Book Reviews
Book 20

Sacred Luxuries: Fragrance, Aromatherapy & Cosmetics in Ancient Egypt  

by Lisa Manniche with photographs by Werner Forman
Opus publishing Ltd 1999
ISBN 0-9535546-0-0

This is a lavishly illustrated 160 page, highly referenced edition from Lise Manniche, Professor of Egyptology at Copenhagen University, already known for her book An Ancient Egyptian Herbal. To illustrate the scope of the book, it is divided into seven main chapters covering the subjects of Ingredients, Scent in the Temple, Kyphi & Tiryac, Recipes for Luxury, Scent for Love & Rebirth, Fragrant Remedies and the Art of Cosmetics. The author is particularly blessed with a simple and direct writing style, which is easily readable and communicates a deep well of excellently researched information. This is coupled with the striking photography of Werner Forman whose talents adorns every, or every other-, page throughout. One of the most remarkable photographs is that of an unguent jar in the form of a monkey holding its young, where the semi-translucent quality of the opaque yellow vessel is employed with clever up-lighting to give the impression that the infant is within the mother’s body.

With many perfumery and aromatherapy courses referring in passing to perfumes of Ancient Egypt, Lise Manniche gives depth and insight into the subject, with, for example, the chapter of Scent in the Temple examining in some considerable detail the preparation of sacred materials such as Hekenu Ungent, Tisheps Ungent, Madjet and Secret Min Ungent. Kyphi, perhaps the best-known Egyptian perfume, pretty well merits a whole chapter, and the variations and reincarnations of this perfume during its popularity from 1500 BC to 1300 AD are described. However it must be said that in many cases exact details of the ingredients and preparation of specific Egyptian perfumes (such as Metopion – a Galbanum perfume) and not known. In these instances, the works of writers from other civilisations such as Pliny, Discorides and Theophrastus have to be consulted to shed any light on the subject.

This book is warmly recommended to students of Natural Perfumery and to those interested in aroma matters more generally. And for those who might previously have lain awake at night wondering why so much salt was used in the ancient Rose perfume Rhodinon – some explanatory words to reflect upon…!

Copyright Tony Burfield 2004