What happens to dryads, the tree nymphs of Greek mythology, when their tree is cut down, burned or otherwise destroyed? Do they die or do they move on to a new tree?

2 Answers 2


According to the tale of Erysichthon of Thessaly and his daughter Mestra - as relayed by Ovid - dryads do not survive the destruction of their tree:

But Erysichthon, heedless of all things,
ordered his slaves to fell the sacred oak,
and as they hesitated, in a rage
the wretch snatched from the hand of one an axe,
and said, “If this should be the only oak
loved by the goddess of this very grove,
or even were the goddess in this tree,
I'll level to the ground its leafy head.”
So boasted he, and while he swung on high
his axe to strike a slanting blow, the oak
beloved of Ceres, uttered a deep groan
and shuddered. Instantly its dark green leaves
turned pale, and all its acorns lost their green,
and even its long branches drooped their arms.
But when his impious hand had struck the trunk,
and cut its bark, red blood poured from the wound,—
as when a weighty sacrificial bull
has fallen at the altar, streaming blood
spouts from his stricken neck. All were amazed.
And one of his attendants boldly tried
to stay his cruel axe, and hindered him;
but Erysichthon, fixing his stern eyes
upon him, said, “Let this, then, be the price
of all your pious worship!” So he turned
the poised axe from the tree, and clove his head
sheer from his body, and again began
to chop the hard oak. From the heart of it
these words were uttered; “Covered by the bark
of this oak tree I long have dwelt a Nymph,
beloved of Ceres, and before my death
it has been granted me to prophesy,
that I may die contented. Punishment
for this vile deed stands waiting at your side.”

Source: Ovid. Metamorphoses. Brookes More. Boston. Cornhill Publishing Co. 1922.

  • 1
    awww, sadface...
    – Ouroboros
    Commented Oct 1, 2017 at 12:52

Spirit, soul, cannot be destroyed. Therefore a tree spirit will not die but merely transmute when a tree is felled, in the same way that the human soul does not die when the body dies.

  • 1
    Do you have any references that back up the idea that the Greeks believed that the soul could not be destroyed? It is not a universal belief.
    – Chenmunka
    Commented Feb 19, 2021 at 18:51
  • @Chenmunka It's often implied. The dead all end up in Hades, and there's no evidence that comes to mind about someone being zapped from existence. They can always come back from Hades.
    – cmw
    Commented Feb 20, 2021 at 14:52
  • That said, I'm not sure there's evidence of ancient Greeks believing tree souls transmuted.
    – cmw
    Commented Feb 20, 2021 at 14:54

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