Olive oil is one of the most valuable natural resources the earth has to offer. It can be used for beauty products, medicine, and compliments nearly any dish.
It is one of the only products modern day civilization shares with ancient worlds. Homer, the most revived poet of all time, once described the substance as liquid gold.
Olive oil has made its mark in history time and time again.
Olive Oil and Ancient Greece
In Ancient Greek belief, each city-state was ruled by a god. The people of Athens, Greece believed they were ruled by Athena, the Goddess of wisdom, because she was to thank for bestowing the olive tree on the world.
Legend has it Poseidon, ruler of the seven seas, and Athena were embarked in a gift-giving battle to see who would become the guardian of Greece. Poseidon struck a rock and fresh water sprang from it. Athena struck a tree and olives grew from it. The olives were chosen as the most versatile and important gift, so Athens was bequeathed to Athena.
The Olympic Games also valued olive oil. In many events, the athletes would be massaged with olive oil prior to their sport. The victors would then bear a crown made from leaves of the tree.
Not to be outdone, the annual Panathenaic Games rewarded its victors with money, medals, and olive oil.
The olive tree was not only thought to have soothing powers, but it was also believed to represent strength and agility. Hercules allegedly speared the Lion of Cithaeron with an olive tree and used the olive tree’s wood to make clubs.
Homer’s epic poetry included various usage of olive oil. In The Odyssey, Odysseus embarks on a hero’s journey to return home. At one point, he and his comrades come across a terribly fierce cyclops named Polyphemus. The cyclops planned to eat the travelers forcing Odysseus to come up with a plan to escape. Using an olive tree trunk, Odysseus is able to blind the giant and flee the land.
Sparta, perhaps one of the most researched city-states in all ancient Greece, believed anything in association with the olive meant greatness and security. The Spartan civilizations is known for many things, but most profoundly, they are known as warriors. From their birth, Spartans were tested. As infants, they were brought in front of a council to determine if there were any birth defects. If they passed the test, they would begin their physical training. By age seven, boys were taken from their home and placed in a state-sponsored training facility. The civilization encouraged bullying and flogging to point out the weak and once fully grown, men were expected to be lifetime warriors. When a Spartan passed away, they would be buried on top of olive branches and twigs. This was done to protect the deceased soul. Those who attending the funeral wore crowns of olive leaves to protect themselves from evil.
These tales of the great olive tree and its oil spread throughout the region of Greece and the villagers began to offer the oil to travelers to wish them a safe journey. In fact, the Greek culture considered the olive tree to be so powerful that a law was administered that declared the act of cutting down an olive tree punishable by death.
Olive Oil in Roman Times
Over time, the Romans began to plant olive trees as well. King David took away soldiers from his own station in order to protect his orchards and his olive oil warehouse. Olive oil was able to spread throughout the Mediterranean solely because of the Roman Empire’s expansion.
Romans had their own myths about the legacy of the olive true. It was believed that Romulus and Remus, founders of Rome, were born under an olive tree prior to their upbringing by wolves. A similar story to that of Athena and Poseidon is also told in the Roman culture, but includes the Roman Goddess Minerva.
Olive Oil Carreid Over into Catholicism
Although these civilizations often incorporated the olive tree into various stories of their various gods, even cultures that did not practice polytheism told tales of the olive tree’s prowess.
The Old Testament states a Dove that was sent from Noah’s Ark to seek out land came back to the boat with an olive branch in its beak. Thus, all associated with the olive tree became a sign of good fortune.
Oil in general is a dominant feature of the Catholic faith. For instance, when an individual gets baptized, they are anointed with oil. In ancient days, this oil was never specified and could have been olive oil if it was nearby.
Olive oil is clearly a valuable item in the religious world, but it also has various uses in the regular world. During World War II, olive oil officially had 70 uses, one of which was for healing purposes. Olive oil became one of the most rationed items during this period.
Throughout cultures, the olive tree and olive oil have been considered to hold great power. The same can be said of modern times as olive oil has more uses than imaginable. Besides cooking, it can be used to benefit hair, skin, and overall health.