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Fighting Nymphs Inspire Artists

Nymphs by Eugene Delacroix.
Wrestling Nymphs by Eugene Delacroix
From Werner Sonntag's Book Kampfeslust (Fighting Lust)


Русская версия


Nymph in Greek mythology is a minor female nature deity typically associated with a particular location or landform. There are several different types of nymphs, Celestial Nymphs, Sea Nymphs, Land Nymphs, Wood Nymphs, Underworld Nymphs and Other (unclassified Nymphs). Different from goddesses, 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 are believed to dwell in mountains and groves, by springs and rivers, and also in trees and in valleys and cool grottoes. Although 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. Charybdis and Scylla were once nymphs. Sea nymph Thetis, the wife of the Greek hero Peleus and the mother of the other famopus Greek hero Achilles. Other nymphs, always in the shape of young 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 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. Another gropu of mythical female creatures, Maenads or Bacchantes, are frenzied nymphs in the retinue of Dionysus.

Other nymphs, always in the shape of young 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 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.

Nymphs are personifications of the creative and fostering activities of nature, most often identified with the life-giving outflow of springs. 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.

Besides, the populous mythical Maenads or Bacchai or Bacchantes were in fact frenzied nymphs in the retinue of Dionysus

Artists and poets have been inspired by these mythical creatures. Artists of all epochs depicted nymphs in different ways using different techniques – painting on vases and canvas, curving stones, casting bronze, even doing Photoshop. There are a few most popular subjects with nymphs and bacchantes in art:

– One or a group of nymphs in the open air against a beautiful natural background.
– Figure dances, merrymaking and love games with satyrs. Most often it is bacchantes and their bacchanalia.
– Satyr or centaur petting a nymph.
– Nymphs fighting back against satyrs or centaurs trying to rape them.
– Nymphs wrestling each other.
– Bacchantes display violence.
– Violent and combative actions by famous nymphs.

In fact, the last four subjects are more interesting to us

For some reason, these delicate slim mythical creatures are often depicted being wrestling each other – for real or not. It can be explained in this way: satyrs are ugly, they have horns but they possess the powerful male element. They scare but irresistibly attract nymphs. After all, there are many nymphs and just few satyrs, that’s why rivalry is quite understandable.

All the names for various classes of nymphs are plural feminine adjectives agreeing with the substantive nymphs, and there was no single classification that could be seen as canonical and exhaustive. Thus the classes of nymphs tend to overlap, which complicates the task of precise classification.


Opus sectile panel with the rape of Hylas by the Nymphs
Roman artwork, first half of the 4th century
From the basilica of Junius Bassus on the Esquiline Hill.

In fact, the last four subjects are more interesting to us

For some reason, these delicate slim mythical creatures are often depicted being wrestling each other – for real or not. It can be explained in this way: satyrs are ugly, they have horns but they possess the powerful male element. They scare but irresistibly attract nymphs. After all, there are many nymphs and just few satyrs, that’s why rivalry is quite understandable.

All the names for various classes of nymphs are plural feminine adjectives agreeing with the substantive nymphs, and there was no single classification that could be seen as canonical and exhaustive. Thus the classes of nymphs tend to overlap, which complicates the task of precise classification.


Fighting Nymphs in Classic Arts

In the process of creation

Nymphs fight back

In the process of creation

Famous Nymphs

In the process of creation

Bacchantes and bacchanalia

In the process of creation

 

Violent Actions
by Nymphs and Bacchantes

In the process of creation

Fighting Nymphs
Inspire Photoshop Masters


Nymph Classification:

Celestial nymphs
- Hesperides (nymphs of the West, daughters of Atlas; also had attributes of the Hamadryads)
- Pleiades (daughters of Atlas and Pleione; constellation; also were classed as Oreads)
Most famous celestial nymphs:
  - Maia (partner of Zeus and mother of Hermes)
  - Electra


Land nymphs
- Oreads (mountains, grottoes), also - Orestiades, Orodemniades
Most famous land nymph - Echo


Wood and plant nymphs
- Dryades (trees)
- Hamadryades or Hadryades (Nymphs of specific trees)


Underworld nymphs


Water nymphs (Hydriades or Ephydriades)
- Haliae (nymphs of sea and seashores)
  - Nereids (50 daughters of Nereus, the Mediterranean Sea)
  - Naiads or Naides (fresh water)
- Oceanids (daughters of Oceanus and Tethys, any water, usually salty).
Most famous water nymphs:
  - Thetis
  - Scylla
  - Charybdis


Other nymphs
Maenads or Bacchai or Bacchantes - frenzied nymphs in the retinue of Dionysus
- Thyiai or Thyiades (thyrsus bearers)


Hermes and Maia, detail from an Attic red-figure amphora (ca. 500 BC)



Echo and Narcissus by John William Waterhouse (1903)



Scylla. Detail from a Boeotian red-figure bell-crater, 450–425 BC


Gods, Godesses and Deities

Dionysus or Bacchus (the name adopted by the Romans) was the god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness and ecstasy in Greek mythology. He is a major, popular figure of Greek mythology and religion, and is included in some lists of the twelve Olympians. His festivals were the driving force behind the development of Greek theatre. He is an example of a dying god. His thyrsus is sometimes wound with ivy and dripping with honey. It is a beneficent wand but also a weapon, and can be used to destroy those who oppose his cult and the freedoms he represents. He is also the Liberator, whose wine, music and ecstatic dance frees his followers from self-conscious fear and care, and subverts the oppressive restraints of the powerful. Those who partake of his mysteries are possessed and empowered by the god himself. His cult is also a "cult of the souls"; his maenads feed the dead through blood-offerings, and he acts as a divine communicant between the living and the dead. In Greek mythology, he is presented as a son of Zeus and the mortal Semele, thus semi-divine or heroic: and as son of Zeus and Persephone or Demeter, thus both fully divine, part-chthonic. The second element of his name -nūsos is associated with Mount Nysa, the birthplace of the god in Greek mythology, where he was nursed by nymphs (the Nysiads).


