Facts about the Olive
THE LEGEND OF THE OLIVE
According to the ancient Greek history, Poseidon, god of the sea and Athena, goddess of peace and wisdom, disputed over whose name would be given to the newly built city, in the land of Attica. To end this dispute, it was decided that the city would be named after the one who offered the most precious gift to the citizens.
Poseidon struck his trident on a rock and salt water began to flow. Athena struck her spear on the ground and it turned into an olive tree. It was decided that the olive tree was more valuable to the people of Attica, hence the new city was named Athens in honour of Athena.
Even today, an olive tree stands where the legend took place. It is said that all the olive trees in Athens were descended from the first olive tree offered by Athena.
According to Homer, the olive tree has been thriving in Greece for over 10,000 years. It was considered sacred and according to Solon's law, anyone who uprooted or destroyed an olive tree, was judged in court and if found guilty, was sentenced to death.
For the Ancient Greeks, the olive tree was a symbol of peace, wisdom and triumph. An olive wreath was made, and used to crown the Olympic champions.
After thorough examination of the archeological evidence regarding the use and the meaning of the olive tree in Ancient Greece it is confirmed that it was one of the most used and loved trees due to its sacredness, the economic value and the many uses of its products in every day life.
In older days it was wrongly supported that the cultivation was brought in Greece from Palestine. Newer evidence that came to light from pollen analysis are confirming its presence in Greece from the Neolithic period.
According to mythology the olive tree was brought in Greece from Goddess Athena which also taught the Greeks its cultivation. Indicative for the significance of the olive tree to the Athenians is the fact that there coins portrayed Goddess Athena with an Olive wreath on her helmet and an amphorae with olive oil.
The Greeks were the first to be involved in the full-scale cultivation of the olive. Between the 7th and 3rd centuries BC ancient philosophers, physicians and historians undertook its botanical classification and referred to the curative properties of olive oil (Dioscorides, Diocles) and its history (Anaxagoras, Empedocles – 5th century), while Aristotle elevated olive cultivation to a science.
It was even protected by the legislation of the time. The first Olive Protection Law was introduced by Solon (639-559 BC); in one of his statutes he prohibited the cutting down of more than two trees a year in each olive grove.
The olive and its oil also held a special position in the Orthodox religion. It was a symbol of love and peace, an essential part of several solemn rites, from the service of baptism to the oil lamps used in churches and the little shrine that is part of every Greek household.
Herodotus described Athens, in the 5th century BC, as the centre of Greek olive growing. Oil was produced in such abundance that it became one of the major exports. In fact, so important did the olive culture become to the Greeks and their economy, that olive groves were considered sacred ground and only virgins and chaste men were allowed to cultivate them.
The Bible contains many references to the culinary and religious uses of olives and olive oil. In the Book of Genesis the dove sent out from the ark by Noah returned with an olive branch. Here it became the great symbol of peace, indicating the end of God’s anger. And its recognition by Noah suggests that it was already a well-known tree.
The greatest religious significance of olive oil is documented in the Book of Exodus, where the Lord tells Moses how to make an anointing oil of spices and olive oil. During consecration, holy anointing oil was poured over the heads of kings and priests.