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A Nymph (Ancient Greek: Νῠ́μφη (Númphē)) is a member of a large class of female lesser nature spirits, typically associated with a particular location or landform. Nymphs reside on mountains, in groves, by springs and rivers, in valleys, and in cool grottoes. According to the German scholar of Greek mythology Walter Burkert: "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."

Though not immortal, they are very long-lived, and their lives ended with the death of a particular natural object, such as a tree, to which they are attached.

Nymphs are often depicted as part of a retinue for superior divinities: the prophetic Apollo; the reveler and god of wine, Dionysus; with rustic gods such as Pan and Hermes, and particularly the huntress goddess Artemis, who was the tutelary deity of all nymphs.

Nymphs take the appearance of young, beautiful girls, and were the frequent target of lusty satyrs. The symbolic marriage with a nymph of a patriarchal leader, often the eponym of a people, is repeated endlessly in Greek origin myths; clearly such a union lent authority to the archaic king and to his line.

Etymology

The Greek word νύμφη has the primary meaning of "nubile young woman; bride, young wife" and is not associated with deities in particular. It refers to young women at the peak of sexual attractiveness, contrasting with parthenos (παρθένος) "a virgin (of any age)", and generic kore (κόρη < κόρϝα) "maiden, girl".

The term was used by ancient Greek women to address each other, hence Iris addressing Helen, or Eurycleia addressing Penelope as "dear nymph" (νύμφα φίλη) (Il. 3.130, Od. 4.743).

Reduced to νύφη, the word remains the regular Modern Greek term for "bride". In Katharevousa, it is still νύμφη, as in the refrain of the Marian hymn Agni Parthene (c. 1880), χαῖρε νύμφη ἀνύμφευτε "hail, unwedded bride.."

Other readers refer νύμφη (and also the 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."

Types

Water Nymphs, called haliae or haliads, are similar to Mermaids. The 3,000 Oceanids, the Nymphs of the oceans, are the daughters of the Titans Oceanus and Tethys.

Land Nymphs are linked to particular geographic locations. Oreids, who inhabit mountains and ravines, often accompany Artemis on hunting expeditions. Alseids protect glens and groves, while Auloniads are found in pastures and mountain valleys, often in the retinue of Pan.

Wood Nymphs are identified with particular species of trees. Often their bodies become part of the trees they inhabit. Dryads are associated with oak trees, Hamadryads with nut, elm and fig trees, and Meliae with ash trees. Ovid tells the story of Daphne, the Nymph who becomes a laurel tree. The god of love Eros wounds Apollo the god of the Sun, with an arrow, causing him to fall in love with Daphne, daughter of the river god Peneus. A follower of Artemis and vowed to chastity, Daphne runs away from her pursuer. Just as Apollo is about to catch her, Daphne cries out to her father for help. The moment the cry leaves her lips, her skin turns to bark, her hair to leaves, her arms to branches and her feet to roots. Embracing the lovely laurel tree, Apollo declares it sacred and winds a laurel wreath around his brow.

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