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ἔλαιον). Oil, a substance very extensively used in aucient times. Apart from its employment as an article of food and for burning in lamps, it served to anoint the body after the bath and in the palaestra. The oil most used was that obtained by means of olive-presses from the olive-tree (ἐλάα, ἐλαία), which seems to have been transplanted from Syria to Greece and thence to Italy. The best olive-oil produced among the Greek States was that of Attica; here the olive-tree was considered a gift of the national goddess Athené, who, by means of it, had obtained the victory in her contest with Poseidon for the possession of the country. Here, also, the olive-tree was under the special protection of the State; no one was allowed to cut down olive-trees on his own plot of land, except for specified purposes, and then only a specified number. Moreover, many olive-trees standing on private ground were regarded as the property of the goddess of the State, and it was therefore forbidden, on pain of death, to cut them down. They were under the special control of the Areopagus, which had them inspected from time to time by certain officials, and they were farmed out by the State (Lysias, Or. ix.). Part of the oil thus obtained had to be sold by the farmer to the State at a fixed price; this was only used for festive purposes, especially to be distributed in prizes to the victors in the Panathenaic contests (Pindar, Nem. x. 35).

In Italy the olive-tree, which spread thence to France and Spain, grew so well that the Italian oil, especially from the neighbourhood of the South Italian cities Venafrum and Tarentum, and that from the Sabine country (hence baca Sabella), was considered the finest in the world, and so met with a ready sale abroad. The best kind was considered to be oil from unripe olives, especially the first from the press (Pliny , Pliny H. N. xv. 1-34). See Blümner, Technologie, i. 348 foll.

For the preparation and use of fragrant oils and perfumes, see Unguentum.

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  • Cross-references from this page (3):
    • Lysias, For the Soldier, 1
    • Pindar, Nemean, 10
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 15.1
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