Cypress (detail)

DRYADS

Dryads were a theme that struck Roger and me quite independently as a good way to end the book. When I said I'd been writing a piece about them I learned that he was just finishing the painting of which you can see a detail on the left. That quite often happens when working with artists on a book like this and it's always a great encouragement that we're tuned into the same project.

Dryads are nymphs who inhabit trees, but can leave them in the form of beautiful maidens who were often courted by the gods of ancient Greece, particularly Apollo. They also often accompanied Artemis in her hunting. In Italy and Greece it was common until recently for maidens to knock on the trunks of certain trees to ask the spirit within to reveal the name of the man they would marry, and they would sometimes hear it in the rustling of leaves or an answering knock that they could interpret.

Certain trees were said to be inhabited by hamadryads who could not leave them. Hamadryads were human only down to the waist, their legs merging inextricably with the trunk and roots of the tree. They were chained to it and so would die when it did. Such hamadryad trees grew in remote places where men rarely found them. If one did, and tried to cut the tree down, he would hear a shriek as the axe bit through the bark. The nymph Daphne became a hamadryad when, fleeing from Apollo's unwelcome passion, she begged her father Peneus to save her virginity. So he turned her into a Laurel tree. Heartbroken, Apollo adopted the laurel as his totem plant and instituted the custom of crowning victors at the Olympic Games with laurel leaves.

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