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The Scent of Jasmine

flowers-179016_960_720Jasmine is a popular plant with wonderfully fragrant flowers. It’s native to the warmer parts of Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, the Far East and Oceania. The white or yellow flowers have some uses in medicine and aromatherapy, particularly in South Asia and China.

There are more than 200 species of jasmine, including both climbing vines and shrubs. Two types popular in the Middle East are common jasmine (Jasminum officinale) and Arabian jasmine or al-full (Jasminum sambac). Arabian jasmine is the national flower of the Philippines and Indonesia.

Jasmine is a popular essential oil in aromatherapy. It has a strong, sweet fragrance, which is very common in flowers that bloom only at night. It promotes relaxation and, some say, mental alertness.

As the “Home Remedies for You” website describes it, jasmine has a number of medicinal uses:

Whether it is a jasmine flower or essential jasmine oil, jasmine can be used as an aphrodisiac, a sedative, an antiseptic, antidepressant, antispasmodic, and analgesic. In Ayurveda, jasmine has been used as an aphrodisiac and as a means to increase immunity and fight fever. It has also been regarded as a means to treat conjunctivitis. In traditional Chinese medicine, jasmine flowers are brewed and consumed as an herbal and remedial tea. An infusion of jasmine tea is known to be beneficial in treating fevers, urinary inflammation, and other infections. In addition, jasmine tea can be helpful in relieving stress and anxiety. It can be extremely helpful for people suffering from heat stroke or sunstroke.

Jasmine tea can also be administered as a tincture to treat cuts and scrapes. A compress using jasmine flowers can be useful for headaches and strokes. Jasmine juice is useful for treating corns. In fact, various skin conditions including sun burn and rashes can be treated by apply jasmine in lotion form. Jasmine oil is an integral part of aromatherapy. It is used in the form of incense, candles, and jasmine body oil, providing several benefits including uplifting the mood. The scent of jasmine is said to be useful in treating depression, in particular post partum depression and emotional depression. A body massage with jasmine oil is known to not only lift spirits but also relieve aches and pains.

However, the “Natural Remedies” website cautions:

Over the centuries, jasmine has acquired a veritable corpus of mythological beliefs. Some of these allegations, like the statement that jasmine green tea has spiritual benefits to the drinker, may never be able to be tested properly.

Although many people have reported experiential benefits from consuming jasmine in some form, many of these claims have not been tested. New users must remain cautious and approach using jasmine with an attitude of respectful curiosity. Jasmine may trigger allergic reactions in some people; the full extent to which this is possible has not yet been explored.

Among the spiritual beliefs linked to jasmine, there is the conviction in some parts of the Muslim world that the jinn, or genies – spiritual beings said to interact with the human world – are attracted by the plant’s heady and perhaps intoxicating fragrance. For example, India’s The Statesman recently carried a review of Jasmine and Jinns, a cookbook/memoir by Sadia Dehvi:

Are Jinns (Djinns) attracted to jasmine, the much celebrated flower that women love to adorn their hairdo with? According to author Sadia Dehlvi, mothers and grandmothers in the olden days forbade unmarried girls from scenting their bed with jasmine because the Jinns were so fond of it that they fell in love with them.

Sadia has made this the title of her new book, Jasmine and Jinns (Harper Collins). It may be a far-fetched title for book of mainly non-vegetarian recipes and family history but perhaps given in the hope that it would attract readers too (despite its high price of Rs 699 for just 211 pages). In this connection one remembers another belief: that girls shouldn’t walk on the terrace at dusk with hair open after a bath as Jinns, the invincible beings created from fire, took possession of them and they pined away under their influence.

A perfect plant for future investigation…

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Theriacs and Snake Bites


Vipera aspis in France – By Orchi – Self-photographed, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11182655

Theriacs were medicinal concoctions developed by the ancient Greeks (or even earlier) and used to treat toxic snake bites, scorpion stings and other poisonous contacts with animals.

