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A dryad (//; Greek: Δρυάδες, sing.: Δρυάς) is a tree nymph, or female tree spirit, in Greek mythology. In Greek drys signifies "oak." Thus, dryads are specifically the nymphs of oak trees, though the term has come to be used for all tree nymphs in general. "Such deities are very much overshadowed by the divine figures defined through poetry and cult," Walter Burkert remarked of Greek nature deities. They were normally considered to be very shy creatures, except around the goddess Artemis, who was known to be a friend to most nymphs.
The dryads of ash trees were called the Meliai. The ash-tree sisters tended the infant Zeus in Rhea's Cretan cave. Gaea gave birth to the Meliai after being made fertile by the blood of castrated Uranus. Nymphs associated with apple trees were the Epimeliad, and those associated with walnut-trees were the Caryatids.
Dryads, like all nymphs, were supernaturally long-lived and tied to their homes, but some were a step beyond most nymphs. These were the hamadryads who were an integral part of their trees, such that if the tree died, the hamadryad associated with it died as well. For these reasons, dryads and the Greek gods punished any mortals who harmed trees without first propitiating the tree-nymphs.
Some of the individual dryads or hamadryads are:
- Atlanteia and Phoebe, two of the many wives or concubines of Danaus
Dryads are mentioned in Milton's Paradise Lost, in Coleridge, and in Thackeray's work The Virginians. Keats addresses the nightingale as "light-winged Dryad of the trees", in his Ode to a Nightingale. In the poetry of Donald Davidson they illustrate the themes of tradition and the importance of the past to the present. The poet Sylvia Plath uses them to symbolize nature in her poetry in "On the Difficulty of Conjuring up a Dryad", and "On the Plethora of Dryads".
Dryads are also featured extensively throughout The Chronicles of Narnia by British author C.S. Lewis and are shown to fight alongside Aslan, son of the Emperor-Over-The-Sea, and the Pevensie Children.
- Ghillie Dhu, a similar Scottish spirit
- Kodama, a similar Japanese spirit
- Green spirit
- Querquetulanae, Roman nymphs of the oak
- Salabhanjika, a similar Indian spirit
- Graves, ch. 86.2; p. 289
- Burkert (1986), p174
- Bibliotheca 2. 1. 5
- Tzetzes on Lycophron, 480
- Ovid, Metamorphoses 9.330 ff
- Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses 32
- Pausanias, Description of Greece, 8. 4. 2
- Pausanias, Description of Greece 8. 39. 3
- Propertius, Elegies 1. 18
- Nonnus, Dionysiaca 2. 92 ff :
- Pausanias, Description of Greece 10. 32. 9
- J. Simpson, E. Weiner (eds), ed. (1989). "Dryad". Oxford English Dictionary (2nd ed.). Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-861186-2.
- Martha E. Cook (1979). "Dryads and Flappers". The Southern Literary Journal (University of North Carolina Press) 12 (1): 18–26. JSTOR 20077624.
- Britzolakis, Christina (2000). Sylvia Plath and the theatre of mourning. Oxford English Monographs. Oxford University Press. pp. 85–86. ISBN 0-19-818373-9.
- Graves, Robert (1955). Greek Myths. London: Penguin. ISBN 0-14-001026-2.
- Burkert, Walter, 1985. Greek Religion (Cambridge: Harvard University Press).
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