Guilty of incestuous love with her father, the beautiful Myrrha was transformed into a tree. The tears that exude from its fragrant bark are a perfume that perpetuates the woman’s name: myrrh. This is only one of the ancient myths concerning perfumes. In ancient times, aromatic substances were used for a multitude of reasons – from honouring the gods to delighting the king’s sense of smell – and were an important part of the everyday lives of enlightened monarchs, eccentric emperors, and high-ranking men and women, but also prostitutes, social climbers, and other bizarre figures. All shared the use and the passion for “aromata”, in their pure form of spice or the derived form of oils, powders and wines. Drawing upon archaeological, literary, and epigraphic sources, the author provides a full account of the ancient culture of perfumes, including mythologies, legends, geography, recipes, and production techniques.
Giuseppe Squillace teaches Greek History at the University of Calabria.