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Headword: *koti/nou stefa/nw|
Adler number: kappa,2161
Translated headword: with a wreath of wild olive
Vetting Status: high
Not with the wild olive were the victors crowned but with the ["cultivated olive"] "Of The Beautiful Crown."[1] The leaves of this tree [are] opposite to the rest of the olives, for they have white on the outer side but not in the inner.[2] But he [sc. Aristophanes] in disparaging [the Olive of the Beautiful Crown] said "wild olive."[3] And Aristotle speaks in this way word for word about the olive.[4] In the Pantheion[5] there is a cultivated olive tree, and it is called "Of the Beautiful Crown." The leaves of this tree are by nature the opposite to the rest of the olives, for they are white on the outer side but not on the inner. It sends forth branches, just as those of the myrtle, that are suitable for crowns. Herakles, taking the fruit of this tree, planted it at Olympia.[6] From it were the crowns given to athletes. This tree is beside the Ilissus River. It is enclosed by a wall, and [there is] a large fine for anyone who touched it.[7] The Eleans took from this tree and produced crowns for the athletes in Olympia.
And elsewhere: "Xerxes, having heard that the Greeks submitted to so much suffering for wild olive, said, 'How would these men fight for freedom?'."[8]
Greek Original:
*koti/nou stefa/nw|: ou) koti/nw| oi( nikw=ntes e)ste/fonto, a)lla\ kallistefa/nw|: tau/ths de\ ta\ fu/lla e)/mpalin tai=s loipai=s e)lai/ais: e)/cw ga/r, a)ll' ou)k e)nto\s e)/xei ta\ leuka/. o( de\ e)kfauli/zwn e)/fh koti/nou. kai\ *)aristote/lhs kata\ le/cin ou(/tw fhsi\ peri\ au)th=s: e)n tw=| *panqei/w| e)sti\n e)lai/a, kalei=tai de\ kalliste/fanos. tau/ths de\ e)/mpalin ta\ fu/lla tai=s loipai=s e)lai/ais pe/fuken: e)/cw ga/r, a)ll' ou)k e)nto\s e)/xei ta\ leuka/: a)fi/hsi/ te tou\s pto/rqous, w(/sper h( mu/rtos, ei)s stefa/nous summe/trous. a)po\ tau/ths labw\n karpo\n *(hraklh=s e)fu/teusen *)olumpi/asin: a)f' h(=s oi( ste/fanoi toi=s a)qlhtai=s e)di/donto. e)/sti de\ au(/th para\ to\n *)ilisso\n potamo/n: periw|kodo/mhtai de/, kai\ zhmi/a mega/lh tw=| qigo/nti au)th=s. a)po\ tau/ths e)/feron labo/ntes *)hlei=oi tw=n a)qlhtw=n tw=n e)n *)olumpi/a| tou\s stefa/nous. kai\ au)=qis: a)kou/sas o( *ce/rchs, o(/ti peri\ koti/nou tosou=ton u(fi/stantai po/non oi( *(/ellhnes, pw=s a)/n, ei)=pen, u(pe\r e)leuqeri/as ou(=toi ma/xointo;
The headword phrase occurs in Aristophanes, Wealth 586, and the main paragraph of the entry draws on the scholia there.
[1] The wild olive, the ko/tinos, that stood southwest of the temple of Zeus in the Altis at Olympia was called the e)lai/a kalliste/fanos, the cultivated "Olive of the Beautiful Crown" (Pausanias 5.15.3). The Greek phrase does not indicate singular or plural. The singular denotes the tree as the source of the crowns, and the plural the fact that many crowns were made from its branches. Although the name designates the cultivated olive, Pausanias calls it a wild olive. His confounding of opposites in the Greek mentality, "the wild" and "the cultivated," aspects of the overarching opposition "the savage" and "the tame," may have more than linguistic meaning. See below, note 2.