Pan is the god of the wild, shepherds and flocks, nature, of mountain wilds, hunting and rustic music, and companion of the nymphs. His name originates within the Ancient Greek language, means 'the one who pastures'. He has the hindquarters, legs, and horns of a goat, in the same manner as a faun or satyr. With his homeland in rustic Arcadia, he is recognized as the god of fields, groves, and wooded glens; because of this, Pan is connected to fertility and the season of spring. The ancient Greeks also considered Pan to be the god of theatrical criticism. In Roman religion and myth, Pan's counterpart was Faunus, a nature god who was the father of Bona Dea, sometimes identified as Fauna. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Pan became a significant figure in the Romantic movement of western Europe, and also in the 20th-century Neopagan movement.
The parentage of Pan is unclear; in some myths he is the son of Zeus, though generally he is the son of Hermes or Dionysus, with whom his mother is said to be a nymph, sometimes Dryope or, in Nonnus, Dionysiaca, Penelope of Mantineia in Arcadia. This nymph at some point in the tradition became conflated with Penelope, the wife of Odysseus. Pausanias records the story that Penelope had in fact been unfaithful to her husband, who banished her to Mantineia upon his return. Other sources (Duris of Samos; the Vergilian commentator Servius) report that Penelope slept with all 108 suitors in Odysseus' absence, and gave birth to Pan as a result. This myth reflects the folk etymology that equates Pan's name with the Greek word for "all". In the Mystery cults of the highly syncretic Hellenistic era Pan is made cognate with Phanes/Protogonos, Zeus, Dionysus and Eros.


Satyr (saturos) is one of a troop of male companions of Pan and Dionysus. He has horselike features. Roman Mythology identifies the Greek satyr with its faun being half-man, half-goat. "Satyresses" were a late invention of poets — that roamed the woods and mountains. In myths they are often associated with pipe-playing. The satyrs' chief was Silenus, a minor deity associated (like Hermes and Priapus) with fertility. Satyrs acquired their goat-like aspect through later Roman conflation with Faunus, a carefree Italic nature spirit of similar characteristics and identified with the Greek god Pan. Hence satyrs are most commonly described in Latin literature as having the upper half of a man and the lower half of a goat, with a goat's tail in place of the Greek tradition of horse-tailed satyrs; therefore, satyrs became nearly identical with fauns. Mature satyrs are often depicted in Roman art with goat's horns, while juveniles are often shown with bony nubs on their foreheads. Above all though, the Satyr with flute has a small companion for him, shows the deep connection with nature, the soft whistle of the wind, the sound of gurgling water of the crystal spring, the birds singing, or perhaps the singing a melody of a human soul that feeds higher feelings. As Dionysiac creatures they are lovers of wine and women, and they are ready for every physical pleasure. They roam to the music of pipes (auloi), cymbals, castanets, and bagpipes, and they love to dance with the nymphs (with whom they are obsessed, and whom they often pursue), and have a special form of dance called sikinnis. Because of their love of wine, they are often represented holding wine cups, and they appear often in the decorations on wine cups.


Centaur or hippocentaur is a member of a composite race of creatures, part human and part horse. In early Attic and Boeotian vase-paintings, they are depicted with the hindquarters of a horse attached to them; in later renderings centaurs are given the torso of a human joined at the waist to the horse's withers, where the horse's neck would be. This half-human and half-animal composition has led many writers to treat them as liminal beings, caught between the two natures, embodied in contrasted myths, both as the embodiment of untamed nature, as in their battle with the Lapiths, or conversely as teachers, like Chiron. The centaurs were usually said to have been born of Ixion and Nephele (the cloud made in the image of Hera). Another version, however, makes them children of a certain Centaurus, who mated with the Magnesian mares. This Centaurus was either himself the son of Ixion and Nephele (inserting an additional generation) or of Apollo and Stilbe, daughter of the river god Peneus. In the later version of the story his twin brother was Lapithes, ancestor of the Lapiths, thus making the two warring peoples cousins. Like satyrs, Centaurs were often faced with Nymphs; quite popular artistic topics were: a nymph rides a centaur; a centaur rapes a nymphs or a nymph opposing centaur's attempting rape.


Artemis was one of the most widely venerated of the Ancient Greek deities. Her Roman equivalent is Diana. Homer refers to her as Artemis Agrotera, Potnia Theron: "Artemis of the wildland, Mistress of Animals". The Arcadians believed she was the daughter of Demeter. In the classical period of Greek mythology, Artemis was often described as the daughter of Zeus and Leto, and the twin sister of Apollo. She was the Hellenic goddess of the hunt, wild animals, wilderness, childbirth, virginity and protector of young girls, bringing and relieving disease in women; she often was depicted as a huntress carrying a bow and arrows. The deer and the cypress were sacred to her. In later Hellenistic times, she even assumed the ancient role of Eileithyia in aiding childbirth. At three years old, Artemis, while sitting on the knee of her father, Zeus, asked him to grant her six wishes: to remain always a virgin; to have many names to set her apart from her brother Apollo; to be the Phaesporia or Light Bringer; to have a bow and arrow and a knee-length tunic so that she could hunt; to have sixty "daughters of Okeanos", all nine years of age, to be her choir; and for twenty Amnisides Nymphs as handmaidens to watch her dogs and bow while she rested. She wished for no city dedicated to her, but to rule the mountains, and for the ability to help women in the pains of childbirth.


Alex Cupidis
August 2012


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