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nymph (nĭmf) [key], in Greek mythology, female divinity associated with various natural objects. It is uncertain whether they were immortal or merely long-lived. There was an infinite variety of nymphs. Some represented various localities, e.g., acheloids, or nymphs of the River Achelous; others were identified with the part of nature in which they dwelled, e.g., oreads, or mountain nymphs; and still others were associated with a particular function of nature, e.g., hamadryads, or tree nymphs, whose lives began and ended with that of a particular tree. Nymphs were represented as young, beautiful, musical, amorous, and gentle, although some were associated with the wilder aspects of nature and were akin to satyrs; others were vengeful and capable of destruction, as in the story of Daphne. Other important nymphs were naiads, nymphs of streams, rivers, and lakes; nereids, daughters of Nereus, who lived in the depths of the Mediterranean Sea; dryads, tree nymphs; and oceanids, 3,000 ocean nymphs who were the daughters of Oceanus. Arethusa, Thetis, Calypso, and Echo were famous nymphs. The nymphs' cult was widespread in Greece.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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