Roman legend has it that Hercules strode along the shores of the Mediterranean, his olive staff sending out roots every time it struck the ground, and from those roots, trees grew. The Phoenicians, adventurous sailors of the ancient world, helped Hercules spread the olive trees westward from Asia Minor, where wild trees are indeed believed to have originated and cultivation to have begun as early as 7000 years ago.
The olive tree has long nourished humankind’s mind, body and soul. Kings have ruled with sceptres made of olive wood, priests have anointed the worthy with olive oil, and the olive branch is known even today as a symbol of peace and honour.
The olive has been growing in the Mediterranean region for more than 7000 years, and the role of olive oil in the diet of the Mediterranean is firmly established. The versatility and health benefits of olive oil are now gaining awareness on a global scale, as more and more people are switching to olive oil for its numerous benefits to health and well-being.
The Olive Tree & a Contest between Athena and Poseidon
According to Greek mythology, the olive tree was created as a result of a contest between Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, and Poseidon, God of the Sea. The winner would become the protector of a newly built city in Attica, which is the historic name of a region in Greece. The city was to be named after the god or goddess who gave the citizens the most precious, useful and divine gift.
With his trident, Poseidon struck a rock. Water rushed out of the rock, creating a spring of salty water, symbolizing his gift of sea power. Athena followed by striking a rock with her spear and produced the olive tree, an offering signifying fruitfulness and peace.
The citizens chose Athena’s gift and she became the patroness of the city. Even today, an olive tree stands where this legendary competition is said to have taken place.
Olive Oil & the Olympic Games
At the first Olympic Games held in 776 BC in honour of Zeus, athletes were massaged with olive oil to endow them with Athena’s wisdom, power and strength. The Olympic winners were awarded with crowns woven from olive branches. These olive branches symbolized peace and a truce from all hostility at the Olympic Games, and the olive branch continues to be seen as a symbol of peace and friendship.