The myth of the olive tree
The best-known fable with respect to the olive tree is closely connected with the name of the Greek capital Athens. The classic Pelasgian myth refers to a battle waged by the Greek gods Athena and Poseidon, who both claimed to be the deity of the city.
At the time it was Cecrops who was king of Athens. The two opponents climbed onto the rock of the Acropolis, where they were joined by the ten other gods of Mount Olympus. They would serve as judges in their fellow Olympians’ disagreement, as Cecrops bore witness. First came Poseidon – he stood in the middle of the rock and with his trident gave a strong blow to the ground. A wave of saltwater gushed out straight away, forming a small lake that would become the Erechteian Sea. It was then Athena’s turn to display her powers – with Cecrops looking on, she planted an olive tree on the rock of the Acropolis, which shot right up and was full of fruit. This tree could be found on the Acropolis for very many years thereafter. Zeus then proclaimed the contest closed and instructed the other gods to decide which of the two adversaries would become the city’s patron. Cecrops, asked to help close the matter, took a good look around from above. All he saw were seas of saltwater engulfing the country. The tree sown by Athena, the first to grow in the entire country, marked the promise of glory and happiness for Athens. Cecrops deemed Athena’s accomplishment most useful and therefore handed the city to her. Pausanias, Herodotus, Claudius Aelianus and Sophocles all credit Athens as the cradle of the olive tree. The sacred tree of Athena wrote its own story in Athens. It is said that in 480 B.C., when the Persians conquered the Acropolis, they burned down Athena’s holy tree. Devastated, Athenians considered this a bad omen, but their sadness turned to hopefulness as the dry, burned trunk sprouted up the very next day. This young, 2-cubit high sprout had become Athens’ divine tree. Even later, during Roman times, Athenians proudly continued to believe that this sacred olive tree was the very first of its species and that it embodied the origin of olive cultivation the world over.