Theriacs (from the Greek thēriakē, “pertaining to animals”) often consisted of dozens of herbal ingredients and other substances mixed together and fermented over months. They were applied to wounds as a salve or paste or consumed internally in chunks. Theriacs often featured many of the well-known natural remedies of Arabia, including honey, castor oil, ginger, cinnamon, anise, cardamom, pomegranate, black seed, myrrh and many others.

Theriacs were adopted by Arabic-speaking physicians of the Middle Ages and were used in the Islamic world and in Europe up to the 19th century. Theriacs were used by such prominent Muslim physicians as Ali ibn al-Abbas al-Majusi (known as Haly Abbas in the West), Abu Bakr Muhammad Al-Razi (Rhazes) and Ibn SIna (Avicenna), as well as by the Arabic-speaking Jewish scholar-scientist Maimonides, court physician of Saladin.

A medical historian recently cited an example of how theriacs popularized in Arabic medicine survived as standard practice in Renaissance Europe. The example appeared in a recent academic paper by Kathleen Walker-Meikle, a Wellcome Trust fellow in Medical Humanities at the University of York.

The account was written in the 14th century by Gentile da Foligno, professor of medicine at the University of Perugia in Italy.

The case involved a young man who was bitten on the ankle by a poisonous asp viper while hiking in the mountains near Perugia. The victim tried self-treatment, binding his leg above the bite to stop the spread of the venom, but his effort was in vain. The snake was brought in, and Foligno identified it as a short deaf asp (now identified as an asp viper or vipera aspis, known to have a powerful venom):

Foligno immediately went to work. First the Great Theriac of Galen was applied externally over the heart; then a cupping-glass to the wound location, which was then scarified, and the patient was given draughts of stale butter. The usual treatment of sucking the wound (after application of olive or rose oil to the practitioner‘s mouth) was not done, as no one was found willing to suck the wound with his mouth, on seeing the patient‘s symptoms. Foligno had made a theriac of ground-up gentian, balsam seed, rue, and anise, which was to be drunk with strong wine. On the second day, the patient was examined in the morning. The young man still had closed eyes, a heightened pulse and labored breathing, with a ‘foul’ face. Although the patient had difficulty in swallowing, he was given emerald powder was given along with citrus seeds infused in wine. Maimonides cited the beneficiary power of emerald powder and citrus seeds, and Foligno would use these two ingredients throughout the treatment.

The snake-bite victim had great difficulty swallowing medicine. Later the same day, the patient had not improved and his urine was described as “livid”:

Foligno sent him to his associates for a second opinion and when he returned gave him the theriac of Haly Abbas made of castor oil, cassia wood, round aristolochia, anise seed and pepper, and given with wine. It caused the patient to speak for the first time, and by that evening the patient was conscious and had recognized the doctors. Foligno prescribed emerald powder, citrus seeds and two doses of the Haly Abbas theriac for the night, along with massage and for the patient to be kept awake.

On the third day, his condition had stabilized but not improved, so he was given chicken soup with emerald powder and citrus seeds sprinkled on top, as well as more theriac and some cupping of the wound.

By the fourth day, Foligno found the patient with an improved urine despite a complaint of stomach and kidney pains. Foligno prescribed a clyster of milk and decoction of mallow. The patient was then to be washed with a decoction of aristolochia rotunda and Haly Abbas theriac was administered again. By the fifth day, the patient had much improved and the prescription of Haly Abbas theriac was stopped and a diet of good food and wine was prescribed, with a suggestion to eat something sour in two days time due to the hot poison causing ‘derangement,’ as that species of snake‘s venom affected the brain and nerves. Foligno finished his account by noting that most people bitten by the deaf asp do not open their eyelids for months, citing Avicenna.

In short, the patient recovered.



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Dandelions in the Middle East


Dandelion is a powerful herbal medicine. You don’t hear much about its use in the Arabian Peninsula these days, but it was once highly regarded by the great Muslim physicians of the Middle Ages.

Its Latin name “Taraxacum” derives from medieval Persian writings on pharmacy, and was known to the Arabs as “tarashaquq.”

The Persian physician Al-Razi (Rhazes) wrote in Arabic in about 900 AD that “the tarashaquq is like chicory.” Ibn Sina (Avicenna) wrote an entire chapter on Taraxacum. Gerard of Cremona, translating Arabic works to Latin around 1170, spelled it “tarasacon.”

