Olive Lore

The olive - a mythical and legendary fruit

For thousands of years, olives and olive trees has been accredited by humans as a fruit associated with gods. In many countries the olive, olive tree and olive branch is seen as a symbol of victory, prosperity and purity – all features directly associated with the telling of gods.

Olives in Greek mythology

In Greece, the olive tree and olive branch is a symbol of peace, prosperity, purity and victory.

The battle of Athens

In Greek mythology, the olive plays an essential role in the telling of the origin of the mighty ancient Athens. Legend has it, that king Cecrops of Attica begged the gods to protect his city. Zeus, the supreme God of Greeks, ordered a competition held between Poseidon, god of the sea and Athena, goddess of practical reason, to determine who would become protector of the city. The task was to present the most valuable gift to the people.

ruins of ancient temple next to an olive tree on the acropolis hill outside athens in greeceWith the witness of 10 gods and king Cecrops, the combatants met at the summit of the Acropolis hill to duel. Poseidon, brother of Zeus, drove his trident into the rocky ground creating a well of salt water and a horse-like creature that emerged from the water.The well became known as “the Erechtheida Sea”, named after the Erechtheida temple on the hill.

Athena, however, chose a more peaceful approach to the competition as she simply led an olive tree spring from the rocks. This tree would provide food, oil, oxygen, shadow and wood, all useful in many ways for the people of the city.

Following a voting amongst the Olympic deities, Athena was announced the winner of the competition, and the city would bear her name and worship her as protector.

Poseidon was furious with that decision and immediately challenged Athena to duel, but Zeus intervened. Instead, Poseidon cursed the city to never have enough water.

Today, the olive tree planted next to the Erechtheida temple on the Acropolis hill is still believed to be the one planted by Athena and considered sacred.

Olympic Games

Around 776 BC, the first Olympic Games were held in ancient Olympia, Greece. The games were meant as a commemoration or honor to Zeus, god of gods, in a time when the lands of Greece were suffering from civil wars. However, when the games were held there was a common consensus that a sacred peace had to apply to allow athletes and pilgrims alike to travel safely.

ruins of ancient olympia where the first ever olympic games were held in greece
Ruins of ancient Olympia, Greece

Back in early days of the competition there was no shiny medals of either gold, silver or bronze. In fact, there was barely any material prize at all – except of an apple. It was not until after the first five competition years of the Olympic Games that the Oracle of Delphi mandated for an olive wreath in commemoration of Heracles, whom was said to had inspired the games with his running competition in ancient Olympia, where the winner was crowned with a wreath of olive leafs – a kotinos – cut from the sacred olive tree next to the Temple of Zeus, in Olympia.

This wreath was to be cut with golden scissors by a boy whose parents were still alive, a so called “pais amphithales”. The wreath would then be carried and placed on an ivory table next to an altar dedicated to Zeus, until a winner of the games was found, and no athlete could call his victory before declared by the Hellanodikai (jury of the games).

The wreath would typically comprise 17 or 18 olive branches which corresponded to the number of disciplines at the games. The olive wreath had multiple meanings beside from the honor of Heracles; it also exalted the athlete to a level of divine status similar to that of the gods.

The fight at Knossos

ruins of ancient greek minoan civilization knossos in crete, greece with labyrinth and palace
Ruins of the ancient labyrinth and palace at Knossos, Crete

An ancient Greek myth tells the story of Theseus, son of Athenian king Aegeus, whom was sent to Knossos, Crete, as human sacrifice to king Minos as an apology. He was to be eaten by Minos’s pet minotaur, a half bull half human creature, in the labyrinth of Knossos.The labyrinth at Knossos was designed by architect and craftsman Daedalus, in a such skillful way that no one could ever find their way out again. in the narrow dark passages of the labyrinth, the minotaur lurked and attacked its preys when they were sent here as punishment.

Theseus prayed to Apollon to protect him, and so he gave him an olive branch from the sacred olive tree of Acropolis, Athens that would give him special powers. Moreover, upon arrival to Knossos, Ariadne, daughter of Minos, fell in love with Theseus whom gave him a string to unravel as he progressed deeper into the labyrinth of Knossos. Theseus killed the minotaur and escaped the labyrinth, bringing Ariadne with him back to Athens where they lived happily ever after.