Nereid, Nereis (Νηρεΐς), or Nerine,1 is a patronymic from Nereus, and applied to his daughters (Νηρεΐδες, and in Homer Νηρηΐδες) by Doris, who were regarded by the ancients as marine nymphs of the Mediterranean, in contra-distinction from the naiades, or the nymphs of fresh water, and the Oceanides, or the nymphs of the great ocean.2 The number of the Nereides was fifty, but their names are not the same in all writers.3 The names common by both Hesiod and Homer are: Actaea, Agave, Amphitrite, Cymodoce, Cymothoe, Doris, Doto, Dynamene, Galatea, Glauce, Halia, Melite, Nemertes, Nisaea, Panope, Pherusa, Proto, Psamathe, Speio, Thetis, and Thoe.
They were worshiped in several parts of Greece, but more especially in sea-port towns, such as Cardamyle,5 and on the Isthmus of Corinth.6 The epithets given them by the poets refer partly to their beauty and partly to their place of abode.
The names of the Nereids can be found in Spenser's The Faerie Queene, IV, c. xi, verses 48-51. Milton mentions another, Panope, in his Lycidas (line 99).
In ancient art the Nereides appear in the retinue of Poseidon, Amphitrite, Thetis and other sea-divinities. On black-figure Greek vases they appear fully clothed, such as on a Corinthian hydra (sixth century BCE; Paris) where they stand near the bier of Achilles. Later vase-paintings depict them nude or partially nude, mounted on dolphins, sea-horses or other marine creatures, and often grouped together with Tritons. They appear as such on Roman frescoes and sarcophagi. An Etruscan bronze cista from Palestrina depicts winged Nereides.
Famous is the Nereid Monument, a marble tomb from Xanthos (Lycia, Asia Minor), partially in the collection of the British Museum. At the top is a small temple surrounded by pillars between which Nereides stood. They were depicted in motion and with billowing, transparent clothes. The style is Attic-Ionian and dates to ca. 400 BCE.
In the Renaissance and baroque periods the Nereid was frequently used to decorate fountains and garden monuments.
- Virgil. Eclogues, vii, 37.
- Eustathius on Homer, p. 622.
- Homer. Iliad xviii, 39 ff.; Hesiod. Theogony, 240 ff.; Pindar. Isthmian Odes vi, 8; Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library i, 2.7; Ovid. Metamorphoses ii, 10 ff.; Virgil. Aeneid v, 825; Hyginus. Fabulae: Preface.
- Homer. Iliad xviii, 36 ff. 140; Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library i, 9.25; Apollonius Rhodius. Argonautica iv, 859, 930.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece iii, 2.5.
- ibid. ii, 1.7.
- Aken, Dr. A.R.A. van. (1961). Elseviers Mythologische Encyclopedie. Amsterdam: Elsevier.
- Smith, William. (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Taylor, Walton, and Maberly.
This article incorporates text from Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) by William Smith, which is in the public domain.