason detective novel The Case of the Negligent Nymph (1956) by Erle Stanley Gardner is derived from this meaning of the word.)

The term nymphomania was created by modern psychology as referring to a "desire to engage in human sexual behavior at a level high enough to be considered clinically significant", nymphomaniac being the person suffering from such a disorder. Due to widespread use of the term among lay persons (often shortened to nympho) and stereotypes attached, professionals nowadays prefer the term hypersexuality, which can refer to males and females alike.

The word nymphet is used to identify a sexually precocious girl. The term was made famous in the novel Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. The main character, Humbert Humbert, uses the term many times, usually in reference to the title character.


As H.J. Rose states, all the names for various classes of nymphs are plural feminine adjectives agreeing with the substantive nymphai, and there was no single classification that could be seen as canonical and exhaustive. Thus the classes of nymphs tend to overlap, which complicates the task of precise classification. Rose mentions dryads and hamadryads as nymphs of trees generally, meliai as nymphs of ash trees, and naiads as nymphs of water, but no others specifically.[5]

Classification by type of dwelling[edit]

The following[6] is not the authentic Greek classification, but is intended simply as a guide:

Echo, an Oread (mountain nymph) watches Narcissus in this 1903 painting by John William Waterhouse.
Adolf Hirémy-Hirschl, The Souls of Acheron (1898).

Location-specific groupings of nymphs[edit]

The following is a list of groups of nymphs associated with this or that particular location.[8] Nymphs in such groupings could belong to any of the classes mentioned above (Naiades, Oreades, and so on).

Individual names of some of the nymphs[edit]

The following is a selection of names of the nymphs whose class was not specified in the source texts. For lists of Naiads, Oceanids, Dryades etc. see respective articles.

In non-Greek tales influenced by Greek mythology[edit]

Nymphs in High and Adult Fantasy[edit]

  • Nymphs are usually depicted as Fey creatures originating in Fairy, distantly related to Elves and closely related to Dyads, Fauns,and Nixies. “This being's beauty exceeds mere words; she is captivating and dangerous because of the emotions she inspires. Nymphs are nature's embodiment of physical beauty, and the guardians of the sacred places of the wild. They are so unbearably lovely that even a glimpse of one can blind an onlooker. Nymphs hate evil and any who would despoil the wilds for any reason.” [16]

The Nymph, like all creatures of Fey is inherently magical, and the Nymphs have a strong tie to the earth or nature-magic, allowing them to pleasantly exist in the wild, with a resistance to temperature-extremes and the magical ability to cope with most dangers. This strong magical affinity causes the hyper-sexuality that Nymphs are well known for. This sexual condition is strongest during periods of the full moon and even more so during the solstices and equinox. Nymphs tend to become irritable after only a few days of lack of sexual contact, turning into a highly compulsive need with prolonged abstinence.

Nymph Magic[edit]

  • Nymphs have the power to charm sentient creatures, causing the subject to become infatuated with the Nymph producing a powerful aphrodisiac effect. This allows the creature to perform above and beyond their normal abilities. The Nymph when sated allows the charmed to wander off dazed from the experience, eventually waking feeling drained and exhausted, and unable to recall where the encounter had occurred or how long they had been charmed.
  • Nymphs can also enthrall a subject for a more prolonged and controlled period than the charm spell allows, unlike the charm spell only one subject at a time may be enthralled to do the Nymphs bidding. This last for up to seven to ten days and must be recast or will wear off. It is a contact spell that is cast by the Nymph during the final stage of intercourse when the subject is most vulnerable. Typically Nymphs use enthrall when they feel the need for additional protection or when traveling unsafe lands. [17]
  • Another effective spell in the Nymphs arsenal is Blinding Beauty, this ability affects all humanoids within 30 feet of a nymph. Those who look directly at a nymph must save or be blinded. A nymph can suppress or resume this ability as a free action.” [18]
  • Healing, enables the Nymph to channel positive energy into a creature to wipe away injury and afflictions.


While Nymphs can and do engage in sexual activity with most sentient humanoids, they fully reproduce only with Satyrs, the Satyr being a male version of the same species. Nymphs may produce a hybrid half-Nymph with Elves and other Fey creatures. “Nymphs and satyrs are powerful embodiment's of masculinity and femininity, and this is reflected in their fecundity. They are considered Relatable to any humanoid, producing a half-fey child. They may freely interbreed with each other, as they are of the same race.” [19] Satyrs who have the same or even more acute lustful and hedonistic tendencies as do Nymphs, are also mostly immune to the Nymph's magic giving the Satyrs a distinct advantage when chasing the favorite targets of their passions.


These beautiful females inhabit only the loveliest locations in the wilderness, such as clear lakes and streams, ocean grottoes, and beautiful woodlands. Nymphs can be found both in a solitary existence, or occasionally a small group of usually less than a few dozen will gather in a place of spectacular charm. Sometimes these groupings last for more than a few months, others may last for centuries.

