Pliny the Elder, Natural History (English) (XML Header) [genre: prose] [word count] [Plin. Nat.].
<<Plin. Nat. 13.1 Plin. Nat. 13.2 (Latin) >>Plin. Nat. 13.3


The names of unguents are due, some of them, to the original place of their composition, others, again, to the extracts which form their bases, others to the trees from which they are derived, and others to the peculiar circumstance under which they were first made: and it is as well, first of all, to know that in this respect the fashion has often changed, and that the high repute of peculiar kinds has been but transitory. In ancient times, the perfumes the most esteemed of all were those of the island of Delos, [Note] and at a later period those of Mendes. [Note] This degree of esteem is founded, not only on the mode of mixing them and the relative proportions, but according to the degree of favour or disfavour in which the various places which produce the ingredients are held, and the comparative excellence or degeneracy of the ingredients themselves. The perfume of iris, [Note] from Corinth, was long held in the highest esteem, till that of Cyzicus came into fashion. It was the same, too, with the perfume of roses, [Note] from Phaselis, [Note] the

-- 3161 --

repute of which was afterwards eclipsed by those of Neapolis, Capua, and Præneste. Oil of saffron, [Note] from Soli in Cilicia, was for a long time held in repute beyond any other, and then that from Rhodes; after which perfume of œnanthe, [Note] from Cyprus, came into fashion, and then that of Egypt was preferred. At a later period that of Adramytteum came into vogue, and then was supplanted by unguent of marjoram, [Note] from Cos, which in its turn was superseded by quince blossom [Note] unguent from the same place. As to perfume of cyprus, [Note] that from the island of Cyprus was at first preferred, and then that of Egypt; when all on a sudden the unguents of Mendes and metopium [Note] rose into esteem. In later times Phœnicia eclipsed Egypt in the manufacture of these last two, but left to that country the repute of producing the best unguent of cyprus.

Athens has perseveringly maintained the repute of her panathenaicon. [Note] There was formerly a famous unguent, known as "pardalium," [Note] and made at Tarsus; at the present day its very composition and the mode of mixing it are quite unknown there: they have left off, too, making unguent of narcissus [Note] from the flowers of that plant.

There are two elements which enter into the composition of unguents, the juices and the solid parts. The former generally consist of various kinds of oils, the latter of odoriferous substances. These last are known as hedysmata, while the oils are called stymmata. [Note] There is a third element, which occu-

-- 3162 --

pies a place between the two, but has been much neglected, the colouring matter, namely. To produce a colour, however, cinnabar [Note] and alkanet [Note] are often employed. If salt [Note] is sprinkled in the oil, it will aid it in retaining its properties; but if alkanet has been employed, salt is never used. Resin and gum are added to fix the odour in the solid perfumes; indeed it is apt to die away and disappear with the greatest rapidity if these substances are not employed.

The unguent which is the most readily prepared of all, and indeed, in all probability, the very first that was ever made, is that composed of bryon [Note] and oil of balanus, [Note] substances of which we have made mention already. In later times the Mendesian unguent was invented, a more complicated mixture, as resin and myrrh were added to oil of balanus, and at the present day they even add metopion [Note] as well, an Egyptian oil extracted from bitter almonds; to which have been added omphacium, [Note] cardamum, [Note] sweet rush, [Note] honey, [Note] wine, myrrh, seed of balsamum, [Note] galbanum, [Note] and resin of terebinth, [Note] as so many ingredients. Among the most common unguents at the present day, and for that reason supposed to be the most ancient, is that composed of oil of myrtle, [Note] calamus, cypress, [Note] cyprus, mastich, [Note] and pomegranate-rind. [Note] I am

-- 3163 --

of opinion, however, that the unguents which have been the most universally adopted, are those which are compounded of the rose, a flower that grows everywhere; and hence for a long time the composition of oil of roses was of the most simple nature, though more recently there have been added omphacium, rose blossoms, cinnabar, calamus, honey, sweet-rush, flour of salt or else alkanet, [Note] and wine. The same is the case, too, with oil of saffron, to which have been lately addedcinnabar, alkanet, and wine; and with oil of sampsuchum, [Note] with which omphacium and calamus have been compounded. The best comes from Cyprus and Mitylene, where sampsuchum abounds in large quantities.

