What is a WaterNymph? Why it is a nymph of the water, sillies! Where Nymph is greek for a maiden or a bride, and water is english for water :))
I like to use the german* form of sticking two words together -not to confuse humanity and make everything impossible to pronounce, as seems to be their intention- but only because it looks a lot more whimsical. I promise.
*The Germans, by the way, have their very own water nymphs. They are however called Nixe, and are scary, fish-tailed, malicious water sprites, who enjoy leading men to death by drowning. In Switzerland there is even a legend of a sea-maid that lives in Lake Zug. You have been warned!
Gustav Klimt's NIXEN, 1899.
If can't sleep tonight, haunted by this image, maybe some online shopping will help. Just an impartial suggestion.
Water Nymphs in Greek mythology though, were gorgeous supernatural beings, divine spirits who animated and maintained waters.
They were depicted as beautiful, young, graceful maidens, not necessarily immortal, but floating somewhere in between Gods and humans, eating heavenly food, cavorting with satyrs, usually lovers of gods and heroes, or often their mothers. Now, isn't that better?
Water Nymphs were divided into the Naiads, the Nereids, and the Oceanids, depending on the areas they were protecting, saltwater or freshwater, fountains and wells, lakes, brooks, springs, rivers/streams or wetlands. Also depending on who their daddies were, Zeus, Poseidon, or Okeanos, Gods or Titans. Yes, the ancient greeks liked to mix it up. A lot.
They were elusive creatures, but they could randomly be encountered dancing or bathing in a stream or pool, mostly in the middle of the night. Although they were usually well-disposed towards humans, they had a seductive and dangerous side as well. So such encounters could lead to disaster, bringing dumbness, besotted infatuation, madness or stroke to humans, particularly to men spying on them.
Ok, so I lied, Greek Water Nymphs took no prisoners either. In fact, some myths have them lure men into the deep waters with them. The tale of the Argonaut Hylas, the young mortal man, did not have a happy ending. Enamoured by his beauty, the Naiads pulled him into the water so that they can be with him forever. When his loyal friend Hercules went looking for him, the Nymphs turned him into an echo, so that the only answer Heracles would get when calling out for him, would be Hylas name ringing back to him.
Hylas and the Nymphs, John William Waterhouse, 1896.
This painting became the subject of quite a bit of controversy.
In January 2018 it was removed from public display by Manchester Art Gallery's curator. This decision was followed by a strong backlash. Visitors were provided with post-it notes, where they could express their opinions, opening a public debate, which had the painting back on the wall within a week!
Water Nymphs are often depicted in classic works across art, literature, and in fiction. And some of the strongest characters in Greek mythology were actually Water Nymphs.
One of the most famous among them was naiad Daphne. The god Apollo fell in love with her -having been shot with an arrow by Eros, god of love- and relentlessly pursued her. Daphne ran off to the river, where her father Ladon was the river god, begging him for help. Ladon turned her into a laurel tree. Remorseful Apollo gave Daphne immortality, therefore the laurel tree is evergreen.
Thetis, the mother of Achilles, was a Water Nymph too. A Nereid, she famously dipped her son into the river Styx (the river that flowed through the underworld) to make him immortal. The only part that didn’t get wet was his heel, as she was holding on to him by the heel. And this is where the expression "Achilles heel", meaning a weak spot, comes from.
Half woman-half bird Sirens, of Homer's Odyssey fame, who believed to lure sailors to destruction with their beautiful song, were also Water Nymphs! Companions of the young Persephone, they were originally given their wings by the goddess Demeter, to search for Persephone when she was abducted by Hades.
And how exactly is this little company related to Water Nymphs, you may ask? Well, that is a story for another time ;)