VIRTUES OF THE OLIVE
Olea Europaea in the antique lamps made the day longer and the social time faster
The contribution of the olive in the world culture and civilization stretches far from the table where she appears usually as olive oil, a canned or dried fruit. Without the tiny plumlike fruits of Olea europaea / cultivated olive/ the ancient times might have lasted longer and might have had a different development. One thing is certain – the olive oil, used for light in the
first lamps, made the day longer e.g. that part of the day during which man thought and worked, created and planned to do mischief, and made civilization as a whole. Thus, the olive accelerated the social time to some extent.
Asia Minor is considered to be the place of origin of the olive but the time of its cultivation has not been determined .It seems to have taken place at the beginning of the II millennium B.C. in Palestine, Mesopotamia and North Africa. Then it was carried to Greece at the time of Homer.
Perhaps people had learned how to obtain oil from trees before they tasted fruits. When it is raw it contains oleapropein which gives the bitter taste.
Olea is mentioned in the Bible almost as often as bread and wine are but it is not considered as food. The olive twig together with the white pigeon is a symbol of peace. This symbol dated from the Old Testament. After the flood Noah let a pigeon fly in order to find out if the bird would reach land. “ At nightfall the pigeon came back with a fresh olive leave.” /Bit 8:11/ Here the olive appears as a sign of reconciliation between God and Man, sign of the New Testament. This is only the beginning of the complicated role of the olive as a mediator between man and his creator. God must have appreciated the olive very high because He said to Moysee: “ Tell the sons of Israil to bring pure elea, squeezed from olives, to be used for light for the candlestick to shine for ever.” More over, he must have liked the smell of burnt oil because he put emphasis on it: “ The victim should be prepared in a dish with olea, soaked with olea.”…..
Since the olive is a sign of God’s mercy, Man that was created like His image, should have been merciful towards its fruit. “ When you pick olives, do not pick all of the fruit on its branches. Let them remain for a new-comer, an orphan or a widow.”
The very special role of the olive in christianity can be seen in the fact that the olive oil is a main ingredient of the unction /holy oil/ that is considered to be the most important attribute in the sacrament known as baptism.
The olive was a sacred tree with the ancient Greeks. It was dedicated to Athene – the goddess of wisdom and spiritual light. In Rome this cult was to Minerva.
It is difficult to say when the cultivation of the olive started in the Mediterranean. However, it is certain that its distribution moved westwards and in the Roman empire the olive groves were easy to find on the coast of Galia and Spain.
The olive oil was a major export product.
In the development of technology in Greece and Rome the olive had another contribution as well. The necessity to have the green and hard fruit milled and squeezed influenced the development and the betterment of the two remarkable inventions of the ancient times – the mill and the wine press. Thus, the olive had an indirect impact on winery and bread making.
The olive’s merits for the development of medicine and cosmetics should also be mentioned.