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Nymphs

(young maidens) Greek Minor female spirits who were supposed to inhabit various places in the natural world. They were beautiful, and while not immortal, they lived for a few thousand years and thus were supposed to have certain magical and oracular powers. Among them were Dryads (tree nymphs and forest nymphs); Naiads (nymphs of freshwater springs and lakes); Napaeae (nymphs of glens and valleys); Nereids (nymphs...

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Numa Pompillius

Roman The legendary second king of Rome, who succeeded Romulus to the throne; eventually seen as an agricultural deity. Upon the death of Romulus, the legendary founder of the city of Rome, the citizens and senate of the city invited Numa to be their king. At that time, Numa, who was about 40 years old, was living a life of seclusion in a Sabine town,...

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Niobe

Greek The daughter of Tantalus; wife of Amphion, king of Thebes. She was the mother of 12 children and the personification of maternal sorrow. She was unwise enough to boast about her numerous children and was heard by the goddess Leto, who had only two children. Those children were the formidable twins Apollo and Artemis, however, and they punished Niobe by slaying all of her...

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Nike

(Nice; Victory) Greek The spirit of victory; a demigod or lesser goddess; daughter of the Titan Pallas and the water Nymph Styx; sister of Bia (Force), Cratus (Strength), and Zelus (Zeal). Nike had wings and flew very quickly. When Styx sided with Zeus in his great battle with his father, Cronus, and the Titans, she brought her children into service with her, though their father was...

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Nestor

Greek King of Pylos (on the west coast of Messenia, in the Peloponnesus) and, at 60 years old, the oldest and most experienced of the chieftains who fought in the Trojan War. Nestor was greatly respected for his strength and wisdom. He was also famous for being garrulous. He was one of the few heroes of Troy who returned safely to his kingdom in Greece....

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Nessus

Greek The Centaur who caused the death of the hero Heracles. Nessus carried Deianira, the wife of Heracles, across the river Evenus when the couple were escaping from Calydon. Nessus tried to force his attentions on Deianira, and Heracles shot him with an arrow. As he was dying, the centaur told Deianira to take some of his blood and use it as a love potion...

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Nereus

(Old Man of the Sea) Greek A sea god depicted as a very old man. His special dominion was the Aegean Sea. Nereus had 50 daughters, the Nereids, or sea Nymphs....

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Nereids

Greek The Nymphs of the sea, specifically the Mediterranean Sea; the daughters of Nereus, an ancient sea god, and Doris, a daughter of Oceanus. The Nereids lived in their father's palace at the bottom of the sea and came up often to play in the waves. They rode dolphins and other sea creatures and gathered on shore to play games and dry their...

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Neptune

Neptune (Neptunus) Roman Originally, a Roman god of freshwater. Neptune became associated with the Greek sea god Poseidon early in Roman history. Unlike the people of Greece, the people of Rome were not seafarers, so Neptune played only a small role in their lives. He did, however, keep many of his freshwater characteristics as he took on the stories of Poseidon, who inhabited the saltwater seas around...

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Nephele

Greek Wife of Athamas; mother of Phrixus, Leucon, and Helle. Nephele had started her life as a cloudlike form created by the god Zeus to trick Ixion, who was making advances to Zeus's wife, Hera....

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Neoptolemus

(Pyrrhus) Greek Son of Achilles and Deidamia. Neoptolemus played no great part in Homer's epics, except as one of the heroic Greek warriors who brought about the fall of Troy. He was hidden with the others inside the cunning wooden horse (see The Wooden Horse of Troy, under Trojan War). However, as the son of the great hero, Achilles, Neoptolemus is mentioned in many...

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Nemesis

Greek Goddess of vengeance; personification of the wrath of the gods toward those who had hubris, a Greek word meaning exaggerated pride in one's achievements or good fortune. Nemesis rewarded virtue and punished wickedness. At first, Nemesis was an abstract concept. In later mythology she was personified as a daughter of Nyx (Night) and Erebus (Darkness), a powerful force....

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Neda

Greek One of the oldest of the Oceanids, sea Nymph daughters of the Titan gods, Oceanus and Tethys; considered by many Greek writers to be a second-generation Titan. With help from her younger sisters, Theisoa and Hagno, Neda nursed the infant Zeus. According to ancient stories, the Titan goddess Rhea found no water with which to cleanse herself and her son after giving birth to...

