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Gardens in Ancient Greece

Gardens in Homer

In the Odyssey of Homer book VII lin 113 Homer uses the word ‘ὄρχατος’ and the word ‘αὐλη̂ς’. Sometimes the first word is translated ‘garden’ and other times ‘orchard’. Both words relate to the concept of enclosure. The root of ‘ὄρχατος’ is Indo-European ‘gher-2’, ‘To grasp, enclosure’. The root of ‘αὐλη̂ς’ is Indo-European ‘aulo-‘, ‘Hole, cavity’. It seems as though the concept of a house in the shape of an open square with a central garden or surrounded by a garden may be a concept that is basic to the Indo-European culture. The word ‘gher-‘ may also be a root of the word ‘khoros’ which is a dancing ground. Though we seen dancing in the Minoan culture and what may be dancing courts in the construction of those buildings there seems to be a sychronicity in this regard between the Minoan and Myceneans. The difference is that the Minoans seem to have built large complexes around courts while the Myceneans built many individual houses each with its own court. When Odysseus arrives at the palace of Alcinous the leaders of the country are having a feast. Though the palace has an open court and an orchard or garden around it still when the feast is over Alcinous says, “You have finished your feasting; now go home to rest..”. It is easy to assure that the other leaders has similar shaped homes that are less pretentious. This would be in contrast with information that has been revealed in the Archaeological researches of the Minoan culture.

Garden in Ancient Greece
Garden in Ancient Greece

Homer provides an image of watering a garden in the Iliad (Book XXI): “As one who would water his garden leads a stream from some fountain over his plants, and all his ground-spade in hand he clears away the dams to free the channels, and the little stones run rolling round and round with the water as it goes merrily down the bank faster than the man can follow-…”

In the Odyssey Book V Homer describes the garden of Calypso:
“And round about the cave there was a wood
blossoming, alder and poplar and sweet-smelling cypress.
And therein roosted birds long of wing, owls and falcons
and chattering sea-crows, which have their business in the
waters. And lo, there about the hollow cave trailed a
gadding garden vine, all rich with clusters. And fountains
four set orderly were running with clear water, hard by one
another, turned each to his own course. And all around soft
meadows bloomed of violets and parsley, yea, even a
deathless god who came thither might wonder at the sight
and be glad at heart.”

Homer describes the garden of Alcinous, king of the Phaeaceans, in Book
VII, line 13 of the Odyssey:
“And without the courtyard hard by the door is a great
garden, off our ploughgates, and a hedge runs round on
either side. And there grow tall trees blossoming,
pear-trees and pomegranates, and apple-trees with bright
fruit, and sweet figs, and olives in their bloom. The fruit
of these trees never perisheth neither faileth, winter nor
summer, enduring through all the year. Evermore the West
Wind blowing brings some fruits to birth and ripens others.
Pear upon pear waxes old, and apple on apple, yea and
cluster ripens upon cluster of the grape, and fig upon fig.
There too hath he a fruitful vineyard planted, whereof the
one part is being dried by the heat, a sunny plot on level
ground, while other grapes men are gathering, and yet
others they are treading in the wine-press. In the foremost
row are unripe grapes that cast the blossom, and others
there be that are growing black to vintaging. There too,
skirting the furthest line, are all manner of garden beds,
planted trimly, that are perpetually fresh, and therein are
two fountains of water, whereof one scatters his streams
all about the garden, and the other runs over against it
beneath the threshold of the courtyard, and issues by the
lofty house, and thence did the townsfolk draw water.”

Odysseus remembers his father’s garden:
“But come, and I will even tell thee the trees through all the
terraced garden, which thou gavest me once for mine own,
and I was begging of thee this and that, being but a little
child, and following thee through the garden. Through these
very trees we were going, and thou didst tell me the names
of each of them. Pear-trees thirteen thou gavest me and ten
apple-trees and figs two-score, and, as we went, thou didst
name the fifty rows of vines thou wouldest give me, whereof
each one ripened at divers times, with all manner of
clusters on their boughs, when the seasons of Zeus wrought
mightily on them from on high.”

