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The Olive as an Inspiration

The olive has come to gain a predominant place in people’s lives. Since antiquity, this tree has inspired and been immortalized by the works of poets, prose writers and artists who have dedicated lines of poetry, hymns, thought and concern. Since antiquity the olive has left its mark. On ancient coins and on modern Greek coins. In surnames and in place-names, in the description of districts, villages and cities

In Modern Greek Literature prose-writers and poets have honored the tree and is often the background of the action in the works of Papadiamantis, Myrivilis, Venezis and other influential authors. This reflects the deep familiarity and affinity we feel with this tree. Olives are described as processing the traits of the people who cultivate them. They have wrinkles, they weep, they laugh. They are primarily identified with the struggle for appreciation rather than with the joy and carefreeness of the youth. At first sight they do not create an overwhelming impression, they have to be discovered for their precious qualities. In the written and spoken word, the finest language and the rarest metaphors have been used to describe the characteristics of the tree and its produce. Homer calls the oil “liquid gold” and the tree gentle, fair, golden, verdant, luxurious, sacred and gleaming.

olive fruits

In folk tales, the oil in the lamp is identified with the duration of human life. In traditions the olive is in the core of the culture with rich imagination. The tree hands on its amazing strength to its produce. Traditions about miraculous oil that burns on without running out span form antiquity to modern times. In the traditions of the Far East, in China and Japan the olive symbolizes peace, strength and purity. In Japan it is also the symbol of good upbringing and of educational success. An olive branch is regarded as the guarantee of success and happiness. In China olive wood is believed to protect from poisoning, and the evil eye and I is kept in the house as protection.

The Olive in the Art

Art has always had nature as a starting point and a point of reference and the centuries old olive trees have been source of imagination. Creative artists have never ceased to hymn through their work the olive tree which is most deeply rooted to our collective consciousness. The Minoans who lived in vast olive groves produced the first representations of the olive trees.

van gogh

The olive tree and the olive fruit were represented by an ideogram close to its natural model. Representations of the olive tree and its fruits are widespread in ancient Greece and survive until the Byzantine iconography and in Renaissance art. The Dutch Vincent Van Gogh painted ten pictures of olive groves. Salvador Dali painted a woman’s head with olive branched emerging from her hair. Modern Greek artists frequently include in their works the olive tree.

Source: The Olive Kallistephanos, Vassilios Simantirakis & Marina Lykoudi, Bank of Attica Library