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Origin of Fragrances
Through smoke…
T.B., June 21, 2016
Tabac Blanc, Caron
Tabac Blanc, Caron
 
Cleopatra VII, the last of the Ptolemies, was reputed to have used a different perfume for every part of her body - her perfumed hand cream alone was said to cost the exorbitant sum of 400 denarii. However, since she owned the huge and valuable estates which produced the perfumes in the first place she could easily afford such luxuries and obviously used them to great effect: Shakespeare, writing 1600 years later, recalls how the perfumed breeze announced the arrival of her cedar wood ship with its lily-scented sails. So adept was Cleopatra in the dramatic use of perfumes that she was credited with writing a Book of Beautification in 50 B.C. and was regularly quoted by Roman authors as late as the seventh century.

Chanel number Five
Chanel number Five
 
In fact, Rome was the main market for the highly lucrative Egyptian perfume industry, even with the taxes and duty levied on imports of frankincense. Perfume dealers had to pay taxes of 60 drachmae a month or the equivalent in spices, but so lucrative was the trade that perfume merchants were still rumored to make a hundredfold profit. In his book Natural History, the Roman Pliny the Elder echoed the comments of earlier Greek writers when he stated that Egypt was the country best suited to perfume production, while his contemporary Discords gave detailed recipes for perfumes in his Herbal. Roman poets such as Ovid also wrote on the subject of perfumes, and the female poet Lais composed a risqué work designed for a special class of woman! Although unaware of the religious and mystical overtones of many of the Pharaonic

Idole Armani
Idole Armani
 
fragrances, Lais did at least understand the Egyptians’ appreciation for the sensual uses of perfumes, and it was only with the sanctimonious attitude to the body demonstrated by the early Christians that the Egyptian art of perfumery was finally lost. Pagan habits of indulgence and luxury were forbidden and abstinence was made a virtue: the faint wisp of incense permitted in church was soon the only memory of the billowing clouds once offered daily at every shrine in Egypt. We owe with Arabic the invention of the still, which allowed, of course, improving the distillation of the plants. They discovered new odorous substances whose musk and developed the use of the perfume. In occident, the use of the perfumes was slowed down by the cruel wars and invasions...


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