Friday, 14 June 2013

Psamathe, a Nereid and goddess of sandy beaches


A Nereid, goddess of sandy beaches 
Daughter of Nereus and Doris
Wife of Proteus
Mother of Phocis 

This painting, below, by Norwegian Axel Hjalmar Ender (1853-1920) recently crossed my path finding it in an old on-line auction catalogue: "Kvinne på strand": woman at the beach. Ender painted her after a lifetime of painting Norwegian folklore and landscapes in 1918, at the end of his life. His late in life encounter with a sea nymph (because that is obviously the case) his finest. But that is my humble opinion as I have a fascination for nymphs. 
It made me think, not only because of the beautiful bathing goddess (the english queen is derived from kvinne), but  because of it's soft colors, of Sir Frederic Leighton's (1830-1896) painting of the sea nymph Psamathe. In ancient greece lived celestial nymphs, earth and land nymphs, freshwater, saltwater, beach, river (Naiades), waterfall and spring nymphs. And many more. What a wonderful world. 

Psamathe is a Nereid, a sea nymph and even more specifically the nymph of the sandy beaches (Psammos = sand, Theia = goddess). According to Greeck mythology there were 50(!) of them, the Nereids, sisters, all daughters of Nereus and Doris. Sir Frederic obviously shared my fascination and seems to have known the Nereid family well because he painted her sister  Actaea too. 

Actaea (above by Leighton) was the goddess of the shores and their sister Thetis (and leader of the Nereids) was the mother of Achilles. Nereids had the powers to change into different creatures like seals and dolphins.
Another encounter with one of the 50 sisters by Canadian (and Academie Julian student) Randolph Stanley Hewton (1888-1960). He painted her in 1920.

Father Nereus was a god of the oceans, son of Pontis and Gaia (earth) and mother Doris daughter of Oceanis and Thetys. Greek mythology isn't easy. There are interfering older and newer worlds of gods and there were many promiscuous, often incestuous, relationships between members of both worlds. With countless descendants. 
French pré-Raphaelite painter Gaston Bussiere (1862-1928) also had visions of the Nereid world, who according to some sources had blue hair. 

Psamathe was married to Proteus, the old seal herder of Poseidon, but bore a son she named Phocis (seal) to king Aeacus who'd ambushed and raped her on the beach although disguised as a seal she tried, but failed, to escape the amorous attack. I wonder if Aeacus, sick with passion, noticed. 

The legend of the Selkie, the seal woman, in Northern parts of Europe (Scotland, Scandinavia and even among the Inuit) however seems to have evolved independently, maybe referring to early Scots marrying Norwegian and Finnish women arriving in sealskin kayaks.        

All pictures borrowed freely from the Internet for friendly, educational and non commercial use only.

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