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!

*

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.

 

Olfaction and Consciousness: a Path toward Awareness using Essential Oils and Botanical Perfumes

To educate your sense of smell is not only a practice that improves the perception of one of our most ancient and fundamental senses, but trains ourselves to develop new inner qualities and a new awareness.

The sense of smell is particularly connected to our imaginative and creative abilities. When you smell a perfume, a scent, you receive immediately some images in your mind, images that are memories but also insights. It happens to everyone, immediately. These images are stored in us, and they emerge thanks to the perfume or to the scent we smell.

Smell has a great evocative strength. This evocative strength is not only a naive tool to have nostalgic memories of old times; it is an effective tool for letting new creative potentials (that are somewhere hidden in us) emerge.

Aromatherapy and Botanical Perfumery Courses

Educating our sense of smell let us glean abilities from ourselves that are almost totally unused – to begin to train our smell let us recover a part of our sensibility and intelligence. Because of this I created a Method for learning Aromatherapy and Olfactory Creativity (a Botanical Perfumery for the Soul). To experience accords, synergies, and single raw materials is not only a technical thing; educating our olfaction means training our mind and soul, let a deep part of us to emerge, in a new way, and finally find our true nature and our “olfactory voice” – our special gifts and how to express them through scents and through our life.

When a substance reach our nose it is perceived by our physical channels but it perceived also by our mind and our soul. This means that “to smell” is not a passive act, but it has a passive moment (receiving the smell) and an active one (true perception, when we create our emotional and intellectual response to that). To smell is not a passive act. To feel is not a passive act. We always create our experience, and the path of Olfactive Creativity is a path of rediscovering ourselves, our abilities, our emotions, and our inner self.

 

Guerlain L’Heure Bleue: a glimpse of Bliss

I’m walking around in Milan. Beautiful day, a slight breeze, lot of light, and is warm enough. I step in front of a fragrance shop window, and I think…let’s go inside! And so I turn and make my way to the front door. Oh my God, it is full of people here …while I am walking among various stands, I arrive to the Guerlain stand. I see the new fragrance, Petit Robe Noir, I ask to smell it on a mouillette. Well… in a few moments I ask to smell L’Heure Bleue. And when I spray it on the mouillette, and I smell it, I think there is an abyss between the two perfumes, and the victory, should there be one, go to this masterpiece of 1912, beating his great-grandson in 2012  (a bit as it happens at the Olympic Games, when you see the first one running so far from the second one that he seems to be flying and you wonder what that guy has in his legs… or whether he has asked for help from some winged being to run so fast).

Yes, because L’Heure Bleue flies . On the official website of the house of Guerlain we read that this fragrance is designed for the moment when the sun is down and the night still has not yet arrived, permeating the horizon of a color which is difficult to define precisely, And so here it is: L’Heure Bleue – a perfume inspired by the Impressionist painters that Jacques Guerlain collected. I can well believe it: this is pure impressionism .

Monet and L'Heure Bleue by Guerlain
Monet…and L’Heure Bleue

The notes of anise, neroli, bergamot open a door then you can no longer close, and you wonder if you will ever close it again . Then comes the body, which is composed of many elements, such as rose, neroli, clove, violet, ylang … a kind of earthly paradise. At this point you are already happy, and you get a closure that looks like a symphony: iris, benzoin, vanilla, sandalwood … and more.

It is a description of an earthly paradise, an uncommon sensitivity and an inspired talent. If I had to read it from the point of view of aromatherapy , considering the part of this perfume that is made ​​- or was – by real essential oils, I would say that is a remedy for the mind and the heart.

The beauty of smell of flowers is maximized by other nuances giving to the perfume even more ethereal effects; while you feel yourself in a garden, this garden becomes lighter, and the deep notes are only there to tell you “fly, fly, I won’t let you fall “ . Maybe l’Heure Bleue could be symbolically the scent of Trust and Faith; the scent of something that brings you to the top and while you might be afraid, it supports you and reassures you. As in the time of day indicated by Jacques Guerlain, in which the arrival of the evening promises to be something subtle, ethereal: evening is a sunrise, not a sunset – nothing “sets”, in reality, but the sun going down ath the same time opens a new scenario, and it is not where the day ends, but where inspiration begins .

 

Aromatherapy and Scents
L’Heure Bleue

 

This sense of inspiration is even more beautiful because in my opinion is “true” inspiration: not imagination, not a play of the mind, but pure, true, visionary inspiration that lasts, like its scent.It is a horizon that opens .

In this scent we can catch a glimpse of something at its beginning, a path to something beautiful. Here you have the beginning of something, that sweeps up, and that brings with it a counterweight that allows us to fly without fear and without fear of the “return”. This because “the return” are the basic notes, sandalwood, vanilla, benzoin… the return is sweet, it welcomes you. It’s a coming home embracing yourself.

For me, this is a fragrance is a tribute and a olfactory photo of a time of day that brings in itself something magical, but it is also a symbol of a special moment in your soul. In short, we could say it is an archetype, the archetype of inspiration, faith, and the return to yourself without pain, but finding yourself in a safe environment . If  we need an image for this place to return to, I would see a bunch of soft pillows waiting for us to relax on. 

PS: if you love vintage perfumes, please check the Osmotheque collection in Versailles, France.

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.

 

Coriander essential oil in Aromatherapy and Ayurveda

Coriander is a seed of a nice scented plant, which has always been known in Ayurveda for its beneficial properties. It is distilled from the Coriander seeds: essential oil scent remininds of lemon or citronella … and it’s it, Coriander, which seems to have inspired the use of carnival confetti!

Aromatherapy and coriander essential oil
Coriander…

This spice (above in one of the images of Koehler) has ancient roots, and we can find traces of its use in Egypt, in Greece, and it is mentioned in the Bible, in the texts of Exodus and Numbers.

In Ayurveda it is considered pungent and bitter, and having cooling effect. It is often used for its carminative and diuretic properties.

The use of coriander infusion is useful to people with digestive problems.

The essential oil extracted from the seeds has many properties, including :

– Tonic and stimulant;

– Euphoric;

– Bactericidal;

– Analgesic;

and therefore it can be a valuable aid, diluted in a vegetable oil, for local applications in case of:

– Arthritis;

-Weak digestion, flatulence;

– Fatigue, nervous exhaustion.

There is also a distillation of the leaves of coriander, which contain different chemical components, in fact it has different properties, ie it is a sedative and anti-inflammatory. This distillation is rare to find, so when you buy the essential oil of coriander, it will always be one of the seeds.

Its olfactory profile is varied , with sweet, spicy, some reminiscent of lime background, and bitter and a “rounding” bitter sweet aspect that mitigates its power base.

Its stimulating properties for the nervous system make it suitable also in small doses in massage, and in self massage of the feet in the morning, to begin the day with energy.

Warning: it smells very intense,use it carefully!

Curry recipes contain Coriander, and there are hundreds of recipes Eastern and Middle Eastern containing it.

A book inspired by this beautiful spice is “Damascus, taste of a city” written by Marie Fadel and Rafik Scham.

Happy reading … and happy carnival with Coriander (in Italy carnival confetti are known as “carnival corianders”) !