Gardens in Hesiod

  • Hesiod, Works and Days line 233: “the oak bears acorns upon the top and bees in the midst.”
  • Hesiod, Works and Days line 571: “But when the House-carrier1 climbs up the plants from the earth to escape the Pleiades, then it is no longer the season for digging vineyards,”
  • Hesiod, Works and Days line 571: “Set your slaves to winnow Demeter’s holy grain, when strong Orion first appears, on a smooth threshing-floor in an airy place” Note: grains include wheat and barley. Homer mentions both grains (Odyssey, 9.110) “”Thence we sailed on, grieved at heart, and we came to the land of the Cyclopes, an overweening and lawless folk, who, trusting in the immortal gods, plant nothing with their hands nor plough; but all these things spring up for them without sowing or ploughing, [110] wheat, and barley, and vines, which bear the rich clusters of wine, and the rain of Zeus gives them increase.” In Odyssey 2.290 “barley meal, the marrow of men,” suggesting that barley was more highly regarded at that time
  • Hesiod, Works and Days line 582: “But when the artichoke flowers,”
  • Hesiod, Works and Days line 609: “But when Orion and Sirius are come into midheaven, and rosy-fingered Dawn sees Arcturus,1 then cut off all the grape-clusters, Perses, and bring them home.”
  • Hesiod, Works and Days line 678: “when a man first sees leaves on the topmost shoot of a fig-tree as large as the foot-print that a crow makes;”

Gardens in Aristophanes

  • Aristophanes, Peace line 1143: “I would willingly drink myself, while the heavens are watering our fields. Come, wife, cook three measures of beans, adding to them a little wheat, and give us some figs. Syra! call Manes off the fields, it’s impossible to prune the vine or to align the ridges, for the ground is too wet today.”
  • The following garden produce is mentioned in the Acharnians:
    • σκόροδον — garlic, Allium sativum, line 165, 521, 550
    • σίκυος — a cucumber, line 520
    • κρόμμυον — onion, Allium Cepa, line 550
    • ἐλαία — olive, line 550
    • θυμιτιδᾶν — flavored with Thyme, line 772
    • ἐρέβινθος — chick-pea, line 800
    • ἰσχάς — a dried fig, line 802
    • βλήχων — pennyroyal, a common cooking herb in ancient Greece but no longer used due to its toxicity, line 869
    • ὀρίγανον — marjoram, line 874
    • ἐντευτλανόομαι — to be stewed in beet, line 894 (τεύτλων — beet)
    • ἄμυλοι πλακοῦντες σησαμοῦντες ἴτρια — a cake made of the the finest unground sesame seeds formed into a cake (probably the same σησᾰμἡ — a mixture of sesame-seeds, roasted and pounded with honey).
    • krommnon — κρόμμυον — onion, Allium Cepa, line 1099
    • thrion — θρῖον — fig-leaf — , line1100
    • μέλι — honey, line 1130
    • Κυδωνέα — quince tree from Cydonia in Crete, line 1199
  • Birds line 1583: “Wait a bit till I have prepared my silphium pickle.” silphion — σίλφιον — laserwort, Ferula tingitana, a strong flavored spice from Cyrene in Africa

Images of ancient plants and gardens:


  • Ancient Greek Gardens
  • History of Garden Design
  • Isager, Signe (University of Odense, Denmark);Skydsgaard, J.E. (University of Copenhagen, Denmark
    Title: Ancient Greek Agriculture
    ISBN: 0415116716
    paperback (C format)
    Price:œ 19.00
    Publisher: Taylor & Francis Books Ltd, London - UK
    Publication date: 1995-08-24
    Agriculture was the central economic activity of ancient Greece. This introduction
    describes and discusses the natural conditions, the techniques, the plants cultivated
    and the animals reared. It demonstrates how agriculture fitted into the society of
    gods and men in the Greek city-states.

Questions and Answers

Question: detals about land scaping and gardening in greece

Answer: read above. The Hespeides, who lived in the extreme west tended a garden with a tree of golden apples for Hera. These apples were stolen by Hercules:

Priapus was the god of gardens. His symbol was the phallus and he was portrayed a a small, sometimes mishaped man with enormous genitals.

Epicurus (341-270 BCE) moved to Athens around 307 BCE and set up his school of Philosophy in a house with a garden which he bought. His school was later known as “The Garden” (?????)

Question: plese give me details of the gardens of greece, landscpe
architecture too

Answer: See above.

Question: What kind of plants were grown in gardens in Ancient Greece?

Answer: Read above.

Question: please tell me more of the layouts and namesof the gardenplants

Answer: Hesiod mentions artichokes, vinyards, ivy, barley, wheat, bean-pods, apples, radishes, cabbages, pumpkins, green leeks, parsley, mallows, green beet-leaves, cabbage-leaves.

Question: We are doin an interdisciplinary unit on ancient Greece and Rome. Our Science component is to have the students create scale gardens of what might have been found in ancient Greece and Rome. Do you have any ideaof what kinds of flowers and plants were used? Do you have layouts?

Answer: All I have is what is above. Note that pumpins are native to North America, but “pumpkin” is used to translate the word for some kind of Greek squash.

Question: where do i find more information on the importance of gardens and foilage of ancient greece

Answer: Be more specific.