In a recent article, Natural News discussed the various traditional medicinal uses of dandelion, which many regard as an invasive weed:

The roots, leaves and flowers of the dandelion plant are a potent and healthy herbal medicine, although folks might think those yellow dots popping up in their landscape are just nuisance weeds. Not so, as reported by Reset.me, who emphasizes that the botanical name for dandelion – Taraxacum officinal – aptly describes its medicinal potential. Taraxacum translates into an “inflammation curative.” Officinal means that the lowly dandelion is revered as a bona fide, official medicinal plant. The use of the dandelion plant as a healing agent “predates written records,” but it is understood that the Greeks and the Chinese used dandelion compounds to aid in digestion, and as a liver tonic and diuretic.

New research has revealed that dandelion is a potential cancer-fighter:

Traditional herbalists, both in the East and the West, have utilized the properties of the dandelion for liver support and as a blood purifier. It is this blood purifying action that intrigued Canadian researchers at the University of Windsor to pursue whether dandelion roots could be effective for individuals suffering from end stage blood cancer. The team experimented by applying dandelion root extract into petri dishes on “blood drawn from a leukemia patient and lab rats.” They discovered that the “dandelion root extract was effective in inducing apoptosis, or cell suicide, in tumor cells, while leaving healthy cells alone.”

This remarkable outcome garnered approval to test their dandelion root protocol on thirty Canadian cancer patients. It is the first time in Canada that a natural extract has been approved for utilization in a clinical trial. The lead researcher is Dr. Siyaram Pandey, a biochemistry professor at Windsor, who discovered the power of dandelions from an oncologist whose own patients had had enough chemotherapy and chose to drink dandelion tea instead – and lived!


A Tree Stands in the Desert….

Aqul PHOTO-00000342

In 2005 there were two ‘aqul trees. Now there is only one….

A Saudi desert expert recently told me about an unusual tree that grows near the old town of ‘Ain Dar, in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province. More than a decade ago, there were two of these trees there; only one has survived. The tree is four or five meters tall, and local lore maintains that it has been around for hundreds of years. It is extremely rare; he only knows of one other tree like it, near the archaeological site of Thaj to the north.

The tree is called ‘aqul in Saudi Arabia and Oman. Its scientific name is Alhagi maurorum and it is known in the English-speaking world as camelthorn or camel’s thorn.

The woody plant is unusual because its sap crystallizes into manna, an edible famine food known to many from Exodus in the Old Testament as well as from the Qur’an. No one really knows which plant or process provided the original manna cited in the Bible and Qur’an. A minority view is that it was Alhagi, because of its appetite-suppressing effect.

According to a description of A. maurorum on the website Practical Plants:

A sweet-tasting manna is exuded from the twigs at flowering time. It is exuded during hot weather according to one report. It contains about 47% melizitose, 26% sucrose, 12% invert sugar. Another manna is obtained from the pods – it is sweet and laxative. Root – cooked. A famine food, it is only used in times of need.

'Aqul shrub in desert

‘Aqul shrub in desert

‘Aqul normally grows as a shrub, about a meter high, with dark red flowers and pods. The shrub rarely survives in the desert long enough to be transformed into a proper tree.

‘Aqul has many medicinal uses in the Arabian Peninsula. Here is one description of its value as an Arabian natural remedy:

Medicinal uses The whole plant is used for treating cataracts, jaundice, migraine, painful joints and as an aphrodisiac.

Treatment An infusion of the plant or juice is used for treatment. The root is cleaned and boiled with water to make a tea. Lemon or lime is added to it and taken orally. The solution is very bitter to taste.

Chemical composition Several β-phenethylamines and a tetrahydroisoquinoline have been isolated from the plant. The roots contain essentially the same alkaloids as the stems, but in different quantities.

Up north, in Iraq, ‘aqul is used for rheumatic pains, liver disorders, urinary tract infections and for various types of gastrointestinal discomfort.

I have seen A. maurorum referred to by some writers as a “noxious weed.” I suspect that accusation is exaggerated.


