A to Z Challenge Folklore

Oreads: Nymphs of the Mountains #folklore #AtoZChallenge

O is for Oread

I’m doing folklore and book review posts to reach and please a larger audience. Previous years have shown select interest in both and to minimise blogging throughout the year, I’m focusing my efforts on April.

If you’d rather check out my book review for today, go here.

Learn more about the challenge here.

I learned about oreads when doing research for other types of nymphs. So interesting!


Various Greek Nymphs. Image credit.

Aristophanes,Thesmophoriazusae 990 ff :
“Dionysos, who delightest to mingle with the dear choruses of the Nymphai Oreiai (Mountain Nymphs), and who repeatest, while dancing with them, the sacred hymn, Euios, Euios, Euoi! Ekho (Echo), the Nymphe of Kithairon (Cithaeron), returns thy words, which resound beneath the dark vaults of the thick foliage and in the midst of the rocks of the forest; the ivy enlaces thy brow with its tendrils charged with flowers.”

Homeric Hymn 5 to Aphrodite 256 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th or 6th B.C.) :
“[Aphrodite addresses Ankhises (Anchises) :] ‘As for the child [their son Aeneas], as soon as he sees the light of the sun, the deep-breasted Mountain (oreskôoi) Nymphai (Nymphs) [i.e. Oreads] who inhabit this great and holy mountain [Ida] shall bring him up. They rank neither with mortals nor with immortals: long indeed do they live, eating ambrosia and treading the lovely dance among the immortals, and with them the Seilenoi (Silens) and the sharp-eyed Argeiphontes [Hermes] mate in the depths of pleasant caves; but at their birth pines or high-topped oaks spring up with them upon the fruitful earth, beautiful, flourishing trees, towering high upon the lofty mountains (and men call them holy places of the immortals, and never mortal lops them with the axe); but when the fate of death (moira thanatoio) is near at hand, first those lovely trees wither where they stand, and the bark shrivels away about them, and the twigs fall down, and at last the life of the Nymphe and of the tree leave the light of the sun together. These Nymphai shall keep my son [Aeneas] with them and rear him, and as soon as he is come to lovely boyhood, the goddesses (theiai) will bring him here to you and show you your child . . . Say he is the offspring of one of the flower-like Nymphe who inhabit this forest-clad hill.’”

Aristophanes, Birds 1088 ff (trans. O’Neill) (Greek comedy C5th to 4th B.C.) :
“[Comedy-Play :] [A bird speaks :] I winter in deep caverns, where I frolic with the Nymphai Oreiai (Mountain Nymphs).”

Hesiod, Fragments of Unknown Position 6 (from Strabo 10.3.19) (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or 7th B.C.) :
“But of them [the daughters of Hekateros (Hecaterus)] were born the divine mountain Nymphai (Nymphs) (theai nymphai oureiai) and the tribe (genos) of worthless, helpless Satyroi (Satyrs).

Oread. Image credit

BULFINCH’S MYTHOLOGY by Thomas Bulfinch [1855]

The wood-nymphs, Pan’s partners in the dance, were but one class of nymphs. There were besides them the Naiads, who presided over brooks and fountains, the Oreads, nymphs of mountains and grottos, and the Nereids, sea-nymphs. The three last named were immortal, but the wood-nymphs, called Dryads or Hamadryads, were believed to perish with the trees which had been their abode and with which they had come into existence.

Oread. Image credit

Fairy Tales of Modern Greece, by Theodore P. Gianakoulis and Georgia H. MacPherson, [1930]

TO the question, “Does any fragment of ancient Greek mythology survive?” the answer is, “Yes, the nymphs.” For among the hills and across the fields and streams of Greece, where the gods were born and dwelt, fairies now dance and play and radiate a subtle charm. Fairies are none other than the modern forms of the dryads, oreads, naiads, nerejds, fates, furies, graces and muses of the ancient myths. They are the nymphs that sang and played with Pan and Hermes, Apollo and the satyrs, but now they play and dance and sing with common shepherds, fishermen and hunters. Their very name is as old as Pontus, their father, and Doris, their mother. Νηρηΐδα or Νεράϊδα and Νύμφη, vernacular Νύφη, have the same meaning, which we may translate “fairy” or “nymph.”

Fairies are the virgin divinities of the earth. They know no heaven, for they take the place of the lower, earth-dwelling gods of the ancient mythology. They were never born; they never grow old; yet they are not immortal. Their beauty is everlasting and their dance eternal. They were created out of the earth and always live upon it, the anthropomorphic spirits of hills, streams, trees and ocean.

