Why an olive tree? Asks Porphyry
The evergreen tree represents the highest lesson of the life: to fight for the good and to honor the pietas. And it assumes also an esoteric message: during the summer the olive tree turns the white part of the leaves to the sky, while during the winter it turns it to the soil
The Porphyry’s olive tree
The olive tree marks the born of the Mediterranean world, but also its gestation. It is passed on that, before bloody sacrifices, in a more innocent era, it was used to toast the Gods with milk, honey and oil.
Harvesting and pressing anticipates the act of slaughtering and burning.
Hence, it was the conquest of fire that radically changed our relationship with Nature and the Sacred.
The offer of oil comes chronologically and symbolically before the procession of the victims to the altar.
Perhaps this is the reason why the olive tree recalls us a primitive golden age, where the yellow of the oil, vivid symbol of heat, contrasts the red of the poured blood.
In an epoch of decline as the present one, Porphyry, a scholar of Plotinus, wrote a symbolic book, titled The Cave of the Nymphs.
He wrote it with all the erudition that was typical of the ancient world in its last years, as the Odyssey says. The book refers to the moment in which Ulysses, still sleeping, was deposed by the Phaeacians on the beach of Ithaca.
The Ionic night and the sleep of the hero are the background of the description of a close cave; a cave sacred to the Naiads, made at image of the cosmos and of eternity.
Inside the cave there were some arcanes: “kraters and amphoras in stone where bees lay the honey” together with “huge stone looms where the Nymphs weave purple mantles”. Inside the caves there were to streets, one toward Boreas, “for the descent of men”, and the other toward Notus. This way was for the Goods and the Immortals.
Porphyry interprets this myth by means of his erudition and lyrics, identifying the cave as an allegory of the migration of souls that slide into existence, descending from the North. While the elected souls, once divested from the passions, rise from the South attracted by the holy light.
The bees, symbol of chastity and wisdom, represent the righteous people, the “made free in life”, while the looms that produce purple mantles are a metaphor of the body, a mortal dress that the creative powers weaves for the earthly cycle.
Outside the cave, just next to the harbor of Phorkis, protean demon of the sea, there is an old olive tree. Why an olive tree? Asks Porphyry.
Because the olive tree is a gift by Athena, Goddess of wisdom, and with its prominent position on the cave, symbol of the cosmos, and on the sea, epiphany of the protean matter, reveals the presence of a regulating mind that harmonizes the universe.
But where the evergreen tree takes an esoteric meaning, according to the comment of Porphyry, is during the description of some of its characteristics: “during the summer the olive tree turns the white part of the leaves to the sky, while during the winter it turns it to the soil.” Moreover, he adds that its leaves crown the head of the winning athletes but they are also hold by the suppliants.
It is clear, then, which is the glory of the olive tree, whose fruits are “support for the efforts”: “demiurge that holds the cosmos one and coherent”, the olive tree takes to heart both the “athletes of life” and the “compassionate” men.
Hence, the olive tree represents the highest lesson of the life: to fight for the good and to honor the pietas.