Mythological Beasts and Spirits: Dryad

Dignified, the ancient giants, from their homes of bark and wood, Hearkened to the forest maiden, in the fog before her stood. From: The Staff in the Tree by Robert Lambert Jones III
Dignified, the ancient giants, from their homes of bark and wood,
Hearkened to the forest maiden, in the fog before her stood.
From: The Staff in the Tree by Robert Lambert Jones III

Dryads are among my favorite characters from mythology and folklore. From Greek mythology to modern times, their interpretations in art and literature are varied. They are tree spirits, certain versions of which can emerge from their arboreal homes as human beings. Most of the representations I have found are female.

The Dryad by Evelyn De Morgan
The Dryad by Evelyn De Morgan
The Dryad by Henry John Stock.
The Dryad by Henry John Stock.

In other versions, they are so bound to their homes that they die if their trees are cut down. I wish I could credit the following painting, but I could find no information on the artist. If anyone knows and can tell me, I will gladly update this post (artist: Emile Jean-Baptiste Philippe Bin – many thanks to Colin Smith for the information). I was intrigued by the idea of a dryad emerging to prevent a woodsman from cutting down her tree. The painting implies a story.

dryads3

In this painting by Edward Burne-Jones, the female figure is not a Dryad proper, but rather a woman temporarily transformed into a tree. She transforms back when the lover who neglected her repents of his actions. Though I haven not yet read the story, I think it comes from The Metamorphoses by Ovid. Still, the painting is reminiscent of the original concept of tree spirits.

The Tree of Forgiveness by Edward Burne-Jones
The Tree of Forgiveness by Edward Burne-Jones

They are sometimes portrayed as males. For  The Staff in the Tree, I envisioned them as giant warriors, spirits that can emerge from their trees and take on solid form. This gave me good imagery around which to work some verses. In the story, the Dryads are forest guardians who are shrewd, severe, and entirely not to be messed with. I must cop to being influenced by J. R. R. Tolkien’s portrayal of the Ents in his Ring trilogy.

Juvenile though my drawing at the top of this entry may seem, it was a hard one for me to make with my limited technique. It certainly pales against the other images I have shown. I will end with a painting relevant to this post and last week’s as well.

Dryads and Naiads by Walter Crane.
Dryads and Naiads by Walter Crane.
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10 thoughts on “Mythological Beasts and Spirits: Dryad”

    1. Thank you. I noticed that the definition varied according to the source. One even said that whether a dryad is male or female depended on the species of the tree. As an example, oak tree spirits were male. Most representations I have seen are female, however. Perhaps I am being too “Entish.”

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