Plato’s Sacred Olive Tree Vanished

On October 7, 1976 a bus destroyed most of the tree. (Olive Oil Times file photo)

The perennial olive tree under which Plato is believed to have taught his students 2,400 years ago, is now gone.

In 1976 a bus ran into it and fractured its trunk. The broken part of the tree was then transferred to the nearby Geoponic University of Athens and kept in a case. The remaining lower part of the trunk and its gigantic roots were discovered missing some days ago, local media reported, very likely uprooted and stolen to serve as firewood as is the case in many places in Greece. It was calculated that the stolen part of the tree weighed more than 1,000 pounds, nevertheless it was removed without anyone taking notice.

Plato’s Olive Tree before a bus sheared off all but the trunk in 1976.

The legend has it that the tree was part of the alleys that surrounded Plato’s Academy (called Akademia), and it was among the twelve olive trees that marked the twelve gated entries to the property. This part of Athens was later, and still is, named ‘Eleonas’ (olive grove) because of those ancient olive trees.

Before the Akademia was a school, and even before Cimon enclosed its precincts with a wall, it contained a sacred grove of olive trees dedicated to Athena, the goddess of wisdom, outside the city walls of ancient Athens. The archaic name for the site was Hekademia (Ἑκαδήμεια), which by classical times evolved into Akademia and was explained, at least as early as the beginning of the 6th century BC, by linking it to an Athenian hero, a legendary “Akademos.” (Wikipedia)

It seems that whenever the modern and the ancient world collide, sadly the latter doesn’t stand a chance.

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This article was last updated October 11, 2014 - 2:50 PM (GMT-5)

  • Chris Nikolaou

    Untrue is the story that was released this morning and echoed many media that “Plato ‘s” Sacred olive tree” felled to make firewood.

    The Directorate General of Antiquities and heritage indicate that the olive tree, the so-called “Sacred Olive tree of Plato” which stood until 1976 in Iera Odos, between numbers 89-91, felled on 7 October 1976 when bus crashed into the trunk.

    What is left of the ancient trunk moved at the agricultural University of Athens building where kept in a specially built display case. With actions of the same University, in place of the old olive tree a new tree was planted later which had the form of three logs, diameter 30 cm. about each.

    One of these trunks, who was in the meantime dead , removed on 6th of January 2013 from strangers. The two live logs remain intact.


    • Jan Steinman

      I am at this moment listening to a CBC story about the firewood-induced smog crisis in Athens, and a Greek official was interviewed who verified the story that Plato’s Olive Tree was stolen, probably for firewood.