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THE STORY OF PERFUME FROM ANTIQUITY TO CURRENT DAY

Greece: the beginnings of hygiene and body-worshipping

PIRIFORM ALABASTER DECORATED WITH MERMAID WITH SPREAD WINGS,
BEIGE TERRACOTTA AND BLACK VARNISH, CORINTHIAN WORKSHOPS,
GREECE, AROUND 575 – 550 BC, FRAGONARD COLLECTION.


As in many other fields, Egypt and the East passed their knowledge of perfume to the Greeks. The Greeks then imported the necessary raw materials from Africa and the Orient through trading posts dotted around the Mediterranean and eventually became experts in preparing their own perfume products.

Perfume was sacred to the Ancient Greeks and Greek literature even claims that certain fragrances were the fruit of disputes among the Gods. However, Greek interest in the benefits of perfume also spread to medicine and personal hygiene. This new cult of the male and female body is obviously comparable to that of the French Classical period.

Hippocrates, the father of medicine, established various rules of hygiene in his treatises and recommended a wider use of fumigation and perfume to prevent disease. The Greeks adopted aromatherapy, already used by the Egyptians, in a scientific and practical rather than mystical manner. The countless Greek sculptures expressing classical beauty through representations of perfectly-formed youths merely reflect the artistic facet of body cult that invaded Greek society to the point of prompting reprimands from philosophers such as Socrates and mockery from comic writers such as Aristophanes.

Bodyworshipping related to both men and women. For men, it was associated with physical exercise and public baths, where they anointed themselves, perhaps to excess, with perfumed oils. Women, meanwhile, would spend countless hours at their dressing table in their private quarters, the gynaeceum. Alexander the Great’s conquests in the East and the expeditions launched by the Pharaohs secured supplies of perfumes, incense and spices. At the time, the Greeks brought back new animal-based scents such as musk and ambergris, which revolutionised the use of perfume and hoisted it into the sensual realm.

FOOT-SHAPED CERAMIC AND BLACK VARNISH GUTTUS WITH FILTER TOP,
ARG EL GHAZOUANI NECROPOLIS, KERKOUANE, LATE 4 BC,
FRAGONARD COLLECTION.
BRONZE BALSAM, ETRUSCAN WORKSHOP. HELLENISTIC PERIOD 2ND - 2ND CENTURY BC.
2ND - 2ND CENTURY BC, FRAGONARD COLLECTION.

PERFUMES IN GREEK MYTHOLOGIY

The Greeks used myths to "explain" the origins of perfumes. Here are two examples: Chloris, the goddess of flowers, created the rose from the body of a nymph. Moved by the nymph’s death, she requested help from two gods on Mount Olympus. Aphrodite offered beauty, while Dionysus offered rose-scented nectar, thus making the rose the queen of flowers. "The myrrh tree, producing one of the most precious resins in Antiquity, was created by Aphrodite. Aphrodite turned a woman into a tree to protect her from her father’s anger. He struck the tree, which split, and out came Adonis, a young man of great beauty. That is how the most precious perfume became associated with quasi-divine beauty."

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