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A nymph in Greek mythology is a minor nature deity typically associated with a particular location or landform. Different from gods, 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 dwell in mountains and groves, by springs and rivers, and also in trees and in valleys and cool grottoes. Though 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.
Throughout Greek mythology, they often act as attendants for one or more of the major gods or goddesses, such as the huntress Artemis;1 and rustic gods such as Pan and Hermes. Nymphs were the frequent love interest of satyrs.
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 tended to frequent areas distant from humans 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.
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