The Naiads in Greek Mythology (2024)


The nymphs, or nymphai, of Ancient Greece were important figures, and were considered to be minor deities. The importance of the nymphs came about because of their association with elements of nature, with many nymphs associated with the vital element of water.

The water nymphs of Greek mythology can generally be split into three groups, the Oceanids, the Nereids and the Naiads.


It is not always clear about the distinctions between the Oceanids, Nereids and Naiads but broadly speaking, the Oceanids were the 3000 daughters of Oceanus, the Nereids were the 50 daughters of Nereus, and the Naiads were the innumerable daughters of the Potamoi.

The Nereids are the easiest of the water nymphs of Greek mythology to classify, for Nereus was a sea god, and the daughters were considered to be sea nymphs living in the Mediterranean Sea.

It might therefore appear that the Oceanids would also be sea nymphs, but in Greek mythology, Oceanus was the god of the great earth-encircling freshwater river, making the Oceanids freshwater nymphs.

As a result, there is a great deal of cross over between the Oceanids and the Naiads, for the Naiads too, were freshwater nymphs in Greek mythology. The Naiads were the nieces of the Oceanids, for the Potamoi were the river gods of Ancient Greece, and therefore sons of Oceanus.

The Naiads in Greek Mythology (1)

Naiads - Henryk Siemiradzki - PD-art-100

The Naiad Nymphs in Greek Mythology

As freshwater nymphs, the Naiads were closely associated with fountains, lakes, springs, rivers and wetlands.

The Naiads were therefore classified depending on their domain –

  • The Crinaeae – The Naiad nymphs of fountains and wells
  • The Limnades (or the Limnatides) – The Naiad nymphs of lakes
  • The Pegaeae – The Naiad nymphs of springs
  • The Potameides – The Naiad nymphs of rivers
  • The Eleionomae – The Naiad nymphs of wetlands

​As with all nymphs in Greek mythology, the Naiads were depicted as beautiful maidens; often shown with a pitcher, as the Naiads were thought to carry water for their parents.

Naiads were not necessarily considered to be immortal, for they would live and die alongside their water source, so if a spring dried up, the associated Naiad was thought to die. Naiads were also thought to have a finite lifespan, although Plutarch did suggest that this lifespan was 9720 years.

Aside from the bringing forth of water, Naiads were also considered protectors of young maidens; additionally their waters were also often thought to be able to heal or aide in prophecy.

The Naiads in Greek Mythology (2)

A Naiad - John William Waterhouse (1849–1917) -PD-art-100


With the importance of water, it is not surprise that the Naiads were widely worshipped. Of particular importance to the Ancient Greeks were the Naiads of island springs, like Aegina and Salamis, and the Naiads of town fountains and wells, like Thebe and Thespia. These Naiads, as well as giving their names to the locales, were also considered to be very reason why people could live where they did.

One of the important Pegaeae, spring Naiads, was Cassotis, a Naiad from the spring located at Delphi.

The Naiads in Greek Mythology (3)

Hylas and the Nymphs - John William Waterhouse (1849–1917) -PD-art-100


Generally speaking, the Naiads were not considered to be the most helpful of nymphs in Greek mythology, for they could be vengeful when angered; indeed, the Eleionomae, Naiads of wetlands, did not need a reason to be vengeful, and would simply cause individuals to become lost in the swamps.

Naiads would often appear in the retinues of gods, but they were most famous for stories about sex, for the beauty of the Naiads was very alluring.

The Gods and the Naiads
Many gods of the Greek pantheon would chase after Naiads, and the lovers of Apollo included Cyrene, Daphne and Sinope, whilst Zeus was a lover of Aegina, Poseidon joined with Salamis, and Hades lusted after Minthe.

In one version of the story of the Charites, the Graces, these three maidens were born after a relationship between Helios and the most beautiful of all Naiads, Aegle.

As the same time though, many prominent individuals in Ancient Greece, and families, would have a family tree that included one or more Naiad.

Vengeful Water Nymphs
An example of the vengeful nature of the Naiads comes from the story of Daphnis and Nomia. Daphnis was a shepherd on Sicily, and the Naiad Nomia fell in love with him. She was faithful to him, but Daphnis was deliberately intoxicated by a princess on Sicily, so that she could seduce him. When Nomia found out, she blinded Daphnis.

Hylas and the Naiads
Probably the most famous tale of the Naiads concerns the Mysian Naiads of the spring of Pegae in Bithynia. The Argo stopped off in Bithynia when the Argonauts made their way to Colchis. The three Naiads, Euneica, Malis and Nycheia, observed Hylas amongst the Argonauts and kidnapped him.

The Argo would sail on without him, and the ship would also leave behind Heracles who vowed to search for his friend Hylas. Heracles did not find Hylas, but whether Hylas wanted to be found is questionable. Some say he had fallen in love with the Naiads, and stayed with them forever more.

The Naiads in Greek Mythology (4)

Hylas with a Nymph - John William Waterhouse (1849–1917) - PD-art-100


The Naiads in Greek Mythology (2024)
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