THE HISTORY OF THE OLIVE TREE
The olive tree has been the symbol of wisdom and peace and it is the sacred tree of the Ancient City of Athens. The Olive Tree, “the tree that feeds the children” according to Sophocles, is the protagonist of the Greek nature and history as olive oil is the protagonist of the Greek diet. The indigenous olive tree (wild olive tree) first appeared in the eastern Mediterranean but it was in Greece that it was first cultivated. Since then, the presence of the olive tree in the Greek region has been uninterrupted and closely connected with the traditions and the culture of the Greek people.
According to Hippocrates, olive oil was used in ancient Greece for more than 60 pharmaceutical applications, including the healing of skin problems, of stomach pains and of ear infections. Aside from (and because of) its practical aspects, the olive tree gained a mythical dimension. According to Greek Mythology, Zeus decreed that the city of Athena should be given to either Poseidon or Athena, depending on who offered the most useful gift. Poseidon struck the ground with his trident and a salt water spring emerged whereas Athena struck the bare soil with her spear and caused an olive tree to spring up. The people chose Athena’s gift and the city was named after her.Another myth states that it was Hercules who brought the first olive tree from the heavens. Homer refers to olive oil as ‘liquid gold’ and Aristotle argued that the cultivation of olive trees is a science. The Greek Laws of Solon, during the 6th to 7th century BC, prohibited the cutting down of olive trees on the punishment of death. Appreciation of olive oil not just as food, but for many other reasons such as promotion of health and beauty , became ingrained in these cultures. The Romans are said to have slathered it on their bodies to moisturize after bathing.
The olive tree was a big part of all rituals in ancient Greece; olive oil was poured on the ground as a sacrifice to the Gods and was rubbed on athletes bodies before they took part in the Olympics. An olive branch was used as a symbol of peace whenever the Greeks entered into truce with their enemies and winners at the Ancient Olympic Games were presented with a simple olive wreath which was cut with a gold-handled knife from a wild olive tree. Olive oil has been entwined with Greek history for over 4,000 years.
The oil has always had a special position in the Christian Orthodox church; it is 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.