Leaves of oak
Material: Bronze sheet with embossed veins
Provenance: Sanctuary of Zeus at Dodona (excavations by Konstantinos Karapanos)
Date: ca. 300 BC
Exhibition Location: Room 36, Case 6, inv. no Êáñ. 303,312, National Archaeological Museum.
The bronze imitations of oak leaves and acorns found in the sanctuary of Zeus at Dodona and the representation of an oak tree on a bronze issue of Dodona (ca. 300 BC) allowed the identification of the sacred tree at the oracle. Ancient sources call it phegos or drys. The alternative designation is to be explained by the fact that the word phegos refers to the family of the specific plants, whereas drys applies to the particular species. Botanically speaking, the tree is to be identified with Quercus trojana. It is an extremely long-lived tree, which exceeds the height of 20m and retains its leaves until spring. A pit under the outer east wall of the Hellenistic sanctuary at Dodona is thought to indicate where the tree stood. After the completion of the excavations within the enclosure of the sanctuary of Zeus (350-325 BC), a tree of the species Quercus pedunculiflora was planted anew at the spot.
According to Odyssey (14.327-328 and 19.296-297), prophecies were initially given through the whispering of the leaves of the sacred tree. The rustling of its leaves gave rise to the idea that the tree itself was talking (Soph. Ôrach.. 1168, Plat. Phaidr. 275 b). This prophetic ability is to be associated with tree cults, since a sacred tree was viewed as a universe in miniature, representative of the cycle of life, and symbol of the regeneration of nature.
In the Iliad, the oak tree is a plant of Zeus and functions as a meeting point and as a refuge. In ancient narratives referring to regions beyond the territory of Greek world, the oak is also linked to Zeus, in his capacity as master of thunder and thunderbolts. In everyday life, the plant was appreciated for the aphrodisiac and pharmaceutical properties of its acorns and for the quality of its wood.
Bibliography: S.É. Dakaris, 'Äùäþíç',(Éoannina 1986) 43. Ì. Dieterle, Dodona. Religionsgeschichtliche und historiche Untersuchungen zur Entstehung und Entwicklung des Zeus-Heiligtums, (Spudasmata 116, Zurich-New York 2007) 263-273.