How the ancient city of Athens got its name and the sacred olive trees of Greece.

The Acropolis of Athens by Leo von Klenze (1846) .Neue Pinakothek  Munich
The Acropolis of Athens by Leo von Klenze (1846)
.Neue Pinakothek
Munich

 "The entire Mediterranean seems to rise out of the sour, pungent taste of black olives between the teeth. A taste older than meat or wine, a taste as old as cold water. Only the sea itself seems as ancient a part of the region as the olive and its oil, that like no other products of nature, have shaped civilizations from remotest antiquity to the present."

From  the book "Prospero's Cell: A Guide to the Landscape and Manners of the Island of Corfu (Greece)" by Lawrence Durrell.


The olive tree has been sacrosanct for Greeks since ancient times, it is a a symbol of peace, wisdom and triumph and so revered  was the olive tree to the Greeks, that olive groves were considered sacred ground, only virgins and chaste men were
 allowed to cultivate them.


Olive groves of Greece Photo by alexandros9
Olive groves of Greece
Photo by alexandros9 


Solon(638-558 BC) an Athenian statesman, lawmaker, and poet created a law prohibiting the cutting down of olive trees.

The punishment was death!

Hercules, the hero of Greek mythology, was protected by a wreath of olive leaves, (Kotinos in Greek), and it  was a wreath made from olive leaves that was used to crown champions at the ancient Olympic games, leaves used for these wreaths were taken from a sacred olive tree near the temple of Zeus at Olympia.


Victor of ancient Olympic games being crowned with a "Kotinos" Olive leave wreath, depicted on Ancient Greek pottery
Victor of ancient Olympic games being crowned with a "Kotinos"
Olive leave wreath, depicted on
Ancient Greek pottery

  The ancient Greek philosopher, Sophocles, said, of the olive tree;


"The tree that feeds the children"


Homer, great Greek poet, author of "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey", when referring to Greek olive oil, called it "Liquid gold"


Greek olive oil "Liquid gold"
Greek olive oil
"Liquid gold"


 In the first book of The Old Testament, Genesis, a dove released by Noah, returned with an olive branch, to show that the floods had receded.

This has been a symbol of peace ever since.



Dove & olive branch Picasso Symbol of Peace
Dove & olive branch
Picasso
Symbol of Peace


As you can see from the above, the olive trees of  ancient Greece were sacred, no other tree came close, it comes as no surprise then, to learn, that this glorious tree played a part in the naming of one of the oldest cities in the world, continuously inhabited for at least 5000 years, the  most powerful city of ancient Greece, Athens.


In ancient times, the most well-known city of Greece, and center of commerce, a beautiful city, atop a hill, was named Cecrops, after its ruler, a mythical creature, half man and half snake.


Cecrops, legendary creature of ancient Greece Half man, half snake. Once ruler of Cecrops, today, the city known as Athens.
Cecrops, legendary creature of ancient Greece
Half man, half snake.
Once ruler of Cecrops, today, the city known as Athens.


The twelve Gods, of Mount Olympus, a wonderful place to live at the time, thought the grass looked greener, over there in Cecrops, and got to thinking;

 "Why should we take no credit for this thriving city?"

 "It should be named after one of us!"

To cut a long story short, as Greek myths tend to be, after a heated debate, two Gods were declared suitable of honouring this great city of Greece with their name, but which one? 


Both contenders, Poseidon, God of the sea, and Athena, Goddess of wisdom, begged Zeus, ruler of all Greek Gods, to become the Patron God of Cecrops.



Poseidon God of the sea
Poseidon
God of the sea


After much deep thought, Zeus came up with an idea, each contender would present a gift to the ruler Cecrops and his citizens, the citizens would then choose which gift they preferred and the city would then, take the giver's name.

Poseidon and Athina, went away, to think about what could be the best ever gift for the people of Cecrops.

After weeks of much thinking and preparation, the two Gods returned to the city on the hill, and were ready to present their carefully thought-over gifts to its citizens.


The contest of Athena and Poseidon. West Pediment of the Parthenon Photo Tilemachos Efthimiadis
The contest of Athena and Poseidon. West Pediment of the Parthenon
Photo Tilemachos Efthimiadis


First up was Poseidon, who struck the rock with his trident and out flowed water, symbolizing naval power.
  (There are other versions that state Poseidon's gift was a horse.)

"Choose me" said Poseidon  "Here is a never-ending flow of water, never again will you go thirsty, never again will you experience drought"

But when the people tasted the water, it was salty, of course, Poseidon is God of the sea!

Now it was Athena's turn, in her hand she held a single seed, which she threw to the ground, where it instantly took root and became an olive tree, symbol of peace and prosperity.

(Some versions of the story have Athena striking the ground with her spear, and an olive tree appeared)



Athena Goddess of wisdom
Athena
Goddess of wisdom



"Choose me" said Athena "I shall plant these trees throughout the region, you shall never want for food, oil or firewood"

The citizens weren't stupid, they rose to their feet, chanting " Athena, Athena, we name our city Athena"

And the rest is history!


A sacred olive tree, thought to be the one originally created by Athena, all those thousands of years ago, was still growing on the Acropolis, in the 2nd century AD, according to Pausanias (Greek traveller and geographer), but Herodotus (Greek historian) claims the tree was burnt in The Persian Wars 499-449 BC, and that shoots shot forth from the stump of the burnt tree, and that is the olive tree which remains on the Acropolis today!


Sacred olive tree of the Acropolis. Athens. Greece  Photo by Gianna Arax
Sacred olive tree of the Acropolis. Athens. Greece
 Photo by Gianna Arax


Olive trees have been thriving in Greece for well over ten thousand years.
One of the seven oldest trees in the World is an olive tree.

The olive tree of Vouves  (a village on the island of Crete.)
is thought to be between three and five thousand years old.
It still produces olives which, as you can imagine, are highly prized!


Olive tree of Vouves, Crete One of the oldest trees in the world Thought to be between 3000, and 5000 years old!
Olive tree of Vouves, Crete
One of the oldest trees in the world
Thought to be between 3000, and 5000 years old!


Olive trees are hardy, drought, disease and fire resistant, if rather slow-growing, which accounts for their longevity, the average age for an olive tree being three to four hundred years!


"GREECE IS A VINE AN OLIVE TREE AND A BOAT"

Greek Nobel prize winner for literature
Odysseus Elytis

More Magical Greek Myths







4 comments:

  1. Gorgeous old olivier tree, wonderfull,greeting from Belgium.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, they are magnificent aren't they Louisette?
      Thank you for taking time to read my blog.
      Greetings from Greece

      Delete
  2. Interesting Blog about Poseidon, Athina and the Olive Tree
    No meal goes by without an addition of olive oil, ours comes from Sparta.
    Hilary

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Our olive oil comes from Loutraki, at one time from my mother-in-law's olives!
      How lucky we are Hilary, living in the land of olives, this year was the first time ever, I ran out of "authentic" olive oil, I don't know how that happened!
      Back on track now!
      Susan.
      x

      Delete

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