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Sunday, September 2, 2012

Athena's Sacred Olive Trees

Ελιά Βουβών The Olive Tree of Vouves  (picture from Cerunnos Page)

This utterly amazing ancient olive tree resides in Crete. It is as much as 4,000 years old, and still bears olives!
Olive trees are of special symbolic importance in the ancient Greek world, and are traditionally the gift of the Goddess Athena. Pollen analysis indicates that the olive tree was present in Greece from Neolithic times.  It is said that when ancient Greeks were searching for a name for a citadel, two Gods, Athena and Poseidon, made contest for who should be patron. Poseidon struck a rock with his trident and a great salt spring and a war horse appeared from the earth. Athena, in turn, struck the ground with her spear and an olive tree, considered by all to be the greatest gift, arose. The city, Athens, was named after her...Olympic athletes received olive wreaths as a sign of excellence and the olive tree became part of sacred ritual. The olive tree was considered so precious that laws were made by Solon in the 6th century BCE, limiting the number of olive trees that could be chopped down .
To this day the ancient olive tree on the Acropolis is said to be the very tree that grew from the spot Athena stuck with her spear. It stands on the south side of the Erechtheion with its fabulous porch of caryatid columns and its trunk is embedded deep in the rock. Its appears to have been burned and resprouted a number of times, and like the Cretan tree, it still gives the gift of olives.
The Erechtheion
Another famous olive tree is found in the Odyssey. After 20 years of war and epic voyage, Odysseus finally returns to the shores of Ithaca, his own kingdom. Fearing he has been forgotten, especially by his wife, Odysseus is transformed by the Goddess Athema to give him the appearance of an older beggar and seeks out his home to see what has happened in his absence.
Odysseus finds his wife Penelope has remained true to him and that she and their son Telemachus  have been attempting to fend off suitors who wish to force their hand upon his wife and thereby obtain his kingdom. Penelope had been delaying them by saying she would choose a suitor when she finished a great tapestry that she had been weaving as a shroud for Laertes, her father in law. Every night she had been unravelling, what she had woven, but a treacherous handmaiden had betrayed her secret. Upon hearing this, the suitors had become especially impatient.
When Odysseus appears, Penelope cannot at first believe it is he, until she tests him by ordering one of her maids to move their bed. Odysseus knows this is not possible because one of its legs was made of a live olive tree, since he had made the bed himself. Suddenly Penelope looks into his eyes and knows he is her husband.

"Penelope" by Waterhouse

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