Sunday, 13 June 2010

The Divine Fragrance

From On the Erythraean Sea, Second Century BC
The Greek Sailor Agatharchides of Cnidus Writes of The Coast of Arabia;

'After these people are those called Carbae and after them the Sabeans who are the most populous of the Arab peoples.They inhabit the region called Eudaemon Arabia (Fortunate Arabia) which bears most of the products considered valuble by us. It also supports herds of animals of all kinds in untold abudance. A natural sweet smell pervades the whole country because almost all the plants which are pre-eminent for the fragrance grow unceasingly. Along the coast grows the plant called balsam and cassia and another kind of herb which has a peculiar character. When fresh it gives great pleasure to the eyes, but when aged, it quickly fades. In the interior there are dense forests in which there are large frankincense and myrrh trees and in addition palm trees, calamus and cinnamon trees and others which have a fragrance similar to these. It is not possible to enumerate the peculiarities and characteristics of each because the amount and overwhelming impact of the combined fragrance from all the trees. For the fragrance appears as something divine and greater than the power of speech to describe as it strikes and stimulates the senses of everyone. As for persons sailing along the coast, although they are far from land, that does not prevent them from sharing this kind of pleasure for in summer, when there is an offshore breeze, it happens that the fragrance which is given off by the myrrh and other such trees reaches nearby parts of the sea. The case is not as in our countries where the aromatics, having been stored, have a stale quality but, as its power is fresh and in full bloom, it penetrates to the most delicate parts of the senses. For when the breeze carries away the exhalations of the most fragrant trees, a mixture of the noblest perfumes falls on persons sailing towards the coast which is pleasant and powerful as well as healthful and unique since the fruit has not been cut into pieces and lost its peculiar perfection nor has it been stored in vessels of another substance; but it is at its peak of freshness and its divine nature maintains its shoot unblemished so that individuals, who partake of its special quality, think that they have enjoyed the mythical ambrosia because they are unable to discover another apellation that is appropriate to the extraordinary character of its fragrance.'

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