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Olive Oil through the Ages

"Oil obsession is an ancient condition. Rereading poems and sacred texts I thought I knew well, I caught glints and scents I'd never noticed before, and a time when olive oil was not only an essential food, but a catalyst of civilized life and a vital link between people and the divine". Extra Virginity Tom Mueller.

Olives, one of the oldest foods known, are thought to have originated in Crete or Syria between five and seven thousand years ago. Since ancient times, the olive tree has provided food, light, fuel, timber, medicine and general cosmetics for many civilizations, and has been regarded as a symbol of peace and wisdom. In the Ancient World it could help a human emulate the electrical radiance of a god. Unlike ambrosia, which was the food of gods, olive oil was available to mere mortals.

The olive branch is a symbol of peace or victory and was historically worn by brides and virgins. This symbol derives from the customs of Ancient Greece.

In Greek Mythology

Athena competed with Poseidon for possession of Athens. Poseidon claimed possession by thrusting his trident into the Acropolis, where a well of sea-water flowed. Athena then planted the first olive tree next to the well. The gods and goddesses ruled that Athena had won the land having given the better gift.

Olive wreaths were worn by brides and awarded to Olympic victors.

Odysseus, when returning from the Trojan Wars was shipwrecked after a storm and was swept up on a beach. He rested naked and encrusted with the salty brine in the shade of two olive trees. Princess Nausicaa found him, and gave him clothes and olive oil to rub on himself. He emerged looking as radiant as a god.

In Christianity

In the Old Testament Noah sent the dove out and it returned with olive branch bringing the peace of God. Interestingly, in Jewish tradition there is no reference to an olive branch in the story of the Flood and no association of the olive leaf with peace.

There are two accounts of Jesus having his feet washed in olive oil – one, by the sister of Lazarus whom Jesus had raised from the dead; the other by an unnamed prostitute. "She tenderly kissed his feet, washed them with her tears, wiped them with her hair and them rubbed them with perfumed oil".

The olive branch appears with a dove in early Christian art. The dove symbolising the Holy Spirit and the olive branch derived then classical literature and art.

In Judaism

The first recorded oil extraction is found in the Hebrew Bible takes place during the Exodus from Egypt, in the 13th century BC. At this time, the oil was derived through hand-squeezing the fruit and storing in special containers and guarded by the priests.

Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the re-dedication of the Holy Temple (the Second Temple) in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean revolt of the 2nd century BCE. Hanukkah is observed for eight nights and days.

When the Maccabees returned to Jerusalem to liberate it, they entered the Temple and cleared it of the idols left by the Syrians. When they wanted to light the Menorah they found a small jar of olive oil, sufficient to light for one day only. By a miracle it burnt continually for eight days, till new oil was made. That miracle proved that God had again taken His people under His protection.

In Islam

The Qur'an 25:35 tells: Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The metaphor of His Light is that of a niche in which is a lamp, the lamp inside a glass, the glass like a brilliant star, lit from a blessed tree, an olive, neither of the east nor of the west, its oil all but giving off light even if no fire touches it. Light upon Light. Allah guides to His Light whoever He wills and Allah makes metaphors for mankind and Allah has knowledge of all things.

The expression "mubarakatin zaytoonatin" describes the olive as "plentiful, sacred, auspicious, providing countless blessings. And "zaytuha," describes the oil as being highly recommended for health, especially for coronary and arterial health.

In modern time the olive branch is constantly being used, notably, on July 4, 1776, a resolution was passed that allowed the creation of the Great Seal of the United States. On the Great Seal, there is an eagle grasping an olive branch in its right talon recognizing the symbol for peace.

In 1974, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat brought an olive branch to the UN General Assembly and said, "Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom-fighter's gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand."

Fun uses of olive oil

·    Unstick a zipper – Allow oil to penetrate the zipper, then unzip as usual

·    Improve a cat's coat – Add a small amount of olive oil to cat food for a shinier coat and healthy skin

·    Shine brass – Rub olive oil onto brass with a soft cloth for a brilliant shine

·    Make shoes shine – buff your shoes with a cloth lightly dampened with olive oil

·    Protect your hands – use olive oil on your hands before gardening or other dirty work

·    Remove stubborn stickers and labels by saturating them in olive oil and then gently peeling off

·    Remove chewing gum from your skin or other non porous surfaces by rubbing with olive oil