Saturday, December 22, 2007

Greeks Bearing Gifts

Perfumes were just as important in the ancient world as they are today. Some of the ancient rituals remain with us. The gift of perfume was, is and always will be a romantic one. we have many ancient cultures to thank for the gift of perfume, including the Greeks.

I read in the news that a 4000 year old perfume factory in Greece was discovered by archaeologists a few years ago. The 42,300-square-foot space, was possibly buried due to an earthquake, but is unusually well-preserved. The lab made perfumes and cosmetics and had a large storage facility for raw materials and finished products. This perfume factory would have employed as many as 60 individuals on a regular basis. The perfumes were made through the extended process of steeping of the spices and other raw materials in water and oil. Below is a news photo taken from an museum exhibit of containers and tools found at the site.

Ancient warriors honored the dead, even their enemies--by having the bodies of those killed in battle removed to a place where they could be perfumed and anointed before their own people could arrange burial or placement on a funeral pyre. The ancient custom of putting flowers at a gravesite was all about giving a perfumed gift to the dead, a mark of respect.

In ancient life, only wealthy women could afford heavy commercial blends of perfumes. Everyday scents were light fragrances, mostly simple combinations that anyone could make at home.

One ancient yet extensive perfume guide was written by Theophrastus. (Born in 370 B.C.)
He wrote detailed reviews, made recommendations, discussed ingredients, and gave his opinions (the best place to get bitter almond scents, and who blended the best apple scent, for example) and was much quoted on the use of perfumes.

Ange Ou Demon by Givenchy starts off with headnotes of saffron, herbs and citrus, but soon mellows into a warm heart of ylang ylang, orchid, iris butter and spices. The almondy base of woods, tonka, and vanilla makes it a scent that reminds me fleetingly of both Castelbajac and Hypnotic Poison. It is a mysterious dual scent that is thankfully more angelic than it is demonic.