Role of the Ancient Groves

Role of the Ancient Groves
According to mythical accounts, the goddess Athena was closely associated with the olive tree in ancient Greece. The plant was considered sacred to her. Both olive oil and olives were used in ancient Greek kitchens as part of her cult. She was the virgin goddess of wisdom, commerce, and the arts as well as valor and prudence. The Romans called her Minerva, which was Athena’s middle name.

Athena came to be considered a warrior goddess who fought to maintain law and order. An ancient myth explains how she came to be associated with the olive tree. She and Neptune became involved in a dispute over Attica and were called before a council of the gods.

Using her staff, she brought forth an olive tree and emerged victorious in the dispute, ensuring that the city of Athens would be named in her honor. She was credited with planting the first olive tree in the Acropolis in Greece. The Parthenon was built in her honor. A sacred grove of olive trees was planted in the Agora as well. Olive trees were also planted along the streets in ancient Greece.

Role of the Ancient Sacred Groves

The Greeks referred to their gardens as paradises, a term first used in Persia. In Greece, their sacred groves often included olive trees. In ancient Greece, the idea of sacred groves seems to have originated with the Egyptians and the Mesopotamians.

While the Greek sacred groves were open to the public, those of the Egyptians were intended for a different purpose. In Egypt, they were planted around Egyptian temple compounds and were intended to be a home for the pharaohs after their death.

Like the Egyptians, the ancient Greeks also planted groves of trees around their temples. The Athenian sanctuary of Athena was located in the center of Athens a short distance from some agricultural plots.

Once deforestation became a problem, which caused fuel shortages in the country, the sacred groves were protected by law. People were forbidden from removing even the twigs of the trees for fuel.

These sacred groves served various purposes. Leaders as well as Greek traders used them as meeting places.

Generally, the sacred groves that were located outside the town or city walls were intended for use for reflection, rest and exercise as well as study and as retreats. In ancient Greece, athletes did their exercises and training in the groves. These were also used by philosophers and their students.

The Greek philosophers also used the groves for reflection. Some of the groves became known as “groves of academe.” Philosophy students walked with Aristotle and Plato in these shady groves as they received instruction. The one used by Plato was located outside Athens in a valley.

One of the most widely known such groves was located a short distance from Athens’ walls, about two kilometers (about 1¼ miles) away. It was named for the hero Academus. Aristotle used his own grove, known as The Lyceum, as a place to discuss philosophy with his students. Theophrastus willed his garden and grove to his philosopher friends as a place to study.

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