The commoner kinds of oil, too, are mixed with those of myrrh and laurel, to which are added sampsuchum, lilies, fenugreek, myrrh, cassia, [Note] nard, [Note] sweet-rush, and cinnamon. [Note] There is an oil, too, made of the common quince and the sparrow quince, called melinum, as we shall have occasion to mention hereafter; [Note] it is used as an ingredient in unguents, mixed with omphacium, oil of cyprus, oil of sesamum, [Note] balsamum, [Note] sweet-rush, cassia, and abrotonum. [Note] Susinum [Note] is the most fluid of them all: it is made of lilies, oil of balanus, calamus, honey, cinnamon, saffron, [Note] and myrrh; while the unguent of cyprus [Note] is compounded of cyprus, omphacium

-- 3164 --

and cardamum, calamus, aspalathus, [Note] and abrotonum. There are some persons who, when making unguent of cyprus, employ myrrh also, and panax: [Note] the best is that made at Sidon, and the next best that of Egypt: care must be taken not to add oil of sesamum: it will keep as long as four years, and its odour is strengthened by the addition of cinnamon. Telinum [Note] is made of fresh olive-oil, cypirus, [Note] calamus, melilote, [Note] fenugreek, honey, marum, [Note] and sweet marjoram. This last was the perfume most in vogue in the time of the Comic poet Menander: a considerable time after that known as "megalium" took its place, being so called as holding the very highest rank; [Note] it was composed of oil of balanus, balsamum, calamus, sweet-rush, xylobalsamum, [Note] cassia, and resin. One peculiar property of this unguent is, that it requires to be constantly stirred while boiling, until it has lost all smell: when it becomes cold, it recovers its odour. [Note]

There are some single essences also which, individually, afford unguents of very high character: the first rank is due to malobathrum, [Note] and the next to the iris of Illyricum and the sweet marjoram of Cyzicus, both of them herbs. There are perfumers who sometimes add some few other ingredients to these: those who use the most, employ for the purpose honey, flour of salt, omphacium, leaves of agnus, [Note] and panax, all of them foreign ingredients. [Note] The price of unguent [Note] of

-- 3165 --

cinnamon is quite enormous; to cinnamon there is added oil of balanus, xylobalsamum, calamus, sweet-rush, seeds of balsamum, myrrh, and perfumed honey: it is the thickest in consistency of all the unguents; the price at which it sells ranges from thirty-five to three hundred denarii per pound. Unguent of nard, [Note] or foliatum, is composed of omphacium or else oil of balanus, sweet-rush, costus, [Note] nard, amomum, [Note] myrrh, and balsamum.

While speaking on this subject, it will be as well to bear in mind that there are nine different kinds of plants of a similar kind, of which we have already made mention [Note] as being employed for the purpose of imitating Indian nard; so abundant are the materials that are afforded for adulteration. All these perfumes are rendered still more pungent by the addition of costus and amomum, which have a particularly powerful effect on the olfactory organs; while myrrh gives them greater consistency and additional sweetness, and saffron makes them better adapted for medicinal purposes. They are most pungent, however, when mixed with amomum alone, which will often produce head-ache even. There are some persons who content themselves with sprinkling the more precious ingredients upon the others after boiling them down, for the purpose of economy; but the strength of the unguent is not so great as when the ingredients have been boiled together. Myrrh used by itself, and without the mixture of oil, forms an unguent, but it is stacte [Note] only that must be used, for otherwise it will be productive of too great bitterness. Unguent of cyprus turns other unguents green, while lily unguent [Note] makes them more unctuous: the unguent of Mendes turns them black, rose unguent makes them white, and that of myrrh of a pallid hue.

Such are the particulars of the ancient inventions, and the various falsifications of the shops in later times; we will now pass on to make mention of what is the very height of refinement in these articles of luxury, indeed, I may say, the beau ideal [Note] of them all. [Note]

-- 3166 --

(2.) This is what is called the "regal" unguent, from the fact that it is composed in these proportions for the kings of the Parthians. It consists of myrobalanus, [Note] costus, amomum, cinnamon, comacum, [Note] cardamum, spikenard, marum, myrrh, cassia, storax, [Note] ladanum, [Note] opobalsamum, Syrian calamus [Note] and Syrian sweet-rush, [Note] œnanthe, malobathrum, serichatum, [Note] cyprus, aspralathus, panax, saffron, cypirus, sweet marjoram, lotus, [Note] honey, and wine. Not one of the ingredients in this compound is produced either in Italy, that conqueror of the world, or, indeed, in all Europe, with the exception of the iris, which grows in Illyricum, and the nard, which is to be found in Gaul: as to the wine, the rose, the leaves of myrtle, and the olive-oil, they are possessed by pretty nearly all countries in common.

Pliny the Elder, Natural History (English) (XML Header) [genre: prose] [word count] [Plin. Nat.].
<<Plin. Nat. 13.1 Plin. Nat. 13.2 (Latin) >>Plin. Nat. 13.3

Powered by PhiloLogic