Plant Mythology Of Ancient Greece
Plants played an important role in the mythology of ancient Greece, and their plant superstitions were numerous. Learn more!
Plants played an important role in ancient Greece, and their plant superstitions were numerous. Their mythical stories were either about natural phenomenon’s like the seasons, or definitions of the supernatural in everyday life.
According to the Greeks, there were twelve gods that ruled the heavens, earth, sea, and underworld. All members of one family, these gods made their home on Mount Olympus in Northern Greece. Not only did each one of these god’s have distinct attributes and special personalities, each also had a favorite plant. So in Greek literature and art, these plants of the gods were seen as living links to the gods.
Chief of the gods was Zeus, and he had adopted the oak to symbolize his enduring might. An oak grove at Dodona, in northwestern Greece, was seen as the oracle of Zeus. There, by listening to the rustling leaves, priests would interpret the divine will of Zeus.
Zeus’ son Ares, god of war, chose the ash as his favorite plant. Of course, the ash was the tree that supplied shafts for spears. And Athena, goddess of wisdom, according to mythology, created the invaluable olive tree, which furnished not only timber but also fruit and oil.
The Greek goddess of agriculture was Demeter. She could deny harvest to the farmer, so they courted her with seeds of the corn poppy, which, they thought, must be her favorite flower, since she was said to wear a garland of poppies interlaced with barley and wheat.
In their stories and poems, familiar plants even provided haven for the persecuted. Like the story about the nymph, Daphne, whose father was the river. When Apollo, the powerful sun-god pursued her with amorous intentions, she implored her father to help her. He then transformed her into a laurel tree, which then became sacred to Apollo.
Flowers were also dominant in Greek Mythology, and often could serve as lures. Narcissus, as Greek physicians knew, could deaden the senses, so the flower often adorned tombs as an offering to the deceased.
Sorceresses of Greek legends, were beautiful, passionate women, but perilous companions. Odysseus, the wily creature of the Trojan horse, was one of their victims. The story has it that when sailing back from Troy, Odysseus and his men stopped at the island home of Circe, mistress of the occult.
She fed the men “juice of magical herbs,” and all the men, except Odysseus, were changed into swine. The “juice” would probably have been made from henbane or mandrake. Odysseus escaped this fate only because he kept an herb moly (garlic) as an antitode, given to him by a friendly god.
Medea, Circe’s niece was also an expert practitioner, and her occult skills won the golden fleece for her lover Jason. The fleece, which was her father’s most treasured possession, could only be won if Jason overcame two bulls and a some superhuman warriors that had sprung from dragon’s teeth. But Medea rubbed an ointment on his body, made from a plant grown from the blood of the god Prometheus, and it made Jason invulnerable for one full day, and he managed to win both the contest and the golden fleece.
Through the ages, plants have provided man with food, shelter, clothing, weapons, and healing. No wonder they have been attributed with magical powers, and so many myths have been built around plants.