Question: What kind of tools were used in ancient greek gardens??

Answer: Pruning knives, scythes, and wooden hoes, shovels, rakes, and pehaps an adz for hoeing.

Question: pepon – large melon in Greek, but pumpkins are originally from central america, were there also pumpkins in ancient greece?

Answer: No. But melons are from asia and melons were known in ancient Greece.

Question: role of owls

Answer: Owls were seen as beneficial. They ate mice.

Question: what plants can I use today to design a Greek Garden?

Answer: This, of course, depends on the climate where you live. A garden from ancient Greece requires a warm Mediterranean climate. Such a climate exists at Malibu, California, and the Getty Museum has established such a garden. The most characteristic plant is the acanthus which provided folliage decoration for ancient Greek architecture. Also characteristic is the grape plant. At the the studio of Augustus St. Gaudens in Cornish, New Hampshire, a grape arbor is all there is of the Greek garden. But this was enough to
stimulate Maxfield Parrish to include elements of Greek gardens in his paintings.

Question: fig as a symbol of what in ancient greece

In ancient Greece, the fig was sacred to the sensuous, flabby, procreative god Dionysus, and was the most pronounced symbol of procreation and of fruit-bearing. Reference

Question: Is there a goddess of the garden or vegetables or the earth?

Answer: Demeter is the goddess of the grain crops, while Dionysus is god of the vines. Persephone, as goddess of spring, may also be applicable.

Question: Do pumpkins grow in Greece or the Greek islands?

Answer: They can, but they are native to North America. But there are squash native to Greece. The situation is somewhat confused by the fact that what North Americans call pumpkin, is called squash by Europeans and vice versa. There are also squash that look like pumpkins.

Question: what was the climat in ancient greece listed by month?


seacost, Ancient Greece

Month Av. high Av. low Warmest Coldest Av. dew point Average precip
JAN.  55       44      70      28      39            1.9 
FEB.  55       44      72      25      39            1.6 
MARCH 60       47      77      28      42            1.6 
APRIL 66       52      82      39      47            0.9
MAY   74       60      92      46      53            0.7 
JUNE  83       67     100      55      58            0.3 
JULY  89       73     108      61      58            0.2 
AUG.  88       72     104      50      58            0.3 
SEP.  83       67      99      55      56            0.4 
OCT.  73       60      93      37      53            2.1 
NOV.  64       53      79      32      48            2.2 
DEC.  58       47      68      32      43            2.4 

Latitude: 37 degrees, 54 minutes north 
Longitude: 23 degrees, 44 minutes east 

Temperatures are Fahrenheit. Dew point is a humidity measure in Fahrenheit degrees; readings above 60 make the air feel humid and most people are uncomfortable at dew points around 70 and above.

Question: what is the violetta

Answer: Violetta is an Italian name that is a variation of the English
name violet for the purple flower of that name. The word for purple in Greek is porphyry. one of the earliest written accounts of the violet and its cultivation comes from Ancient Greece, where it is said violets were cultivated in plantations at Attica (outside Athens) around 400 B.C. The violet is a flower in the Genus viola.

Question: How did they create their wine?

Answer: The process was only slightly different than today. The grapes were collected and then crushed underfoot. The grapes are crushed with the feet so the seeds do not break. Broken seeds in wine give it a bad taste. The resulting juice-grape mixture was then placed in large ceramic containers possibly amphora. Yeast does not need to be added because it usually clings to the outside of the grapes. The containers could not be filled because the mash would boil up and needed space to expand. Some mash would be pressed but others just drained off. When the wine was created it was poured off into other containers and sealed with a layer of olive oil at the top. A yeast mixture usually settled to the bottom of the containers. This could be used for making bread, but bread is more usually made with yeast used to make beer or mead. The yeast is easiest to separate from the mead drink. Notice the the grape juice immediately after pressing was palatable. But if it was stored it would usually turn into wine. The wine would usually keep much longer than the juice. But some wine would spoil and make vinegar. And the longer the wine was stored the more likely it would turn into vinegar. Eventually all wine would spoil and turn into vinegar or worse. I do not know how long the wine could be stored in jars with oil but it might be a year or two. Bottles with corks have allowed wine to be kept much longer as long as 100 years. What Pasteur showed was that if the juice was cooked and the bottles and equipment were sterilized the formation of vinegar could be prevented.

The ancient Greeks often drank wine that was diluted. This is not a statement of the quality of their wine. The suspicion is that much of the wine contained some vinegar. There is also a question of the alcohol content. Obviously there was enough alcohol to make a person drunk. But the wine could also make a person very sick. This is also not a statement of quality.