Nymphs live in magical dens or bowers hidden by magic from discovery or view. These homes are small but beautifully and lushly appointed. The only chance most have of discovery is in the second that the Nymph enters or leaves her home. Most Nymphs have a special pool close by that they bathe and frolic in daily. These pools are where they are most likely to be found or discovered.

“Clothing is viewed as almost a sin in nymph culture; it is viewed as an unnatural creation of city-dwellers that attempts to hide the body. Hiding of the body in nymph-culture is perceived as an attempt to deny the nature within oneself. Nymphs have no embarrassment walking in the nude and are proud of their bodies.”

“They have passed their stories down from generation to generation, sister to sister, with a strong and proud oral-tradition. Any nymph is capable of recounting their history either through plain speech or, as they prefer to do it, through elaborate dances and story-songs.” [20]


Nymphs will heal wounded animals and mend broken trees and plants. Sometimes she will even help a human in distress. Nymphs hate ugliness and evil and sometimes will help to defeat it. Any treasure they possess has usually been given to them by some lovesick man.

Since nymphs live for many generations, they can provide a wealth of information on the history of an area and often know secret places, hide-outs, and entrances long forgotten. If a man is kissed by a nymph, all painful and troubling memories are forgotten for the rest of the day -- this may be a boon to some and a curse to others. The tears of a nymph can be used as an ingredient in a philter of love. If a woman bathes in a nymph's pool, her Charisma is temporary increased.

Hybrid Nymphs[edit]

An Hybrid Nymph has a slim body, are about the same size as an Elf. They are one of the more graceful races with their amazing and sleek figures, deep penetrating eyes, full luscious lips, long silky hair and perfect skin, half-nymphs are an ideal standard of beauty for most humanoid creatures. Their skin is a pale tone, with hair colors such as a scarlet, chestnut brown, and blonde. The eyes are angular just like the elves, many half-nymphs tend to have blue eyes with hues ranging from bright sky blue to a deep topaz blue, but other exotic and vivid colors such as Amethyst, Verdant Greens, and Autumnal Oranges and Ambers are by no means uncommon. A half-nymph reaches adulthood at 20 years old, and can live hundreds of years. Half-nymphs, unlike most other races, retain their physical beauty all of their lives; even while on their death bed, dying of old age, half-nymphs rarely look older than a middle age human.

Half-nymphs are naturally charming and likable, getting along with most anyone they meet. They also will generally have the curiosity, inventiveness, and ambition of the fathers race, along with the love of nature and free spirited nature of the nymph parent. They retain much of the magic abilities of their mothers, if slightly less effective, but gain many of the advantages of their fathers genetics.

They are more likely to reside and fit in, in more civilized areas than full Nymphs and more likely to engage in long-term traditional style relationships. [21] [22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ But see Jennifer Larson, "Handmaidens of Artemis?", The Classical Journal 92.3 (February 1997), pp. 249-257.
  2. ^ Lawson, John Cuthbert (1910). Modern Greek Folklore and Ancient Greek Religion (1st ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 131. 
  3. ^ "heathen Artemis yielded her functions to her own genitive case transformed into Saint Artemidos", as Terrot Reaveley Glover phrased it in discussing the "practical polytheism in the worship of the saints", in Progress in Religion to the Christian Era 1922:107.
  4. ^ Tomkinson, John L. (2004). Haunted Greece: Nymphs, Vampires and Other Exotika (1st ed.). Athens: Anagnosis. chapter 3. ISBN 960-88087-0-7. 
  5. ^ Rose, Herbert Jennings (1959). A Handbook of Greek Mythology (1st ed.). New York: E.P. Dutton & Co. p. 173. ISBN 0-525-47041-7. 
  6. ^ Theoi Project - Classification of Nymphs
  7. ^ Orphic Hymn 71.
  8. ^ Theoi Project - List of Nymphs
  9. ^ Stephanus of Byzantium s. v. Aōros
  10. ^ Stephanus of Byzantium s.v. Abrettēnē
  11. ^ Pausanias, Description of Greece, 10. 37. 5
  12. ^ Suda s. v. Kretheus
  13. ^ Stephanus of Byzantium s. v. Krimisa
  14. ^ Stephanus of Byzantium s. v. Hylleis
  15. ^ Suda s. v. Nakoleia
  16. ^ http://dndtools.eu/monsters/monster-manual-v35--5/nymph--5/
  17. ^ Wolfe, Matthew (2014). Elf Wold (1st ed.). self published. pp. appendix I. 
  18. ^ http://www.d20pfsrd.com/bestiary/monster-listings/fey/nymph
  19. ^ http://carnal.orfinlir.de/5_preg1_conception.php
  20. ^ http://www.aelyria.com/forums/non-player-races/98162-fae-folk-nymphs.html
  21. ^ http://www.dandwiki.com/wiki/Half-Nymph_(3.5e_Race)
  22. ^ http://www.dandwiki.com/wiki/Elven_Nymph_(3.5e_Race)


External links[edit]