While writing The Compendium of Magical Beasts, I thought a lot about monsters and myths and women. In part because my narrator, like me, is the kind of person who would think about those things, and in part because I feel that to leave out discussions of marginalization, even in a book about creatures that probably don’t exist, was to do folklore and history and science a disservice. The chapter on nymphs is one of my favorites for that reason. I could have written a straightforward explanation of what a nymph is and how they live, but there’s more to it than that—call somebody a ‘nymph’ today, and you’re not saying they’re a forest-dwelling spirit. Same with ‘harpy’ or ‘siren,’ both words that meant female monsters, and now mean female monsters in a different way.
According to myth, there are some three thousand oceanids, with only a handful of them being worthy of names and stories. Of those stories, most involve them giving birth, or nursing, or caretaking; there was only one story to be told, and it was told again and again and again.
Anyway, here’s a drabble.
The three thousand nymph daughters of the Titans Oceanus and Tethys in Greek myth.
They are best known for being daughters, rarely mothers, rarely maidens, rarely crones; just perfect, aqueous daughters, pliant and pure. Only 41 were given names—the rest of them, uncountable, languish in myth as sisters and daughters with no attachments, no personhood.
A few were given names and stories—Methis, who was swallowed for carrying a goddess in her womb, Adrasteia, who suckled a god at her breast, and Pasiphae, who was cursed to love a beast and birthed an abomination. Mostly they were daughters, nameless, powerless daughters defined by their storied ancestors with not a word to shape their own lives.