The Heart of a Civilization
The olive tree originates from the Mediterranean and has greatly influenced the formation of a civilization in a place where some of the earliest human civilizations were developed. The development of a civilization can be seen through the people's diet. If the identity of an area is shaped by the goods that are produced there, Greece, then, is characterized by her olive oil.
The olive tree has always been the foundation of the Greek economy. Greek mythology tells the story of the olive tree as a gift from the gods. Legend has it, that Pallas Athena, the goddess of wisdom, and Poseidon, the god of the sea, were put to a test, which involved the creation of a gift for mankind. The prize to be won was the honour of having the most important city in Attica named after the winner of the contest. When Poseidon struck the rock of the Acropolis with his trident, a horse sprang out and salt water began to flow. Athena, on the other hand, touched the ground with her spear and an olive tree sprouted from the soil. Her gift was deemed more valuable and so she lent her name to the city of Athens. This benchmark era, approximately 4,000 years ago, marks the point at which the olive tree embarked on its career of national importance.
Symbolism: The Tree of Peace
Greek tradition looks upon the olive tree as the symbol of peace. Irini (peace in Greek), the goddess of Peace and the daughter of Zeus and Themis, is portrayed with an olive branch in her hands. An olive branch was also used as a symbol for the end of a war or for messengers coming in peace.
The olive tree and its oil took on a powerful political, economic, sacred and religious significance, to the extent that it became a tree protected under law in Ancient Greece. In the 6th century BC, Solon, a famous statesman of the day, introduced many laws designed to underpin the olive oil industry, which, besides its local stature, also played a very significant role as an export income earner. So important did olive cultivation become that anyone caught cutting down an olive tree was executed. The olive tree was subsequently thought of as a superior gift, in that it symbolized the arrival of a more sophisticated lifestyle. The olive provided vital food and its oil gave cardinal nourishment, an important factor in keeping the body healthy, as well as beautiful. It was also valued because of its use ass fuel and a source of light.
Hippocrates thought of olive oil as the great therapeutic." Today, in modern Greece, about 130 million olive trees are cultivated and many hundreds of thousands of families owe this industry their livelihood. It may therefore be said that the legendary olive tree has provided a golden streak of wealth for Greece and her people over the millennia.