AskDefine | Define olives

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  1. Plural of olive

Extensive Definition

The Olive is the fruit of the [[Olive">Olive tree (Olea europaea) and is a major component of the agriculture and gastronomy of many countries adjoining the Mediterranean Sea in Europe, North Africa and Asia Minor.


It is not known exactly when the wild olive became a domesticated crop. A leaf from an olive tree is mentioned in chapter 8 of Genesis when Noah finds one in the dove's beak. In the Homeric world, as depicted in the Iliad, olive oil is known only as a luxury of the wealthy--an exotic product, prized chiefly for its value in grooming; warriors would anoint themselves after bathing, and the body of Patroclus is described as being oiled in this way. But no mention of the cultivation of the plant is made, whereas a vineyard is mentioned in the description of Achilles' shield. But, although no reference to the cultivation of the olive occurs in the Iliad, the presence of the tree in the garden of Alcinous and other allusions show it to have been known when the Odyssey was written. All tradition points to the limestone hills of Attica as the seat of its first cultivation on the Hellenic peninsula. The tree features in the myths of the founding of Athens: an olive is said to have sprung from the barren rock at the bidding of Athena, the city state's patron, when she fought with Poseidon. This suggests some relation to the first planting of the olive in Greece. There is also the remarkable story told by Herodotus of the Epidaurians, who, when their crops failed, were told by the Delphic oracle to erect statues to Damia and Auxesia (symbols of fertility) carved from the wood of the true garden olive, then possessed only by the Athenians. They did so when granted their request for a tree by the Athenians (on the condition of making an annual sacrifice to Athena) and their lands became fertile again. The sacred tree of the goddess long stood on the Acropolis, and, though destroyed in the Persian invasion, sprouted again from the root. Some suckers of the original tree were said to have produced the later revered olive trees of the Academy.
By the time of Solon the olive had spread so much that he found it necessary to enact laws to regulate the cultivation of the tree in Attica. From here it gradually spread to all the Athenian allies and tributary states. Phoenician vessels may have taken olive cuttings to the Ionian coast, where it abounded in the time of Thales; the olives of the Sporades, Rhodes and Crete perhaps had a similar origin. Samos, if we may judge from the epithet of Aeschylus, must have had the plant long before the Persian Wars.


Cultivation of the olive was (and remains) a key characteristic of Mediterranean mixed farming, and played a large part in the economic development of ancient Greece because of the suitability of olive oil as an export crop. For instance Attica, the region of Athens, was a grain importer and olive oil exporter from early historic times. The Athenian pottery industry was stimulated largely by the demand for containers in which to export olive oil.
Soon it was replaced with Spain, that since then and till now has turned into the first world producer of olive oil and olives of the world, being the province of Jaén (Andalusia) the geographical zone of major production in oil and the province of Seville (Andalusia) in olive.
In modern times the olive has been spread widely around the world; and, though the Mediterranean lands that were its ancient home remain the main source of the oil, the tree is now cultivated successfully in many regions unknown to its early distributors. Protected by high brick walls, a fruiting olive tree is in the Chelsea Physic Garden, London. Soon after the discovery of the Americas it was taken there by the Spanish settlers. In Chile it flourishes as luxuriantly as in its native land, the trunk sometimes attaining a large girth, while oil of fair quality is yielded by the fruit. To Peru it was carried at a later date and now has flourished very successfully. It was introduced into Mexico by the Jesuit missionaries of the 17th century, and to Upper California (where it stagnated later). Olive cultivation has also been attempted in the south-eastern states, especially in South Carolina, Florida and Mississippi. In the eastern hemisphere the olive has been established in many inland districts which would have been anciently considered ill-adapted for it. It was known at a comparatively early period of history in Armenia and Persia, and many olive-groves now exist in Upper Egypt. The tree has been introduced into Chinese agriculture, and has become an important addition to Australia's farmers, and there are probably few coast districts there where the tree would not flourish. In Queensland the olive has found a climate specially suitable; and in South Australia, near Adelaide. It has likewise been successfully introduced into some parts of South Africa and New Zealand.
olives in Catalan: Oliva (fruit)
olives in Spanish: Aceituna
olives in Esperanto: Olivo
olives in Basque: Oliba
olives in French: Olive
olives in Dutch: Olijf
olives in Portuguese: Azeitona
olives in Simple English: Olive
olives in Swedish: Oliv
olives in Turkish: Zeytin
olives in Italian: Oliva (frutto)
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