On this blog we continue with my series of fish recipes dedicated to Poseidon, the God of the sea. The following story is about Poseidon, the Greek Goddess Athena and the city of Athens. I hope you will enjoy the recipe for Prawn Saganaki, an amazing Greek dish, full of character!
All Odyssey guests (cooks or not) have travelled through Athens to come to Poros. Poros and its history are very closely related to Athens, and there are a lot of myths that support this belief. The ancient Greeks were very good at telling stories; stories that became the ancient Greek myths. In these myths there is an explanation and a reason for everything: the sunset and moonrise, the trees and rivers, the animals and birds, the clouds and thunder. So of course, this is also the case for the olive tree and the name of the city of Athens.
According to Greek mythology, all the new cities, towns and places had a patron God. But both Poseidon and Athena wanted to be the patron of Athens. That is not simple and of course you can’t trust the Gods to find a simple and peaceful solution to share a city (especially such a great city). Zeus decided to include the people and the mythical first King of Athens, Kekrops (a half human, half snake according to some stories), in the decision: the first seed of democracy in ancient mythology!
Poseidon versus Athena
There was going to be a divine contest between Athena and Poseidon, that would decide their claim to Athens. The rules of the contest were simple, and very much in favour of the citizens of Athens. The God that would bring the best gifts to the city would win and the city would be named after him or her.
Poseidon, God of the waters, horses and earthquakes, and master of the winds and seas, raised his three-pronged trident, smashed it upon the hard rock of the Acropolis and out came a spring of salty water. By giving salty water to the Athenians, Poseidon indicated that Athens would become a powerful Sea Nation.
Athena, the Goddess of wisdom, full of power, an excellent warrior who had no mother or father, but was born out of the head of Zeus, a virgin who was never associated with a partner, struck the famous rock with her spear and a tree started to grow full of fruit. It was the olive tree, a symbol of peace, good economy, survival, health and power. With her present Athena provided the Athenians with food, fuel and wood for their homes.
This dramatic episode between the 2 powerful Olympians was carved onto the West pediment sculptures of the Parthenon. You can still see the remains of it in the new Acropolis Museum.
Reconstruction of the west pediment of the Parthenon according to drawing by Karl Schwerzek (1896)
© Acropolis Museum. Photo: Socratis Mavrommatis
West pediment of the Parthenon, Parthenon Gallery, Acropolis Museum.
© Acropolis Museum. Photo: Vangelis Tsiamis
The Athenians chose Athena’s gift and the city was named after her. The olive tree has remained a central part of Greek life ever since for all of its profound qualities. Until this day, it’s the base of the Mediterranean diet, the most important product of Greece and the most used local product. The olive tree is associated with athletic competitions held throughout Greece, and in ancient times the athletes were massaged with olive oil.
There is another version of this story that says that Kekrops had chosen the olive tree. And yet another story tells that there was a voting: All men, impressed by the war horse, voted for Poseidon, all women for Athena. Athena won by only 1 vote. Whatever the reason, Poseidon was understandably very upset. He cursed Athens to never have enough fresh water and so it came to be.
Garden ‘Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center’ Athens
The recipe for Prawn Saganaki proves that there is evolution, change and progress everywhere in life. 2500 years ago Heracletus said: “No man ever steps in the same river twice.” This means that everything is on the move like the water in a river. Everything is changing and nothing stays the same.
In very old Greek recipes the combination of cheese and sea food was unthinkable. But in the sixties, a decade with a lot of changes in Greece and the entire world, this new recipe was created. Saganaki (like I explained on the blog about the Cheese Saganaki) is a small frying pan, but also the name of the dishes the Greeks cook in this pan. During the sixties the Greeks decided to combine traditional ingredients with modern cooking methods. One of the results was the combination of shrimps, tomatoes and feta all together in the Prawn Saganaki.
Some people think that the first Prawn Saganaki was prepared in the port of Mikrolimano, near the harbour of Athens, Piraeus. Mikrolimano is still very popular for eating sea food and fish. Since the first servings, Prawn Saganaki became a very characteristic Greek summer dish, ideal as a meze, with some ouzo or a nice dry white wine!
Photography Annette Spaan
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