The olive gift of Athena
The most famous ancient myth, referring to the cultivation of the olive tree, is the one that considers the tree as a gift of Athena. It all began with the controversy between Athena and Poseidon, who were fighting for the sovereignty of Attica.
It was decided that each of them would offer an expensive gift. The winner in this contest would be the one whose offer would be the most valuable for the city.
Poseidon, the god-master of the seas, raised up his three-pronged trident and smashed it upon the sacred rock of the Acropolis. Salt water began to flow and roll to the roots of the rock. Poseidon believed that this source in the antic landscape of Attica could offer victory. Athena did not have to make any stunning moves. She just bent and put an olive tree in the same place. In a little while it had been sprouted and its silver-plated leaves had impressed everyone.
That was it. Such a tree did not exist until then in the world. People could not enjoy a cooked food nor enjoy an enlightened night, since there was no proper fuel for the lamps, the most sophisticated lighting medium of the time. The rest of the gods thought that the gift of Athena was invaluable.
The olive tree of Aristaeus
Aristaeus was the son of Apollo and Cyrene, he was born in Libya and Hermes took him to Gaia and to the Hours to raise him. He was a charismatic child who lived in dreamy years close to the beautiful and knowledgeable Nymphs. The Muses, who, when he grew up, had given him the custody of their flocks in Fthia, taught him the art of divination and the medical art.
A black-figure amphora depicting Aristaeus, circa 540 BC. Greek Mythology, Editorial Athens, volume 3, Athens, 1986.
The Nymphs again taught him how to cultivate vines and olive trees, how to care hives and how to make milk into cheese. The place was full of wild olive trees, and the Nymphs showed him how to cultivate them, to graft them to give fruit, to grind the fruit of the olive tree and to take the precious but unknown until then olive oil. The ancients believed that Aristaeus discovered the olive press and thus showed them how to easily get the oil from the olives.
Aristaeus did not keep these secrets for himself, but in return he taught these arts to humans. Mythology tells us that he had travelled to many places in Greece. He went to Sardinia and then to Sicily, where he found an extremely fertile land to cultivate the olives. There he was honored as a god-protector of the olive growers. Since then, the forests of “agrielias” (wild olive trees), which were around the Mediterranean, began to grow, wild trees began to be grafted and people learned to use the precious olive fruit in their diet. Aristaeus was honored by men, as few mortals, for his rich offer.
Nikos & Maria Psilaki-Elias Castanas, The Culture of the Olive,
Karmanor Publishing House, Heraklion, 1999 (adaptation)
Greek Language Book, 4th Grade of Elementary school