The Greek’s conception of fairies springs from his worship of nature, to which he is bound by his constant love of beauty. To his mind they are beautiful maidens, endowed with mysterious power, who inhabit palaces in the clouds, in caves on remote mountain peaks, along wild, rocky shores, or at the bottom of the sea. At noon on sunlit days and moonlit nights they visit the haunts of mortals, often choosing a tall pine tree, a cave or a spring. Sometimes they come singing, playing violins or flutes, or gently beating drums; sometimes they steal silently over hills and fields, seeking beautiful children or youths or maidens to carry away to their palaces for purposes of pleasure.

Oread. Image credit

The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies by Lucy Cooper


A mountain nymph in Greek mythology. Taking their name from oros, the Greek for “mountain”, the oreads dwelled in the rocky ravines and conifer forests of the mountains. They are sometimes associated with the hunting goddess known as Artemis in Greek mythology or Diana in Roman mythology, who favoured mountainous terrain as her hunting ground.

*More can be read in the book.

Oread. Image credit

Encyclopedia of Fairies in World Folklore and Mythology by Theresa Bane


Variations: Orends, Orestiad

The Oread (“mountains”) of Greek mythology were one of the twelve species of nymphs, they were the nymphs of grottoes, mountains, ravines, and valleys. Living lives virtually identical to human females, the oreads were associated with the goddess Artemis (Diana) because when she hunted she preferred mountains and rocky precipices.

An oread was usually known by the name of the mountain or hill on which she lived, for example the Claea were the oread of Mount Calathion.

*Read more in the book.

Oread. Image credit

The Forest in Folklore and Mythology by Alexander Porteous

The Nymphs which we have particularly to deal with here were imagined by the Greeks as beautiful female forms… Other varieties of Nymphs were Oriades, or Mountain-Nymphs, which haunted the mountains;

*More can be read in the book.

Oread. Image credit

Further Reading:

Oread. Image credit

Folklore in a Nutshell by Ronel

Simply put: the oreads are the nymphs of the mountains, hills, caves, ravines and grottoes. They are usually found in the company of Artemis. But they were also associated with Dionysus as he liked to party with all nymphs. Their name literally means “mountain”. Their names were usually derived from the rocky slope, grotto or mountain they inhabited. These minor goddesses weren’t only the protectors of those living in their hills, caves, mountains and what-have-you, they were also the patron goddesses of travellers ensuring their safe travel through their realm.

The oreads are tougher than other nymphs and are thought to be truly immortal. They are thought to be the keepers of the gems that come from their mountain homes, and that they give these as gifts to others, especially the gods of Olympus.

As Artemis is the goddess of the hunt and prefers hunting in hilly regions, it is thought that the Oreads are part of her retinue.

Echo is the most famous of the oreads. She was cursed by the goddess Hera to repeat the words of others and never utter her own after she ran interference between Zeus and the other nymphs, keeping Hera from finding them. In other versions of the myth, she was cursed for being too chatty. She’s usually connected to Narcissus – the guy who loved himself to death. Some say Echo died and that Gaia preserved her voice so it would sound everywhere forever.

In some myths, the oreads are simply the nymphs of mountain conifers and not much different from dryads. As most forests were on the slopes of rugged hills in ancient Greece, it is understandable that these nymphs might have inhabited the trees, too, as they are part of their domain.

Whether spirit, part of the mountain and its surrounds, or pretty young women, the oreads are powerful nymphs inhabiting the rocky places in nature.

Oread. Image credit

Oreads in Modern Culture

I could only find them used in one place…

Percy Jackson book series by Rick Riordan

In Greek mythology, the Oreads, or Orestiads, were the nymphs that inhabited mountains, valleys, and ravines, and were sometimes associated with the goddess Artemis. They were often classified from where they dwelled; for example, the Idaeae lived in Mt. Ida, while the Peliades were from Mt. Pelion.

The Mark of Athena

While searching for supplies to repair the Argo IILeo Valdez and Hazel Levesque meet Echo and several other Oreads who are all obsessed with Narcissus. When the two demigods steal Narcissus’ bronze mirror, they are stirred into a frenzy and give chase.

Learn more here.
Echo, an Oread. Image credit

Oreads in My Writing

Origin of the Fae: Oreads

These mountain nymphs are just as pretty as their forest counterparts, just more muscular. They protect the mountains, caves, ravines and more from human destruction as much as they can. They also protect those who live in their domain: animals, insects, plants, etc. As followers of Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, they are also more aggressive than other nymphs.

See them in action:

Solitary Fae (Origin of the Fae #6)

What do you think of oreads? Where did you hear about oreads for the first time? Any folklore about oreads you’d like to share? Check out my Pinterest board dedicated to the subject.

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image credit https://pixabay.com/illustrations/ai-generated-fairy-wings-magic-8121013/

No-one writes about the fae like Ronel Janse van Vuuren.

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