The olive tree and its oil deeply influenced the civilization of the ancient Greeks. It was used in a multiplicity of roles, which naturally made the tree an object of the highest economic importance. It was used in religious life for producing statues of the gods, in warfare for building siege engines and in architecture. Its oil was used for food, for medicinal purposes and for anointing bathers at the baths. It was also used to provide light. The leaves were used for ballots, medicine and for filling mattresses. The wood was used for fuel. The tree has therefore left the profoundest traces on the artistic, economic and social history of Greece.
Although the olive tree has been cultivated by many other Mediterranean civilizations which have also used its products in various ways, no other culture has regarded it as highly as the Greeks. For them, it was so important that they incorporated it into their religious traditions, assigning it to various gods and heroes, but mostly to goddess Athena.
According to the religious tradition of the Greeks, the first olive tree grew on the Acropolis of Athens. It was a gift of the goddess Athena to the city, whereby she claimed guardianship of Athens from the god Poseidon. Poseidon had offered a horse and a fountain of sea water where the Erechtheum now stands, symbolizing his promise that the town would dominate earth and sea.
The Athenians chose the olive tree over the gift of Poseidon. So the city was placed under the protection of Athena, the olive tree thus becoming the symbol of the goddess and the city named after her. It became such a representative symbol, that it even decorated Athenian coins. This legend of the creation of the sacred tree was illustrated on the west pediment of Parthenon, undoubtedly one of the most important creations in the history of art. The same event was also depicted in pottery.
•Hellenic Folklore Research Center (Academy Of Athens)ODE TO THE OLIVE TREEISBN: 960-404-054-5