The olive was the symbol of the entire Mediterranean in ancient times. Along with the oak, it is the most revered tree in Greek mythology. Interestingly, the Greeks used olives as the main source of fats. Meat was the food of the barbarians and therefore was considered unhealthy.
Greek mythology explains the origin of the olive tree in Athens as follows. Athena is the daughter of Zeus (the supreme god of Greek mythology) and Metis, who symbolized cunning and prudence. Athena was a war goddess whose attributes were spears, a helmet and a shield. In addition, Athena was considered the goddess of justice and wisdom, the protector of art and literature. Her sacred animal was the owl, and the olive tree was one of her distinctive symbols. The reason why the goddess chose the olive as her symbol is explained in the following mythical tale:
In Greece, the olive tree symbolizes peace and prosperity, as well as resurrection and hope. This is evidenced by the events that occurred after the burning of Athens by the Persian king Xerxes in the 5th century BC. Xerxes burned the entire city of the Acropolis, along with the century-old Athenian olive trees. However, when the Athenians entered the scorched city, the olive tree had already started a new branch, symbolizing the rapid recovery and renewal in the face of adversity.
Hercules, one of the most famous mythological heroes, is also associated with the olive tree. Despite his very young age, Hercules managed to defeat the lion Chitaeron only with the help of his hands and a stick of an olive tree. This story glorified the olive as a source of strength and struggle.
The olive tree, being sacred, was often used as an offering to the gods from mortals. This is well described in the story of Theseus, the national hero of Attica. Theseus was the son of the Aegean king of Attica, who went on countless adventures throughout his life. One of them was the confrontation with the Minotaur on the island of Crete. Before the battle, Theseus asked Apollo for protection as well.
Fertility was another attribute of the olive tree. Athena is the goddess of fertility and her symbol was one of the most cultivated trees in Greece, the fruits of which fed the Hellenes for centuries. Thus, those who wanted to increase the fertility of their lands were looking for the olive.
The relationship between ancient Greek society and the olive tree was very intense. The olive symbolized strength, victory, beauty, wisdom, health, fertility and was a sacred offering. Real olive oil was considered an object of high value and was offered as a prize to winners in competitions.