The Nereids' Sea Nymphs myth is one of the most fascinating in Greek mythology. Deeply associated with the element of water, they were the personified female spirits of the sea which were worshiped as the divinities of the sea.
They were 50 in total, and were daughters of Nereus and Doris and granddaughters of the Titan Ocean.
The Nereids were considered to be beautiful maidens. They were extremely proud of their beauty and did not allow any of the human females to overcome them.
According to the Greek mythology, they were found either on the waves of the sea that surrounded ancient Greece or sitting on the rocks of the coasts. They had a pink-red colour skin and each of them had a unique physique.
Although the Nereids were different from one another, they could be identified by specific objects, like a comb or a starfish, which signified their oceanic “origins”.
The Nereids had a very friendly nature and were living in total harmony with sea creatures like dolphins and hippocampus. Sometimes they were portrayed having fish-like tails instead of feet.
The Nereids were considered to be helpful to sailors and as their protectors. This is why ancient Greeks had built temples or other similar worshipping structures at harbours and ports.
The “Neraides,” as they are called in contemporary Greek, and translates as “Fairies” in English, were living in the bottom of the sea, in the palace of their father. They spend their days swimming, playing with dolphins and singing.
Nereids Sea Nymphs Names
Although there are controversies among historians about the etymology of each Nereids’ name, there is a general consensus that they personify special attributes or parts of the sea such as seashores, good harbouring or calm seas. The most well-known Nereids were:
The Nereid Amphitrite - The Queen of the Sea
The Nereid Amphitrite was the daughter of Nereus and Doris, wife of Poseidon and, subsequently, the Queen of the Sea.
Together with her sisters Kymatolege and Kymodoke she possessed the power to still the winds and calm the sea.
Poseidon and Amphitrite had a son, Triton who was a merman, and a daughter, Rhodos.
The myth says that at the beginning she did not want to marry Poseidon, who chose her among her 50 or 100 sisters (there is a dispute on the subject) when he saw her on a dance organised by her parents on the island of Naxos. So, Amphitrite fled from Poseidon to Titan Atlas, but was retrieved afterwards by a dolphin that was sent by Poseidon. The dolphin brought Amphitrite back to Poseidon and they finally got married. Poseidon made the dolphin a constellation as a reward.
The Nereid Thetis - Protector of "Generation"
The Nereid Thetis was the protector of "generation" or spawning of fish, and their leader. She was the mother of the invulnerable Greek hero Achilles who fought in the Trojan War, and was born of her forced marriage to the mortal Peleus.
Thetis was desired by both Zeus, the King of Gods, and Poseidon, the God of Sea.
However, when it was revealed by Themis, the Goddess of Justice, that the son she would give birth to, would be mightier than his father, Thetis was given by the two Gods to Peleus, King of the Myrmidons of Thessaly. She was unwilling to be his wife at first, but Peleus, having the assistance of the centaur Chiron, finally managed to capture and marry her.
Thetis, then, gave birth to the famous Greek warrior Achilles who fought in the Trojan war. She wanted to make Achilles invulnerable and therefore, she dipped him in the waters of the Styx (the river of Hades). However, the heel by which she held Achilles was not touched by the Styx's waters and failed to be fully protected, therefore leaving behind a weak spot for Achilles that resulted to his death by arrow at the end of the Trojan war.
The Nereid Galatea - The Creator of Sea-Foam
Galatea was the Nereid of "the milky white" sea-foam. She was loved by the cyclops Polyphemus, but she loved a young man called Acis. When Polyphemus found out about the young lovers, he killed Acis with a large rock.
Another version of the myth of Galatea, says that ancient sculptor Pygmalion made a statue that was representing his ideal of womanhood and named it Galatea. According to the myth, Venus the Roman goddess of love, sex, beauty and fertility brought the statue to life, to answer the prayers of Pygmalion who then married Galatea.
The Nereid Doris - The Sea's "Bounty"
Doris was the Nereid of the sea's "bounty" or else the mixing of fresh water with the brine. She was the wife of the sea god Nereus and the mother of all Nereids.
Doris was also the daughter of Oceanus and Tethys and a sea nymph herself. She was considered as the fertility of the ocean, goddess of the rich fishing-grounds found at the entrance of rivers where fresh water mingled with the brine.
The Nereid Doto - The Protector of Safe Voyage
Doto was considered to be the Nereid who gave safe voyage or generous catch to fishermen. Her Greek name is translated as “generous offers”.
The Nereid Dyname - The Sea's Power
Dyname was the Nereid of the sea's power.
The Nereid Erato - The Lovely
Erato was a Nereid whose name means “the lovely”.
The Nereid Galene - The Creator of Calm Seas
Galene was the Nereid of the calm seas. She was considered a minor goddess and there is a historical dispute over her origin.
The Nereid Proto - The Protector of First Voyage
Proto was known as the Nereid of sailing and was considered the Nereid of the first voyage.
The Nereid Sao - The Creator of Safe Sea Passages
Sao was the Nereid of safe sea passages, and “responsible” for the rescue of sailors.
Famous Nereids’ Myths
Ancient Greek mythology is full of myths that, many times, expand from the “core” myth to more “peripheral” myths. Likewise, the myth of Nereids is consisted of many more exciting myths about some of the Nereids. The most well-known myths of Nereids are the following:
The Story of Andromeda and the Nereids
Andromeda was the daughter of Queen Cassiopeia, who ruled the kingdom of Aethiopia together with her husband Cepheus of Phoenicia for many years.
But Cassiopeia who was very beautiful, was also famous for her vanity. She was boasting on daily basis that Andromeda was most beautiful compared to all the Nereids nymphs. One day Poseidon heard Cassiopeia’s boasting, who took it as an insult and sent a horrible sea monster on the coast of Aethiopia to appease the Nereids.
When the King asked an oracle what he should do, the oracle told him that he should sacrifice Andromeda. With a heavy heart, he chained her daughter naked on a rock to be taken by the sea monster, but at the last moment Perseus, the legendary founder of Mycenae and of the Perseid dynasty, killed the sea monster, saved Andromeda and finally married her.
The Test of Theseus and the Palace of Nereids
Theseus, the mythical king and founder-hero of Athens, had just arrived in Crete together with six other boys and seven girls, where he was supposed to be sacrificed to Minotaur, a fabulous monster that had the body of a man and the head of a bull.
Minos, the king of Crete, was very attracted by the beauty of one of the girls and decided to take her with him, instead of sacrificing her to Minotaur.
But Theseus, opposed against his will, declaring that he was the son of Poseidon. When Minos heard that, he threw a golden ring in the ocean and challenged Theseus to retrieve it, in order to prove that he was really the son of Poseidon.
Theseus, indeed, dived in the ocean, and there he discovered the overwhelmingly beautiful palace of the Nereids. The Nereids nymphs were very happy to see Theseus, rushed quickly out of the palace to meet him and held a glorious party for him. They then sent him back with Minos’ ring and a precious crown full of gemstones as a proof that he was indeed Poseidon’s son.
The Happy Marriage of Amphitrite
Amphitrite was one of the most beautiful Nereids and got the attention of Poseidon who was extremely attracted by her and wanted to marry her. But Amphitrite was not very willing to marry and she tried to get away from him by fleeing in the depths of the ocean.Finally, the god Delphin, who could swim deeper than Poseidon, found her and gave her to him. They were then married and Amphitrite lived a majestic life as queen of the sea.
The Unhappy Marriage of Thetis
This myth speaks about the Nereid Thetis, who was playing with her sisters, when Peleus, king of the Myrmidons of Thessaly, after seeing the Nereid fell in love with her and wanted to marry her. She tried to escape him, by changing forms. However, Peleus managed to grasp Thetis and convinced her to marry him.
But Thetis was still not happy about that and neither her sisters were. During the wedding all the Nereids who were present, were crying and so did Thetis, under her wedding veil.
Thetis, resulted hating Peleus, but she loved very much her son Achilles. Trying to make him invincible, she bathed him in sacred water, but missed the heel from which she was holding her son. This one and only weakness proved to be crucial and fatal during the Trojan War, as he was killed by Paris with an arrow that hit his heel.
The Argonauts and the Wandering Rocks
This myth speaks about the sea voyage of Argonauts and the help that Nereids provided them, after Hera, the wife of Zeus, ordered them to do so. Indeed, Thetis and the other Nereids guided the ship through its journey and protected it, when it faced a crop of dangerous rocks.
Greek mythology is fascinating, not only because it contains extraordinary stories about the origin of the world, but also because it has originated the terminology of words and terms that are used till our days.
Aegean Sea, for example, has taken its name from the mythical ancient king of Athens Aegeus, who committed suicide, jumping from a height to the sea, when he thought that his first son Theseus was killed.
The word ocean comes from the ancient Titan Ocean and was considered to be the oldest sea divinity of the ancient Greek mythology. The term was historically established by Herodotus, who was considered the first historian of humanity and the one who established the science of history.
The “divine” Nature of Sea
Water covers over 70 % of our planet and can be considered as a type of divine element as life on Earth would be impossible without it. People often tend to underestimate its value.
However, the significance of sea in life is unquestionable and, furthermore, the experience of swimming is fascinating. Water and sea, to paraphrase the Ancient Greeks, are “divine gifts”. It's up to us, people, to both preserve and enjoy them.