[2] In olive trees that belong in profane space, "[t]he leaf surface which faces the light displays an intense green colour, while the lower surface which has some stomata has a whitish-green colour" (A. Garrido Fernández, M.J. Fernández Díez, and M.R. Adams, Table Olives: Production and Processing [London: Chapman and Hall, 1997] 10-12). Such leaves lose little water, allowing their trees to survive in dry climates. The tree at Olympia could not have survived with the reverse structure claimed for its leaves by mythmakers. Its structure, however, evinces its sacredness by being analogous with its setting in the sacred space of the Altis, land in, but not of, the profane space of human occupation. Insight into the making of the olive's otherness, its sacred quality, may be gained from Jenny Strauss Clay's discussion of the moly that Hermes gives to Odysseus to forfend his being turned into a swine by Circe's malignant poisons (The Wrath of Athena 158-159). Clay observes that the Homeric gods intervene in human space because of "their knowledge of the physis [nature] of things as exemplified by the herb, moly." As Homer describes the moly,
"It was black in the root, but a flower white like milk.
The gods call it moly. It is difficult to dig up
for mortal men, but the gods can do all things
(Homer, Odyssey 304-306).
Mortals, Clay points out, are unable to dig up the plant and see its black root and, therefore, they cannot know the whole (158). The gods know its full nature, because they see its hidden and revealed aspects. The Olive of Beautiful Crowns, although reversing the structure of all other olive leaves, lives, because it resides in the Altis under the care of the gods who know more of the nature of olives than mortals. Doubtless, the tree in the Altis was an ordinary olive, but belief in its reversed color scheme engenders the sacred by manifesting the plant's otherness as well as by providing evidence for the god's intervention in human affairs.
[3] The reference is to an argument by Poverty, a character in Aristophanes' comedy Wealth [Ploutos/Plutus], who is trying to prove that Zeus is not rich (581-586). Poverty is speaking to the old man Chremylus and his friend Blepsidemos:
The both of you, blind, your sense gummy with age-old notions!
Zeus is poor, and I will prove it to you without a doubt.
If he had wealth, why is it that when he holds the Olympic games,
where he gathers all the Greeks every fourth year,
he proclaims the victors in the events by crowning
them with a crown of the wild olive? Surely he ought to
use crowns of gold if he had wealth.
The disparagement arises from the fact that a wild olive, being outside the human cultivation, is uncivilized and, thus, not appropriate to mark a victor who embodies human achievement. Similarly, Greeks did not generally sacrifice wild animals to their gods, because the animals stood outside the sphere of human civilization.
[4] The reference is to On Marvellous Things Heard, a collection of notes on marvels that has come down in the corpus of Aristotle's works but which scholars agree was not written by Aristotle. For this reason, the name Aristotle is enclosed in brackets when cited as the author of this work. It may be found in W.S. Hett, Aristotle: Minor Works: see bibliography below. The passage in question, which corresponds closely but not exactly to the Suda, is section 51: "In the Pantheion there is an olive, and it is called beautiful crown olive. All its leaves are formed opposite to the rest of the olives, for the others have the green color on the outside but not the inside. It sends forth branches, like the myrtle, that are suitable for crowns. Herakles took a cutting from this tree and planted it at Olympia, from which tree they [the Eleans] give crowns to the athletes. This is the tree beside the Ilissos that is sixty stades distant from the river. It is enclosed in a wall, and there is a large penalty for the one who touched it. The Eleans took a cutting from this tree and planted it in Olympia and gave crowns from it."
[5] The Pantheion is the name for the spot in the Altis where the Olive of Beautiful Crown grew.
[6] In Olympian Ode 3, Pindar tells the story of how Herakles brought the olive trees to Olympia from the land beyond the Hyperboreans where he first saw them when, during his third labor for Eurystheus, he was pursuing the doe with the golden antlers. The ode was written for Theron, tyrant of Akragas in Sicily, on behalf of his victory at Olympia in the four-horse chariot race of 476 BCE:
Since crowns yoked
upon Theron's hair exact
from me this debt imposed by the gods,
that I blend in worthy ways
the varied strains of the lyre
and the flute's scream and the order of words
for the son of Ainesidamos,
and Pisa also obliges me to celebrate, from which
songs blessed by the gods come to men
upon whose brows the unerring man of Aetolia,
the Hellanodikes, fulfilling Herakles' ancient commands,
places the grey ornament of olive that once
from Istros' shady spring
the son of Amphitryon brought,
most beautiful memorial of contests at Olympia,
having persuaded with words the people
of the Hyperboreans, servants of Apollo.
