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UNGUENTUM (ἔλαιον, μύρον, σμῆμα or σμῆγμα). The term includes all the products of the perfumer, whether used for health or luxury; oils, ointments, pomatums, essences, salves. The first and simplest of unguents, oil, is mentioned repeatedly in Homer, usually in connexion with the bath (λοῦσαν καὶ χρῖσαν ἐλαίῳ, ἤλειψεν λίπ᾽ ἐλαίῳ are quite stock phrases); and to the latest times it remained associated with bathing and athletic contests [ATHLETAE; BALNEAE]. The more elaborate arts of perfumery had early attained an extraordinary development in the East; the Greeks, [p. 2.977]for whose practice the comic writers are our fulllest witnesses, rapidly acquired the same tastes; the Romans did not wait till they had direct intercourse with the East, but learnt these arts at an early period from the luxurious cities of Magna Graecia. ii.

Among the various and costly oils which were used partly for the skin and partly for the hair, the following are enumerated by Pliny (Plin. Nat. 13. § § 4--18): Delium, Mendesium, irinum, rhodinum or rosaceum, crocinum (cf. Propert. 3.10, 22=4.9, 22 Müller), oenanthinum, amaracinum (cf. Lucret. 2.847, 4.1179, 6.973), melinum, cyprinum, metopium, Panathenaicum, pardalium, narcissinum, sampsuchinum, susinum, sesaminum, telinum, megalium or megalesium, balaninum, nardinum, spicatum. Other favourites, likewise mentioned by Pliny, are myrrh (Propert. 1.2, 3), malobathrum (Hor. Carm. 2.7.8), costum (Id. ib. 3.1, 44, with Orelli's excursus), amomum (Verg. Ecl. 3.89, 4.25), cardamomum, cinnamomum, &c., besides mineral products. A regale unguentum made for the Parthian kings was compounded of 25 precious substances (Plin. l.c. § 18). Soap, a Gallic or perhaps rather a German invention (Beckmann, Hist. of Inv. ed. Bohn, 2.92), was used as a pomatum rather than a detergent, and imparted to the hair the red or yellow tinge so much in fashion among the Romans: the “sap, Gallorum hoc inventum rutilandis capillis” of Pliny (Plin. Nat. 28.191, where the word sapo occurs for the first time) is doubtless identical with the spuma Batava, caustica spuma, and Mattiacae pilae of Martial (8.33, 20; 14.26 and 27; cf. Diet, Geogr. art. Mattiaci). This fancy for light hair was as old as Cato: “flavo cinere unctitabant, ut rutilae essent” (ap. Serv. ad Aen. 4.698; cf. V. Max. 2.1.5). The “hair-restorers” also came from Germany: “femina canitiem Germanis excitat herbis” (Ov. A. Am. 3.163). The effects of these herbae and venena were sometimes disappointing (Id. Amor. 1.14 passinm), when recourse was had to the-same country for the false hair which then became necessary (cf. GAUSAPE last paragraph).

In addition to these oils the ancients also used various kinds of scented powders, called by the general name of διαπάσματα (Theophr. Odor. 8; Dioscor. 1.6; [Lucian] Amor. 39). To what an excess the habit of using fragrant oils and the like was carried, appears from Seneca (Ep. 86.12), who says that people anointed themselves twice or even three times a day. At Rome, however, these luxuries did not pass unrebuked in the time of Scipio (Gell. vi. [vii.] 12.5); and still later, in B.C. 89, the censors positively forbade the sale of exotic unguents (Plin. Nat. 13.24). The wealthy Greeks and Romans carried their oils and essences with them, especially when they bathed, in small boxes of costly materials and beautiful workmanship, which were called narthecia (Cic. de Fin. 2.7.22; Mart. 14.78; cf. Böttiger, Sabina, 1.52). Another very common kind of scent bottle was the ALABASTRUM It was, however, thought undignified to carry one's own oil flask to the public baths, instead of having it borne by a slave: such persons were called αὐτολήκυθοι (L. and S., ed. 7, s.v. Sandys, Excurs. on Dem. 2.227 ff.). The traffic which was carried on in these ointments and perfumes in several towns of Greece and Southern Italy was very considerable. The persons engaged in manufacturing them were called by the Greeks μυρεψοὶ and μυροπῶλαι (see L. and S. s. vv.), by the Romans unguentarii (Cic. de Off. 1.4. 2, § 150; Hor. Sat. 3, 228), or, as they frequently were women, unguentariae (Plin. Nat. 8.14), and the art of compounding them unguentaria. In the wealthy and effeminate city of Capua there was a street or square called the Seplasia, which consisted entirely of shops in which unguents were sold (Cic. in Pison. 11.24; Asconius ad loc.; de Lege Agr. 2.34.94; pro Sest. 8.19). On oils and unguents, see especially Becker-Göll, Gallus, 3.157-167. For the cosmetics employed in painting the face, see FUCUS; for the detergents used instead of soap for washing, see FULLO; on the antiquities of the toilet generally, the work of Böttiger, Sabina oder Morgenscenen im Putzzimmer einer reichen Römerin, 2 vols. Leipzig, 1806, is not yet superseded.

[L.S] [W.W]

hide References (9 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (9):
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 13
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 13.24
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 8.14
    • Cicero, De Officiis, 1.4
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 14.26
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 14.78
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 8.20
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 8.33
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 2.1.5
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