Monday, July 28, 2014

Ancient Fragrant Lore (part 2)

"It is during The Eleusinian Mysteries [ceremonies of Athenian origin which celebrated the fertility and grain goddess Demeter and Kore (i.e. Persephone, of the myth of the pomegranate)]  that aromatics are used the most. The 9th and 10th day of the celebrations the hierophant makes a speech in which he explains to the initiated the joys which await them. In the Elysian Fields there is a golden city, with emerald fortifications and roads paved in ivory, where the gates are made of cinnamon. Around its walls the River of Perfume flows, a 100 cubits wide and deep enough that one could swim in it. The baths are crystal edifices held up by pillars of fragrant wood and in the bathtubs a warm and pleasantly odoriferous dew is ever flowing. Three hundred and sixty sources of pure water are located in this magnificent city, as many of honey and five hundred fountains of fine fragrance. The banqueting hall is a grove of trees bearing the most suave flowers and their fruits are cups which are automatically filled with wine when cut and put onto the table. Charming nightingales fill the air with their song and pick up fragrant blossoms which they drop onto the guests like scented snow. A thick vapor rises from the Perfumes River and floats within the banquet hall imparting a refined and suave fragrant dew."

the fresco of the "saffron gatherer" from the Minoan settlement of Akrotiri (on the island of Santorini)

Part of my longer article on Fragrantica, on this link (following part 1) into the history of aromatics and the preparation of fragrances in the Eastern Mediterranean region during antiquity (emphasizing the Minoan and Mycenean eras). Enjoy!


  1. Clover23:00

    Interesting article, Elena! Have you ever had the chance to smell any concoctions reproduced using the ancient methods (you mention enfleurage, cold press, and the double phase process)? Sounds like a cool project! I wonder how these old recipes would smell in contrast to our modern sense of what smells good. It was interesting to note the use of culinary herbs like dill (certainly medicinal?) as well as seeds and nuts-- not things we automatically think of as perfume ingredients.

  2. Clover,

    thank you for the lovely comment!

    It is a cool project. We have tried our hand with some things, though there are things lacking in order to make a finished product, but that's more due to our lack of all the necessary resources than methodology.

    Dill isn't medicinal, really. Its main constituent is anethole which is reminiscent of anise/licorice to me.
    Seeds and nuts are also surprisingly fragrant and surprisingly so for that matter, for instance coriander seeds (which are a very common note today) are actually lemony-orangey smelling!
    There's a lot that remains "hidden" unless one breaks them down in their chemical constituents or plays with them.

  3. Miss Heliotrope11:15

    I know you're translating, but suave flowers? In smoking jackets?

  4. Clover16:29

    Ah, of course- Coriander! Other little seeds are coming to mind now too. When I read "dill," all I could think of were pickles or that delicious Persian rice with fava beans, but I see what you mean about being remini"scent" (pun unavoidable) of anise. Actually, I love anise! Thanks for your response!


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