Myrrha’s Tears

Inconsolable Myrrha. Your life should have been bright and happy, as a Goddess you were. Was it a spell of the malevolent Aphrodite or your tormented mind that made you commit the irreparable fault? No one knows… An evening of festivities, you attracted your father Cinyras in a dark alcove and had an intercourse with him, as a proof of your infinite love. How dared you?

Realizing too late his mistake, Cinyras swore to kill her licentious daughter by his own sword. Myrrha fled across Arabia and after many months on the road, having no more energy and pregnant of an incestuous child, she invoked the Gods for help. Taking pity on her distress, they transformed Myrrha into a dry tree bearing her name: the myrrh tree. Despite her vegetal metamorphosis, Myrrha gave birth to a very beautiful boy called Adonis, but she could not raise him and was left forever in tears in the desert. From this date, myrrh trees exude Myrrha‘s tears in the form of the most fragrant of the resins, myrrh.

Garzi, Luigi; The Birth of Adonis and the Transformation of Myrrha; Wellcome Library
Garzi, Luigi; The Birth of Adonis and the Transformation of Myrrha; Wellcome Library

Commiphora Myrrha – or myrrh tree – is a native of North-East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. It is a small and thorny bush, able to live in one of the most arid climate on earth. The tree exudes an aromatic resin from its wounds and this resin was for several millennia considered as one of the most precious substances man can buy.

The Egyptians used it to embalm their Pharaohs. Myrrh was among the three precious gifts Jesus received from the Magi after his birth, besides gold and incense. The prized resin was known for its antiseptic qualities and used already in ancient time in tincture as a mouthwash or for healing wounds. The Chinese  and the Indians already found its medicinal properties many centuries ago and traded myrrh against silk.

myrrh trees
Myrrh trees in Somalia (Vladimir Melnik / Fotolia)

Nowadays, myrrh essential oil obtained by steam distillation of the resin is widely used in aromatherapy for its antioxidant, anticancer, antibacterial, antifungal, antiparasitic properties and for general skin health and even relaxation. It is like a magic ointment for the body and mind.

In perfumery, myrrh absolute, usually produced by ethanol extraction of the resin, is used as a base note in oriental and fougère fragrances and valued for its good fixative properties. Myrrh is sweet, ambery, balsamic and reveals liquorice and smoky undertones. Its odor strength is low but is finally revealed in the base note as it is very long-lasting, up to 3 days on a scent strip.

Armani Privé - Myrrhe Impériale
Armani Privé – Myrrhe Impériale

The great Serge Lutens dedicated a unisex fragrance to myrrh, called La Myrrhe. It is an oriental-spicy juice with a strong presence of the myrrh note, well rooted in the heart of the perfume. In this olfactory jewel, myrrh is accompanied by notes of lotus, mandarin orange, honey, jasmine and other precious woods and spices. Giorgio Armani, in its private collection Armani Privé, proposes a superb oriental-spicy fragrance called Myrrhe Impériale based on the marriage of myrrh and benzoin, spiced by pink pepper and saffron and sweetened by vanilla. Myrrhe & Délires from Guerlain is an oriental-woody unisex blend nicely presented with an elegant bulb. This fragrance is really an amazing marriage of myrrh reinforced by some licorice, and a floral, sweet and fruity cocktail of scents. An osmanthus note, subject of my precedent post,  is also part of the bouquet. This is a strong pick for this season.

Annick Goutal - Un Matin d'Orage
Annick Goutal – Un Matin d’Orage

Besides these tributes to myrrh, lots of modern fragrances use myrrh as a base note and fixative. Among the most noticeable ones, Eau Sauvage and Fahrenheit Absolute from Dior for gentlemen, Opium from Yves-Saint-Laurent and Velvet Orchid by Tom Ford for ladies. Un Matin d’Orage by Annick Goutal is a magnificent feminine oriental-floral with gardenias and tuberoses on a bed of myrrh and guaiac wood. So good!

Oh, poor Myrrha, inconsolable you are! Our compassion, my dear, is however limited by our selfish love for your fragrant tears.

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply