Ancient Perfumery and Theofrastus: an interview to Giuseppe Squillace

It happened like this. My passion for ancient cultures met some studies, and after reading this papers, I managed to meet the person who wrote them and to interview him…

His name is Giuseppe Squillace and he actually teaches Greek History at the History Department of the Calabria University.

Elena: I have always had a passion for ancient times (it began studying philosophy at University) and when I read your books, one of my question was “How did you begin to study this subject?”

Giuseppe: often it happens like this, just by chance. I have always had an interest in olfactive perception. Passing from contemporary to ancient times happened by chance: I was studying ancient healers, and I found a new paper. I was reading the “De natura” written by Theofrastus and in the english volume after the text I found some additional papers, and one of them was “De odoribus”, the text about perfumes.

I had already read some articles about it but we did not have an italian translation; I thought to translate it and to try to publish it. It did not happen immediately, and so I added some new parts, and than I found a publisher.

In the parts that I added, surely the most important are by Ateneo and Plinius.

E: your studies now are published in three books about perfume.

G: yes, I first published the translation of the “De odoribus” by Theofrastus, and than two books, “Saffo’s Garden” and “Tears of Myrrh” (not yet translated in english). In this last book I put something new, a geography of perfumes. “Geography of perfumes” means a map of places where perfumes and raw materials were produced.

Historically we can see that the most important perfume centres changed accordingly to political events and moments, and in time there is a “geography” of perfumers and materials that show us this.

Ancient Perfumery and Spices

E: and about geography, they had some behaviours that we can recognize today too…like choosing high quality raw materials in some specific places.

G: yes sure! They chose materials selecting places of origin; for example Iris from Illiria, and not from Macedonia because it was considered of less value. Also the Rose from Cirene was famous and very valued, and other roses were not so appreciated.

Theofrastus says this very clearly: plant power depend on places where they grow, quality of the soil, exposition to sunlight etc.

E: and at that time there was in indissoluble connection between healing uses and perfumery uses…

G: yes…for example Rose oil was intended for many uses; perfumes and spices were used by Hyppocrates, Galen, etc. Aromatic materials were used widely for healing purposes. They used cardamom, cinnamon, cassia, rose, myrrh, incense, saffron, etc. They were expensive ingredients, available only to people who can afford them.

They took care of the ingredients, their differencies, their duration: Galen for example tell us about fresh cinnamon, how it can give very different effects from an old one (he found a very old cinnamon among other items in the emperor’s storehouse, while he was preparing an antidote).

And also about “cinnamomum”, where are not sure that it was really what we intend nowadays for “cinnamon”.

E: I have the feeling that in ancient cultures we can find a huge amount of knowledge…and this bounty is not easily accessible. I am trying to put people in touch with these worlds, we have still to learn a lot from them. Thank you for your work!

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And so our interview ended; Giuseppe Squillace is now presenting his last book, “Le lacrime di Mirra”, and his work as historian continues – we will invite him in Rome, at our Perfumed Literary Cafè – we will give notice as soon as we set the date.

You can find an english translation of the “De odoribus” of Theofrastus here.

 

An Olfactory Path in Zona Tortona Design Week in Milano

If you like creativity and you want to see and try new ideas, the Fuori Salone del Mobile of “Zona Tortona” in Milano is certainly one of the most interesting areas to visit. As I do every year, I have spent a full day to visit a part of this area, with a precise intention: “moving along guided by my sense of smell”.
The first discovery I have done, in the Superstudio spaces, is the Hyundai’s  installation with music and light. The only perfume in the air is the smell of people. An oniric place that I liked very much, where you can be transported by visual and musical impressions…beautiful.
Here we are…
An olfactory path in Zona Tortona Design Week
I explore the other stands, discovering beautiful interactive installations, as the Cotto’s one, where you can see yourself with angel wings thanks to computer technology. From an olfactory point of view, no one of this places show an olfactive thought.
I arrive in the Thailand stand. The gentle lady at the desk has in front of her a plate of spices and two culinary specialities that most people ask to eat, without noticing that these plates are there only as an exhibition. And so finally I smell spices and watch photos that remind traditional markets. Very near I smell a perfume; I watch around me  to understand if there is anybody wearing a perfume, but no, this time we have a timid presence of a perfumery brand from Thailand.
Spices and Perfumes at Zona Tortona Design Week
I realize how much attention brands have for visual, interactive and environmental aspects in this expositions, leaving as olfactory component the smell of human beings with jackets, t-shirts, coats…and then in this pilgrimage, from very far I  notice some bottles and distillation equipment. Wow! I’ve found a collegue! We begin to talk, and so they tell me they are scent designers. They work with environmental perfumes mostly (the lady gives me a coffee fragrance, well, if they were able to diffuse this, we could imagine to be in a coffee shop). To put this idea to an extreme edge, these artists created a scented map of Milano, where they created perfumes for the streets…
Here you can see a simple distillation equipment…
Perfumery and Scents at Tortona Design Week
Looking at this map where instead of tail pipes there are ultrasonic diffusers, for a moment I imagine this project as realized, and people waliking in the street with pleasure instead of running away. A new Milano where people could remain in the week end (normally many people “escape” to Liguria, or to Garda and Como lakes) because “this week end in via Dante they diffuse a new blend” or “because this morning we go to that coffee shop near the diffuser of jasmin and rose scent”. Utopia?
You can check their works at www.oliviaalicedesign.co.uk and  www.sensorymaps.com

In the midst of a perfumed cloud at Esxence in Milano, Italy

I am in the midst of a perfumed cloud, it0s a bit overwhelming.

I think about botanical perfumery  as an inner search, as a channel of personal expression using raw materials that are integral expression of the fullness of nature. What does it mean to extract the molecules from this perfection to create something entirely new? As I see it now, it seems to me as a possiblity, isolating the components from a whole in order to obtain a ‘better nuance’. As we were using highly evolved pastels. Are there any chemicals that can really give us something more than natural creation? And this “more” what would it be? The choice of some molecules within a natural setting can be intriguing, a bit as strenghtening a tone. Chemistry at the end is an analytical tool that can give you the ability to use brushes with fine tip. On the contrary the reconstruction of molecules with the aim of recreating cheap smells of  great impact and intensity starts from a false premise and  in my opinion cannot have a positive impact.Perfume is a song that can not be issued laying aside voice, body, health and wholeness . Scent is a song that deserves respect, a voice that must be returned to everyone, as a birthright … the soul has so many ways to express itself and scent is one of them.

The Incense Route: history of one of the most used resins in Antiquity for its fragrance.

We have a whole cultural horizon talking about Incense; there isn’t only one incense resin type, but many types of Boswellia, resins which have a bond with Sacred and Antiquity.
Incense is one of the most valuable product from Boswellia Sacra, coming from Oman area, which has always been the most excellent producer. Oman was a starting departure for caravans which have to get the Mediterranean and trade with India and the East too. The Boswellia sacra grows also in Somalia and Ethiopia, but the great tradition of incense route starts from Dhofar Area in Oman. There are also other trees of Boswellia whom are used to produce the incense, like Boswellia frereana, Boswellia, rivae etc…

Olibanum resin Aromatherapy and Botanical Perfumery
Olibanum resin

 

We are mistaken considering there wasn’t a great trade at the time : before Christ ‘s birth international trade already existed and covered also considerable distances through difficult territories. For example, carrying  the incense from Oman to the Mediterranean required a journey in blasted lands, in some areas even with hills and mountains; the payment of “customs” were imposed and this made rich cities on the route.

Incense has always been connected to the rituals; emperors and pharaohs made an extensive use of it.

Aromatherapy and Botanical Perfumery with Incense resin
Boswellia Sacra, Oman, by Mauro Raffaelli

 

Boswellia sacra is a resin which is collected by the trees, or by spontaneous production, or through an incision on the trunk. The essential oil is distilled by steam distillation.

The olfactory profile of incense is varied: a note of lemon, together with a tip of freshness and a feeling of dryness, that returns a feeling of elevation and opening upwards, toward intuition and inspiration.
In my opinion this essential oil is very good to diffuse in the environment, infact it “elevates” the space in which we are immersed, cleans it (this essence is antiseptic and cleans also on the energetic level). I consider it good in massage and bath for destressing purpose. Clearly it is considered an excellent component of perfumes, its energy connects perfectly with the old idea of “per-fumum”, a fumigation through which you might elevate , moving toward the top of the consciousness.

