The Latin origin of the word perfume, fumare, i.e., to smoke, brings us to rituals involving fumigation and votive offerings. Hesiod in his Theogony stresses "May the purest incense burn on the altars, so as to obtain the favors of our gods."
|Alfonso Savini, the incense burner|
Indeed the very word incense in Greek (θυμίαμα) comes from the verb thuo (θύω), meaning to sacrifice, originally denoting both the fragrant smoke of the roast of sacrificed animals on the pyre rising to please the gods (the flesh was served to the congregation) and the ritual burning of precious locally harvested—such as cistus labdanum—or imported resins like myrrh and frankincense, their smoke also rising to the enjoyment of the Eternal ones. But scents had a markedly prophylactic use beside their Olympians' appeasing one. […]
In Euripides's famous Helen play, the prophylactic use of fragrant smoke is stressed. The heroine is assumed to have never sailed to Troy but to have been whisked away by the goddess Aphrodite to Egypt and to its ruler Theoclymenus, sworn to her safekeeping. News from the exiled Greek soldier Teucer, washed upon the shores of Egypt, that Menelaus never returned to Greece from Troy and is presumed dead, puts Helen in the perilous position of being available for Theoclymenus to marry. She consults the prophetess Theonoe, sister to Theoclymenus, to find out Menelaus' fate. Theonoe purifies the air of the altar by having the servants burn sulfur and resins, conjuring shadows and images to tell her of her husband's impending return.
On the other hand the philosophical treatment of olfactory excess as a sign of decadence and deviation from the path of a free civilian is palpable through the texts of the classical authors. The Athenian statesman Solon, adored by his fellow citizens for alleviating the accumulated debts of formerly free land owners that had lost their land and freedom to the greedy lending gentry (the famous seisachtheia regulation) tried to ban perfume use altogether. He considered it represented the corrupt—and ethnically dangerous—lifestyle of Persia, Greece's (and for that matter Europe's, since Greece was the critical gateway to gain passage to the continent) prominent enemy.
The article in its entirety can be read on Fragrantica.