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Dryads

12 November 2020

Closely related to both forests and woods of which they are the guardian divinities, Dryads are nymphs from Greek mythology often represented with a crown made of oak leaves and/or forming a choir of dance around a tree. In the iconography, Dryads sometimes appear as an embodied tree. Furthermore, they are often associated to Pan, god of shepherds and herds, and to satyrs.

Their name comes from the Greek drus (oak) and that is why they are generally associated to that majestic tree, symbol of strength and longevity. Dryads can roam free and survive trees under their care, contrary to Hamadryads whose destinies depend on the tree under their care. As a matter of fact, Hamadryads, living under the bark of trees, died at the same time as their host tree.

Differencies between Dryads and Hamadryads are tenuous and it’s why they are often misidentified in the iconography and in the literature as illustrated by the poem Dryad by Alfred de Vigny.

Among the famous Dryads, we could mention Eurydice, bitten by a snake the night of her wedding with Orphée, son of the king of Thrace Œagre and the Muse Calliope.

Dryads or Hamadryads, those nymphs are the soul and the guardians of forests and woods they populate. Through them, trees are humanised and became an inexhaustible source of inspiration for artists.

 

Picture 1: Dance of the Dryads © National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Picture 2: Orphée ramenant Eurydice des enfers by Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, 1861 © Houston Museum of Fine Arts

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