With guileless intent he asked for the grove
of Zeus that receives all, a shady plant
open to men and a crown for achievement.
Already upon him, when his father's altars were hallowed,
the Moon at mid-month in her golden chariot
had lighted her full eye of the evening,
and he instituted the sacred trial of eminent contests
and the five-year festival as well
beside the hallowed banks of Alpheios.
But the land was not flourishing
with lush trees in the valleys of Cronos' son Pelops.
The garden, naked and without trees, seemed to Herakles
to succumb to the sun's piercing rays.
Then the impulse struck him to travel
into the Istrian land. There Leto's daughter, driver of horses,
had received him when he arrived from the ridges
and winding hollows of Arcadia.
At Eurystheus' commands, necessity
imposed by his father Zeus pressed him to fetch
the doe with the golden horns that once Taygeta
dedicated to Artemis Orthosia and inscribed as sacred to her.
While pursuing the doe, he also saw that land
beyond the breath of icy cold
Boreas. Transfixed, he stood in wonder of its trees.
Sweet desire overtook him
to plant them around the boundaries of the racecourse
that is turned twice six times (10-60 Snell).
For an excellent discussion of this ode, see D.S. Carne-Ross, Pindar (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1985) 50-59.
[7] [Aristotle], On Marvellous Things Heard 51 (above, n.4), is the source for an Athenian tradition that Herakles took shoots from the sacred olive tree that was kept in a shrine near the Ilissos River at Athens where it was surrounded by a wall and protected by a heavy fine against violators of its sanctity. This is a particularly egregious piece of Athenian imperialism through mythmaking. Athenians also asserted that their hero Theseus had founded the Isthmian Games. An ancient scholar commenting on hypothesis (b) to Pindar's Isthmian Odes states:
"They say that Theseus established the Isthmian Games in honor of Sinis Prokrustes whom he slew when he killed the others, as Sophocles says of Theseus: As I walked along the shore, I cleared the road of wild beasts."
Plutarch preserves the same myth:
"Theseus acquired the Megarid by force, adding it to Attica, and erected a far-famed stele in the Isthmus. . . . Theseus was the first to found the games in rivalry with Herakles as he sought that through his efforts the Greeks celebrate the Isthmian Games for Poseidon as they do the Olympic Games for Zeus through the efforts of Herakles" (Life of Theseus 25.5).
[8] According the ideology of arete, excellence that governed, at least in appearances, the lives of Greek aristocrats, victory at a crown, or stefani/ths, game brought the athlete more honor than victory at a xrhmati/ths, a game awarding monetary prizes. Here Herodotus 8.26.3 echoes this ideology in having his Persian Tritantaichmes point out to the Persian general Mardonius the folly of attacking Greeks: "Alas, Mardonius, what sort of men have you led us against to fight who hold contests not for money but for aretê". Some six centuries later, Lucian recalls the primacy of excellence over monetary gain. The Scythian Anacharsis voices his wonderment at the punishments contestants endure for readily available celery, and Solon replies:
"Best of men, we do not look at the bare gifts. They are signs of victory, tokens to mark those who have prevailed. For those who have won, the reputation accompanying them is worth everything; even to be kicked is fine for those in the hunt for glory from their toils (Anacharsis 10)."
For arete see generally alpha 3830, alpha 3831.
Jenny Strauss Clay, The Wrath of Athena: Gods and Men in the Odyssey. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1983
W.S. Hett, Aristotle: Minor Works. Cambridge, M.A.: Harvard University Press and London: William Heinemann, 1936
D.S. Carne-Ross, Pindar. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1985
Keywords: aetiology; athletics; botany; comedy; ethics; historiography; history; religion
Translated by: Wm. Blake Tyrrell on 24 February 2002@22:54:30.
Vetted by:
Catharine Roth (cosmetics, added keywords) on 25 February 2002@00:03:52.
David Whitehead (cosmetics) on 25 February 2002@02:58:02.
David Whitehead (added opening note and streamlined others; added keywords; cosmetics) on 22 November 2002@10:06:15.
Catharine Roth (betacode and other cosmetics) on 16 May 2007@00:57:55.
Catharine Roth (betacode cosmetics) on 15 January 2009@18:07:39.
David Whitehead (tweaking) on 13 March 2013@09:39:53.
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