Bay leaves were considered holy
and associated with Apollo by the Greeks. The winners of the famous
Olympic games, beginning in 776 in Olympia in honour of Zeus, were
decorated with a wreath of bay twigs.
The change from olive to laurel was due to the
influence of the Pythian Games, which were conducted in honour of Apollo
in Delphi (Southern Greece), starting 582.
Much later, the Roman Emperors made use of the laurel wreath as a
symbol of the god Apollo.
The Roman poet Ovid tells the story of the Greek nymph Daphne. Her
father, Peneus, changed her into a laurel tree so that she could avoid
the amorous advances of the god Apollo. From then on, Apollo wore a
wreath of laurel in memory of Daphne.
'Neither witch nor devil, thunder nor lightening, will hurt a man in
the place where a bay tree is.'
~ Culper 17th Century.