THE HISTORY OF OLIVE OIL
The cultivation of the Olive tree is one of the oldest developments of civilization, preceding even the development of writing, and it is believed to have begun on the island of Crete over 7000 years ago. In fact, there are still living, fruit-bearing olive trees on Crete that date back to the ancient Minoan period. These ancient living relics are between 3000 and 4000 years old. Actual living trees that were flowering before Alexander the Great and even the blind poet Homer. Trees that thrived before the classic Greek period of history, living giants that, though gnarled and twisted, possess a regal and timeless beauty.
The olive tree was regarded as sacred for thousands of years by the Mediterranean peoples, and its leaves were used as an award to victorious Olympians. The ancient Syrians offered olive oil to their gods as a form of appeasement. The Egyptians placed olive oil in its vases to be entombed with its Pharaohs. Hippocrates, the Greek father of medicine, used olive oil as a great healing oil for consumption. Even the Bible refers to the oil over 140 times. To the classical world it was fuel, it was nourishment, it was perfume, and so much more.
It makes sense, then, that the olive tree and its oil was immortalized by the Greeks in their mythology. One of the earliest myths is of a contest between the mighty Poseidon, god of the seas, and Pallas Athena, goddess of wisdom. In an effort to win the patronage of a new city-state, both gods bestow the Athenians with gifts. Poseidon creates a spring, but the water that flows is salt-water. Athena gifts the olive tree. The land still bears her name to this day: Athens. Gifting the olive tree was not a new idea, however. Athena was born on the banks of the Cretan river Triton, and offered the olive tree to the Minoans as a gift, knowing it would help the people thrive. The word “elia,” olive in Greek, actually is related to the Greek for “kopelia”, the word for young maiden. Perhaps for the young maiden who granted them that gift.
Homer, the blind poet of works such as The Odyssey, called olive oil the “Golden Liquid,” and references it several times. It is used in The Odyssey as a royal anointment; “And when the maids had bathed them and anointed them with oil and had cast about them fleecy cloaks and tunics.” Even Odysseus and Penelope’s marital bed was constructed from the olive tree, which was rooted in the foundations of the house. Homer wanted to convey the foundational importance of the olive tree to the very fabric of society for the people of his time.
It is these trees, rich in history and embedded in the fabric of mythology, that we seek to honor today. These trees were the first olive trees in Europe, before Italy and Spain. This unique position in history, literature, and culture fosters a reverence and respect by those who carry the honor of farming and cultivating the descendants of these trees and their glorious fruit.