Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 6.djvu/167

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155
ODORS AND LIFE.

ambrosial fragrance, as Virgil tells us, in speaking of Venus;[1] and Moschus, describing Jupiter transformed to a bull. The use of perfumes in religious ceremonies had for its purpose the excitement of a sort of intoxication in the priests and priestesses, and also to disguise the smell of blood and of decaying matters, the offal of the sacrifices. The Christian religion borrowed from paganism the use of perfumes in the rites of worship. There was even a period at which the Church of Rome owned estates in the East devoted exclusively to plantations of trees yielding balsamic resins.

Besides these uses, odors were, in old times, still oftener employed in private life. Nothing surprises us more, in reading the ancient authors, than their relations on this subject. Among the Jews, the use of perfumes was restrained within proper limits, by the regulations of the Mosaic law, which consecrated them to worship. But, with the Greeks, it reached an extraordinary height and refinement. They kept their robes in perfumed chests. They burned aromatic substances during their banquets; they scented their wines; they covered their heads with fragrant essences at their festivals. At Athens, the perfumers had shops which were places for public resort. Apollonius, a scholar of Theophilus, left a treatise on perfumes which proves that, even as regards the extraction of essences, the Greeks had attained astonishing perfection. Neither Solon's laws nor Socrates's rebukes could check the progress of that passion. The Romans inherited it from Greece, and enlarged the stock of Eastern perfumes by those of Italy and Gaul. They used them profusely to give fragrance to their baths, their rooms, their beds, and their drinks. They poured them on the heads of guests. The awning shielding the amphitheatre was saturated with scented water, which dripped, like a fragrant rain, on the spectators' heads. The very Roman eagles were anointed with the richest perfumes before battle. At the funeral of his wife Poppæa, Nero burned on the pyre more incense than Arabia yielded in a whole year. It is related, too, that Plancius Plancus, proscribed by the triumvirs, was betrayed by the perfumes he had used, and thus discovered to the soldiers sent to pursue him. Besides the odors extracted from mint, marjoram, and the violet, which were the most common, the ancients made much use of the roses of Paestum, and various aromatic substances, such as spikenard, megalium, cinnamon, opobalsamum, etc.

It is singular to notice that the use of perfumes, brought to Rome with Grecian manners, was in its turn conveyed to France and Northern Europe with Latin manners, and chiefly by the Romish religion. It is from religious rites, indeed, that it passed into ceremonies of state, and thence into private life. Among the presents sent by

  1. "Then, as the goddess turned, a rosy glow
    Flushed all her neck, and from her head the locks
    Ambrosial breathed celestial fragrance round."