Incense essential oils are associated with different spices in perfumery; together they form attractive synergies that give character to the so-called oriental perfumes.

The tradition also reserves to incense cosmetic functions: the essential oil is definitely healing, and you can combine a natural cream base with incense essential oil to improve skin tone.

If you like incense, you can view the site on the area of Dhofar , which is one of the assets under the protection of UNESCO.

 

Cristina’s passion for Perfumes and Spices: a journey into spiced Aromatherapy and Perfumery

Today I propose to you an interview with Cristina, a journalist, who participated in the Online Course of Aromatherapy and Perfumery on Spices- She tells us about her experience, and her discoveries “in the spicy world”.

- Dear Cristina, how did you start your journey before arriving at my scented Course on Spices?

I almost knew spices by name and mostly as flavorings, and did not know that essential oils of spices  existed. Now I have started to use them, beginning with a little fear because I am hypersensitive to everything and I always need to  find “my” doses. One day, walking around the house, I felt the scent of cinnamon everywhere, as if I had put into the diffuser. And I was thinking of mixing the powdered spices to see what fragrance they recall together, before working on essential oils. To my own surprise, I feel I need not be hasty in creating perfumes, and I need to let spices “talk to me” for a while.

- What questions did you have before signin up, and what do you think about the course, now that you have followed the entire training?

The online courses are often considered inferior to presential courses, but in reality I have become increasingly convinced that the online course is not the little brother of the coursein presence. Of course, the olfactory experience can be transmitted online only intuitively, and the energy and synergy of the group is always stimulating. But doing an online course – especially enjoying the lessons, as I did, in the silence of the night – can mean a more concentrated listening. This allows you to take in all the intensity of some messages you want to convey.

When, for example, you exhorts the aspiring perfumer, if you pass me the expression, to try and to be a little artis, and to put in place the subtle alchemy of essences and scents that only through a clever use of intuition can create a work of art. Or that  it can happen to create a fragrance that we do not like but that others appreciate. It gives a thrill to think about how much truth and beauty are enclosed in this concept. Becoming capable of accommodating emotional and perceptive diversity of others, to be more open to others… If the process of creating a perfume can lead to this, that a great teacher is the scent!

Curcuma zedoaria | Corso di Aromaterapia e Ayurveda

- What are your favorite spices, and what do you do now with spices after completing the course?

After listening to one of the lessons I went immediately to buy turmeric and saffron. Mrs. Patrizia of Tea Time Trieste gave me an Iranian saffron. I can’t explain what happened inside me when I put the jar in my canvas bag, pulling on the string … it’s as if it was an initiation. Not to mention the wonderful smell of warm and golden turmeric, with which I now use for making infusions. I drink also ​​pure Arabic coffee flavored with cardamom. The aroma of cardamom is very special, I also bought the essential oil. Another day I bought the ginger, to try green tea with ginger and coriander, which has a wonderful scent. It makes me think of rosemary and incense, something mystical and mysterious .

- What insights did you have along the way?

I thought the work of preparation behind the course, the generosity with which you offer your whole experience, the sweetness with which you encourage your students to start down the road of creating perfumes, learning to face and overcome difficulties. When one enrolls in a course, one often expects to receive receive receive. As for me everything is always connected, what I received was also an enrichment for my job, for my writing. I am beginning to use the words as if they were spices and essential oils …

- How do you feel now?

Sometimes I say, “Good morning, you finally woke up.” I came up with a dream of a few years ago I was in a room full of shelves with countless bottles of glass, in which there was a colored liquid, red, green, blue, etc., and at one point, whenI passed by them, all began to vibrate in unison. It is just the feeling I have now.

- What inner meaning you caught in the study of natural scents?

The perfumer Emilio Raccagni interviewed by you, said natural scent “is a world full of sensitivity” . It is true, I found out following your training, and it was a revelation. Expand your olfactory horizon means to expand your mental  and intellectual horizon. Talking with the language of perfumes, I would say that this course seems an invitation to perceive in every experience of life its base note, its middle note and its top note. Three notes that, of course, there are also in your training.

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