AskDefine | Define nymph

Dictionary Definition



1 (classical mythology) a minor nature goddess usually depicted as a beautiful maiden; "the ancient Greeks believed that nymphs inhabited forests and bodies of water"
2 a larva of an insect with incomplete metamorphosis (as the dragonfly or mayfly)
3 a voluptuously beautiful young woman [syn: houri]

User Contributed Dictionary



From nimphe < nympha "nymph, bride" < (numphē) "bride"


  1. The larva of certain insects.
  2. Any minor female deity associated with water, forests, etc.
  3. A young girl, especially one who inspires lustful feelings.


insect larva
  • Czech: nymfa
  • Italian: ninfa
  • Japanese: 幼虫 (ようちゅう, yōchū)
mythology: minor water deity
  • Czech: nymfa
  • German: Nymphe
  • Italian: ninfa
  • Japanese: 水の精 (みずのせい, mizu no sei)
  • Romanian: nimfă
  • Serbian: rusalka , vila
young girl which may inspire lust
  • Italian: ninfa

Extensive Definition

In Greek mythology, a nymph is any member of a large class of mythological entities in human female form. They were typically associated with particular location or landform. Others were part of the retinue of a god, such as Dionysus, Hermes, or Pan, or a goddess, generally Artemis. Nymphs were the frequent target of satyrs.
Nymphs live in mountains and groves, by springs and rivers, and in valleys and cool grottoes. They are frequently associated with the superior divinities: the huntress Artemis; the prophetic Apollo; the reveller and god of wine, Dionysus; and rustic gods such as Pan and Hermes.
The symbolic marriage of a nymph and a patriarch, often the eponym of a people, is repeated endlessly in Greek origin myths; their union lent authority to the archaic king and his line.

Meaning of nymph

"The idea that rivers are gods and springs divine nymphs," Walter Burkert remarks (Burkert III.3.3) "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." Nymphs are personifications of the creative and fostering activities of nature, most often identified with the life-giving outflow of springs. The Greek word νύμφη has "bride" and "veiled" among its meanings: hence a marriagable 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").

Nymph classifications

As Rose (1959, p. 173) states, "all these names are simply feminine adjectives, agreeing with the substantive nympha, and there was no orthodox and exhaustive classification of these shadowy beings." He 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.
The following is not the Greek classification, but is intended simply as a guide:
Tethys, any water, usually salty)
  • Other nymphs


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 name, 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 in modern Greek folklore

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." Lawson (1910, p. 131)
Usually female, they were dressed in white, decked with garlands of flowers, but they frequently had unnatural legs, like those of a goat, donkey or cow. They were so beautiful that the highest compliment was to compare some feature of a woman (eyes, hair, etc.) with that of nereid. They could move swiftly and invisibly, ride through the air and slip through small holes. Although not immortal, their lives exceeded man's tenfold, and they retained their beauty until death.
They tended to frequent areas distant from man, but could be encountered by lone travellers outside the village, where their music might be heard, and the traveller 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, the Christian manifestation of Artemis.Tomkinson (2004, chapter 3)
Stock stories about nereids include the girl who fell ill and died and was seen after death dancing with the nereids; the nereid changeling; and the man who won a nereid as his wife by stealing a piece of her clothing. The latter would become an ideal wife until she recovered her clothing and returned to her own people. Nereids

Modern sexual connotations




External links

nymph in Arabic: حورية (ميثولوجيا إغريقية)
nymph in Asturian: Ninfa
nymph in Breton: Nimfezed
nymph in Bulgarian: Нимфа
nymph in Catalan: Nimfa
nymph in Czech: Nymfy
nymph in Danish: Nymfe (mytologi)
nymph in German: Nymphe
nymph in Modern Greek (1453-): Νύμφες
nymph in Spanish: Ninfa
nymph in Esperanto: Nimfoj
nymph in French: Nymphe grecque
nymph in Korean: 님프
nymph in Croatian: Nimfa
nymph in Indonesian: Nymph
nymph in Italian: Ninfa (mitologia)
nymph in Hebrew: נימפה
nymph in Luxembourgish: Nymph
nymph in Lithuanian: Nimfa
nymph in Hungarian: Nimfák
nymph in Macedonian: Нимфа
nymph in Dutch: Nimf (mythologie)
nymph in Japanese: ニンフ
nymph in Norwegian: Nymfe (mytologi)
nymph in Polish: Nimfa (mitologia)
nymph in Portuguese: Ninfa (mitologia)
nymph in Romanian: Nimfe
nymph in Russian: Нимфы
nymph in Slovak: Nymfa (mytológia)
nymph in Slovenian: Nimfa
nymph in Serbian: Нимфа
nymph in Finnish: Nymfit
nymph in Swedish: Nymf
nymph in Thai: นิมฟ์
nymph in Turkish: Nemf
nymph in Ukrainian: Німфи
nymph in Chinese: 宁芙

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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