Wyrtig

For gardeners with a sense of history
 

OE wyrtig, adj: Garden-like, full of plants;
On anum wyrtige hamme, Homl. Skt. ii. 30:312
.

  

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Other Figures Proposed as Green Man Archetypes

Origins of the Green Man

 


Dionysus is not the only deity suggested as an archetype for the Green Man. There are some foliate faces or forms that are clearly not Dionysian; but the majority of Green Men do appear to have Dionysian sources.

One of those alternative sources proposed for Green Men is Silvanus, Roman god of woods, fields, and  boundaries. Silvanus is shown as an older, heavily bearded man who holds a pruning knife in his right hand and branches in his left, attributes that are not typically part of Dionysian imagery in the later Roman Empire or the early medieval period.

Silvanus, Capitoline Museum, Rome

Silvanus, image from Wikimedia

Image from Wikimedia

Silenusm the satyr who is both the foster father and the most loyal companion of Dionysus, has also been suggested as a model for the Green Man. Though frequently shown wearing a leafy crown, Silenus is consistently portrayed as an older man, often obese, intoxicated to the point of needing help to walk, and heavily bearded.

 

Silenus carrying his foster child,
Dionysus; c. 325 BCE, from
Tanagra; now in the Louvre

 

Image from Wikimedia

Roman Silenus bust, crowned with leaves and shouldering a wine skin, c. 50 CE
 

 
From Wikimedia

Pan, likewise a regular participant in Dionysian scenes, is not shown with a leafy face, and also has goat's horns and ears, characteristics not typically associated with Green Men.

Pan from a silver dish, part of
the Mildenhall Treasure,
Roman Britain

Pan from a mosaic floor,
Turkey

 


A lady encounters a Wild man in the margins of a psalter dating to the 1300s

Wodewose (AKA wuduwose, woodehouse, wudwas, wodwos), wild men, men of the woods -- these are found in both manuscripts and architecture. The word wodewose itself appears in print for the first time in the 14th century romance Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Wild men are typically depicted as furry, bearded, and often armed with a club -- traits not seen in the Green Man figures.

A woodwose from St Mary's
Church, Burwell, 1400s

 

 

Jack in the Green, another figure put forward as a source of Green Man imagery, has parallels in  such folklore characters as Green George, John Barleycorn, Robin Goodfellow, and the Holly King.  Associated with celebrations that focus on fertility, whether in springtime or at harvest, Jack and his cohorts are central to agricultural festivities in many parts of western Europe.

Walter Crane (1845–1915): May Day
Jack in the Green

 

 

Le Feuillu,
Switzerland,
modern

Harvest figure akin to John Barleycorn, , Tacuinum Sanitatis, Italy 1300s

Robin Goodfellow,
1638

The Holly Man,
Britain,
modern

 
The problem is that reliable evidence for Jack in the Green and his fellows extends no further back than the 1500s -- and often no further than the early 1800s -- so there is no way to know whether their imagery informed that of the Green Men found in the art, architecture, or manuscripts of the early middle ages.  


Return to The Origins of the Early Medieval Green Man


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