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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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Perfumes for the toilet were extensively used in ancient as well as in modern times. The modern methods of extraction and preparation, however, were unknown, and the principal form of these luxuries was that of perfumed oils and pomades. The basis of the former was olive oil or some similar vegetable oil (e.g. oil of nuts or almonds), to which were added the fragrant volatile oils obtained from various flowers and plants. Of the scented ingredients the finest and most expensive came from the East, and the oleum nardinum, made from the flowers of Indian or Arabian nard-grass, was especially prized among the Romans. Unguents of this type were liquid or semi-liquid, rather than of the consistency suggested by the modern use of the word ‘ointment,’ and were kept in bottles of precious metal or stone. The alabastron was of the latter material, and was a small cylindrical vessel narrowing at the neck in order that the contents might drip out gradually. The pomades, on the other hand, had fine fat for their basis. These various ointments were used for anointing the body, especially after bathing, for dressing the hair and beard, for perfuming the dress, and even for scenting the water of the bath. In the public baths at Rome there were special apartments (unctoria) where the unguents were applied. Pliny (Historia Naturalis (Pliny) xiii. 1 ff.) comments on the prevalence of this form of luxury in the society of his time. Cicero (in Cat. ii. 3) says that the effeminate companions of Catiline ‘shine with ointments’ (‘nitent unguentis’).

In Revelation 18:13 ‘ointment’ (so Revised Version ; Authorized Version ‘ointments’) appears in the list of the luxurious merchandise of ‘Babylon’ (i.e. Rome), and the foregoing particulars illustrate the aptness of the reference.

The ‘eyesalve’ of Revelation 3:18, though used in conjunction with the verb ἐγχρίειν (‘anoint’) does not belong to the class of ordinary unguents. The Gr. word is κολλούριον or κολλύριον (dim. from κολλύρα). The collyra was a sort of elongated bun, and the collyrium was a medicated preparation of similar shape, used for rubbing on tender eyelids or other affected parts (Celsus, v. xxviii. 12; Horace, Sat. I. v. 30; Pliny, Historia Naturalis (Pliny) xxxv. 53).

Literature.-W. A. Becker, Gallus9, 1888, p. 378; E. Guhl-W. Koner, Das Leben der Griechen und Römer3, 1873, Eng. translation , 1889, pp. 150, 398, 492, 508.

James Patrick.

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Ointment'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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