Perfumes, a metaphor of universal significance, played an important cultural role common to the ancient civilisations of the Mediterranean in the formation of meanings and symbols.
Driven by the social dynamics that endowed fragrances with cultural import, their significance developed from the religious use of incense and mythological associations of scents with magical and erotic powers to our modern, daily usage of perfumes, and to therapeutic and cosmetic uses.
The uncertain values placed upon aromas by ancient man – which oscillated between the spheres of the sacred and the profane – are indicative of his ambiguous attitudes towards the human body.
This book presents the history of the different usages of perfumes in antiquity, illustrating its thesis with anecdotes and curious facts, such as the myths related to the birth of aromas, the magical value of perfumes, the techniques used in the production of ointments and the exaggerated cosmetic practices of emperors and noblewomen. A series of ancient perfume recipes is included, with the translation of the original texts.
The fluency of the text makes the book an easy read though without compromising its historical accuracy.
Erika Maderna studied Etruscology and Italic Archaeology at Pavia University. She translates and writes articles and essays on Classical archaeology and culture. In previous books she has described the use of cosmetics in ancient Mediterranean civilisations.