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NEREIS (Nêreïs), or Nerine (Virg. Eclog. vii. 37), is a patronymic from Nereus, and applied to his daughters (Nereides, Nêreïdes, and in Homer Nêrêïdes) 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 (Eustath. ad Hom. p. 622). The number of the Nereides was fifty, but their names are not the same in all writers (Hom. Il. xviii. 39, &c.; Hes. Theog. 240, &c.; Pind. Isthm. vi. 8; Apollod. i. 2. § 7; Ov. Met. ii. 10, &c.; Virg. Aen. v. 825; Hygin. Fab. praef.) They are described as lovely divinities, and dwelling with their father at the bottom of the sea, and they were believed to be propitious to all sailors, and especially to the Argonauts (Hom. Il. xviii. 36, &c. 140; Apollod. i. 9. § 25; Apollon. Rhod. iv. 859, 930). They were worshipped in several parts of Greece, but more especially in sea-port towns. such as Cardamyle (Paus. iii. 2. § 5), and on the Isthmus of Corinth (ii. 1. § 7). The epithets given them by the poets refer partly to their beauty and partly to their place of abode. They were frequently represented in antiquity, in paintings, on gems, in relievoes and statues, and commonly as youthful, beautiful, and naked maidens, and often grouped together with Tritons and other marine monsters, in which they resemble the Bacchic routs. Sometimes, also, they appear on gems as half maidens and half fish, like mermaids, the belief in whom is quite analogous to the belief of the ancients in the existence of the Nereides.

Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.
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