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Necessitas

Roman A goddess of destiny or fate, of that which is necessary; or perhaps merely the personification of necessity. With the goddess Fortuna, Necessitas ruled over or influenced the future of men and women. The two are often pictured together, with Necessitas, carrying nails and wedges, walking before Fortuna. Necessitas was equated with Ananke, the Greek personification of absolute destiny....

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Naxos

Greek An island in the Aegean Sea southeast of Greece. It is famous in Greek mythology as the place where Theseus abandoned Ariadne, daughter of King Minos, after she helped him find his way out of the labyrinth. Naxos was a center for the worship of Dionysus....

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Dead Sea Scrolls

Scrolls roughly 2,000 years old found in caves on the northwestern edge of the Dead Sea. In February or March 1947, a 15-year-old Arab boy named Muhammad adh-Dhib accidentally made one of the greatest discoveries in modern archaeology. Accounts of what happened vary. According to one account, he was taking shelter from a thunderstorm. According to another, he was looking for a lost goat....

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Day of Atonement

English for the Hebrew phrase Yom Kippur; the most sacred of the "days of awe" in JUDAISM. Jews observe the Day of Atonement on the tenth day of Tishri, the fi rst month of the Jewish year. This date falls in September or October. The Day of Atonement is a time for restoring one's relationship with GOD. The Jewish people collectively repent of their SINS...

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David

David (ruled c. 1000–960 B.C.E.) in the Hebrew Bible, king of Israel and founder of the ruling dynasty of Judah After the death of King SAUL and his sons, David united the kingdoms of Israel (today in northern Israel) and Judah (today in southern Israel). He took JERUSALEM (previously the stronghold of a people known as the Jebusites), made it his capital, and brought the...

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Daniel

The title character in the book of Daniel in the BIBLE. He is likely based on a fi gure in Canaanite and earlier Hebrew literature. Ancient texts discovered at Ugarit in Syria during the 20th century reveal that, well before any of the Bible was written, the Canaanites knew a legendary hero named Dan'el. This fi gure appears in the biblical book of the...

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Dance and religion

The signifi cance and role of religious dancing. Like the music that usually accompanies it, dance has had a very wide role in religion but has sometimes been regarded with suspicion for its intoxicating effect and its association with sensual feeling. In primal societies, dance frequently served the role of creating sacred times and places, dances being occasions of rich community activity when the gods...

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Dalai Lama

The head of the Tibetan Buddhist community and traditionally the ruler of Tibet. The fi rst Dalai Lama assumed offi ce in 1438, although he was not given that title until 1578, when the Mongol king, Alta Khan, gave the name Dalai Lama to the head of the Tibetan religious community. Dalai means "ocean, all-encompassing"; lama means "supreme teacher." The fi rst Dalai Lama resided...

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Cults and sects, religious

An act of religious WORSHIP, or a small intense religious group, often one considered controversial. In religion, the word "cult" can mean any kind of worship, especially that of a particular god or shrine, as in speaking of ancient Greece one might refer to the "cult of APOLLO." Likewise, "sect" can denote any faction or group, especially a small one strongly devoted to a certain...

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Crusades

A number of movements in Catholic Western Europe, especially during the 12th and 13th centuries, that aimed to free the "holy land" from Muslim rulers. The name derives from crux, the Latin word for CROSS. The Crusaders wore large red crosses sewn onto their shirts. In the course of the 11th century, the territory of Palestine came under the control of the Seljuq Turks. The...

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Cross

A Roman instrument of torture that became one of the main symbols of CHRISTIANITY. Pre-Christian religions used the form of the cross— two lines that intersect—in many ways. Two examples are the ankh, an ancient Egyptian symbol of life, and the swastika, a symbol of well-being in ancient India. But the cross takes on special meaning in Christianity because it was the instrument on and...

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Creation and world cycles

Religious views on the origin and course of the universe. Many religions tell about the origins of the world, but not all do. For example, the BUDDHA refused to talk about the origin of the universe. Buddhists therefore usually envision the universe as a series of cycles, stretching infi nitely into the past and the future. Other religions have cyclical views of the universe, too. Religions...

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