In Ancient Greece the tree was sacred to Athene. It would seem that graftings from this tree still flourish today on the Acropolis. The olive shares the symbolic properties attributed to Athene, to whom it was sacred.
Olives used to flourish on the plains of Eleusis. They were protected and anybody harming them was brought before the courts. They are almost deified in the ‘Homeric’ hymn to Demeter, which associates them with the Eleusinian Mysteries.
All European and Eastern countries endow them with the same significance and in Rome they were sacred to Jupiter and Minerva. According to a Chinese legend, olive-wood was an antidote to some poison and venom, giving the tree the properties of a preservative. In Japan it symbolizes friendship, as well as success in study and in civil or military enterprises. It is the tree of victory.
In medieval terms, it was, furthermore, a symbol of gold and of love. ‘Were I to behold olive-wood gilded at your door, I would at once call you a temple of God’, Angelus Silesius wrote, fired by a description of Solomon’s Temple.
Each leaf of the olive, in its character as a sacred tree, is said to bear one of the names of God written on it, while the baraka of its oil is so strong that it swells the quantity of oil by its very self and becomes dangerous. In some tribes, men drink olive oil to increase their powers of procreation.
Another explanation of the olive-tree symbol identifies the ‘blessed tree’ with Abraham and with his hospitality, and holds that it will endure until the Day of the Resurrection. The tree of Abraham mentioned in the hadith which follows that passage, was also an olive. The olive symbolizes the Paradise of the chosen.