The Hamadryads

Hamadryads 1

“Among these graceless and brutal divinities the nymphs were conspicuous for the charm of their youth and beauty.”

Near the forest of Mount Oita in Malis, the daughters of Oxylus and Hamadryas were eight beautiful and gracious beings the name of which was the Hamadryads. They lived among the trees and in fact were the trees, arboreal nymphs whose body was entwined with the forest. Daily they served the woodland that surrounded them, growing more beautiful and stronger as the day turned to night. They fed and nurtured the forest creatures and as the seasons passed they changed and transformed, their foliage disappearing and reappearing in line with the phases of the year. Leaves sprouted from their newly born skin and from their pores grew twigs and branches about which clustered green life. The Hamadryad of the hazel tree was Karya, from whose hand sprang forth fruits that fed the fauna around her. She was strong and hardy; the seeds she produced were smooth and dark, nourishing to the birds and animals that lived beneath her branches. Of the oak tree, the Hamadryad keeper was Balanos, tall and silken with green curling leaves and acorns in cupules falling from her fingers. Kraneia was Hamadryad of the dogwood tree, her dark bark skin bearing curving leaves and ripe cherries, white blossoms in the Spring time. Syke was of the fig tree giving forth-large purple fruits and thick green leaves, Aigeiros of the black poplar tree, Ptelea of the elm tree, Morea of the mulberry tree, and Ampelos of the grapevine.

United with the trees, the Hamadryads’ youth and loveliness abounded, with mortal men falling under the spell of their beauty. They became attached to a young mortal woman named Dryope, the daughter of Dryops the King of Oita, and made her their companion. They danced and sang together under the forest sunlight, and the Hamadryads taught Dryope hymns to please the gods. One day Apollo came to look upon Dryope as she danced with the nymphs and tended the flocks of her father on Mount Oita. The beauty of the girl as she played with the nymphs prompted Apollo to chase the group until he was able to seduce Dryope. He transformed himself into a tortoise in order to win the girl, and this pleased the Hamadryads who played with the animal alongside Dryope. But when she held the small creature on her lap, Apollo quickly turned himself into a snake and coiled his lithe, twisting body tightly around Dryope’s legs. She tried to flee along with the nymphs, but the snake was too strong and he violently raped Dryope causing her to become pregnant with Amphissus. Later on, Apollo returned again as a snake but this time, when he wound his way around the girl’s body, she was turned into a poplar tree and joined her nymph sisters to inhabit the woodland of Oita. She was made into a tree to be saved from the advances of the Gods and together with the Hamadryads; Dryope took her place in the forest warding off people who came to harm the nymphs of the woodland. As a mortal she was pursued for her sex by Apollo, and in becoming a nymph she cemented her place as a sexual being, a creature who lived under the male gaze.