extend the olive branch

To extend the olive branch means trying to make peace with an enemy or someone with whom you have disagreed.

Olive branches as symbols of peace or victory began in ancient Greece and Rome. In Greek mythology, Athena competed with Poseidon for possession of Athens. Poseidon claimed possession by thrusting his trident into the Acropolis, where a well of sea-water gushed out. Athena took possession by planting the first olive tree beside the well. The court of gods and goddesses ruled that Athena had the better right to the land because she had given it the better gift. Olive wreaths were worn by brides (perhaps because tribal strife was often resolved by an exchange of brides) and awarded to olympic victors.

Although peace was associated with the olive branch during the time of the Greeks, the symbolism became even stronger under the Pax Romana when envoys used the olive branch as tokens of peace. The Roman poet Virgil (70-19 BC) associated “the plump olive” with the goddess Pax or Peace, (the Roman Eirene) and he used the olive branch as a symbol of peace in his Aeneid.

The use of the olive branch as a symbol of peace has continued into the present. For example, a £2 note of North Carolina (1771) depicted the dove and olive with a motto meaning: “Peace restored.” Georgia’s $40 note of 1778 portrayed the dove and olive and a hand holding a dagger, with a motto meaning “Either war or peace, prepared for both.” A petition adopted by the American Continental Congress in July 1775, in the hope of avoiding a full-blown war with Great Britain, was called the Olive Branch Petition.

On July 4, 1776, a resolution was passed that allowed the creation of the Great Seal of the United States. On the Great Seal, there is an eagle grasping an olive branch in its right talon. The olive branch has thirteen olives and thirteen olive leaves to represent the thirteen original colonies. 

Olive branches can also be found in many police patches and badges across the world to signify peace. The olive branch is a symbol of peace in Arab folk traditions as well. In 1974, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat brought an olive branch to the UN General Assembly and said, “Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom-fighter’s gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.”

The olive itself is a symbol of “plenty” as well as “peace.” The fruit is a valuable source of food everywhere it is grown. And the oil of the olive is used everywhere, including in my Sunday morning pan of eggs and hash browns.

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