A nymph in Greek mythology is a female 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.
Other nymphs, always in the shape of young nubile maidens, were part of the retinue of a god, such as Dionysus, Hermes, or Pan, or a goddess, generally the huntress Artemis. Nymphs were the frequent target of satyrs. They live in mountains and groves, by springs and rivers, also in trees 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.
Nymphs are personifications of the creative and fostering activities of nature, most often identified with the life-giving outflow of springs: as Walter Burkert (Burkert 1985:III.3.3) remarks, "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."
The Greek word νύμφη has "bride" and "veiled" among its meanings: hence a marriageable 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").
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