Dental Care in Ancient Sudan

Purple nutsedge rhizomes

Purple nutsedge rhizomes

Archaeologists recently reported that 2000-year-old skeletons of farmers excavated in Sudan were found to have remarkably healthy teeth. They discovered that the reason for this was a rather strange item in the Sudanese diet: the bad-tasting tuber of a noxious weed called purple nutsedge (Cyperus rotundus). The tuber is known to have antibacterial properties, and it appears to have protected ancient Sudanese farmers from cavities.

As National Geographic Daily News reported:

Early humans generally had relatively few cavities, thanks in part to meals that were heavy on the meat, light on the carbs.

Then humans invented farming and began eating more grain. Bacteria in the human mouth flourished, pouring out acids that eat away at the teeth. The first farmers tended to have much more tooth decay than hunter-gatherers did.

But when scientists looked at the teeth of people buried roughly 2,000 years ago in an ancient cemetery called Al Khiday 2, they found that fewer than one percent of the teeth had cavities, abscesses, or other signs of tooth decay, though those people were probably farmers, says study co-author Donatella Usai of Italy’s Center for Sudanese and Sub-Saharan Studies.

Analysis of hardened bits of plaque on the teeth showed those interred at the cemetery had ingested the tubers of the purple nutsedge, perhaps as food, perhaps as medicine. People buried at Al Khiday at least 8,700 years ago—before the rise of farming there—also consumed the tubers, probably as food.

The scientists published their findings in the online, peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE. Their paper was entitled “Dental Calculus Reveals Unique Insights into Food Items, Cooking and Plant Processing in Prehistoric Central Sudan.”

As Geographic noted:

The purple nutsedge tuber may have many virtues, but a nice flavor isn’t one of them. People might have tried to tame the tubers’ bitterness by cooking them, says study co-author Karen Hardy of the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, or they may have just tolerated the bad taste.

“They might have been using it for some medicinal purpose,” Hardy says. “Medicine always tastes horrible, so it would be par for the course.”

The report also quoted a biological anthropologist unconnected with the study as saying that no other example has been reported of a specific plant that kept tooth decay in check among ancient people.

This is actually an error. A well-known and quite ancient tooth-cleaning plant is the arak or toothbrush tree (Salvadora persica), from which comes the natural toothbrush known as the miswak, a chewing stick prepared from the tree’s root. It has antiseptic and astringent properties that help clean and protect the teeth and gums. For more on the arak tree, see Natural Remedies of Arabia by Robert Lebling and Donna Pepperdine.


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Medieval Europe’s Dependence on Asian Natural Remedies


Black cardamom

I recently came across an article on herbal medicine of the early Middle Ages in Europe that showed the importance of Middle Eastern and South Asian natural remedies to the Western pharmaceutical tradition.

The article, “The Introduction and Use of Eastern Drugs in the Early Middle Ages” by John M. Riddle, appeared in a German journal in 1965.  The paper was something of a challenge to the Pirenne thesis, advanced in Henri Pirenne’s Mohammed and Charlemagne (1937), which argued that “Arab expansion” throughout the Mediterranean from the 8th century onward resulted in an isolation of Europe from traditional commerce with the East.

As Riddle shows from a study of medieval recipe literature, almost all of the drug mixtures used in the Middle Ages relied on herbs and other substances found only in Asia. Clearly the trade continued, despite or perhaps because of the “Arab expansion.”

For example, one of the works Riddle studied was a 9th-century European antidotary or medicinal recipe book containing a total of 123 recipes with some 361 different ingredients used a total of 944 times. Without natural remedies from the Middle East and Asia, the antidotary would have had precious few recipes.

Riddle notes:

From a list made of the substances, the following are those appearing in eight or more recipes (The number of times per recipe is in parenthesis): aloes (15), ammonicum (11), amomum (9), apium semen (10), cassia (12), ciminum (8), colofonia (14), fenuogrecum (10), libanus (12), linum (11), mastice (16), murra (17), piper [white, long, and black] (33), petroselinum (17), picea (10), scamonia (14), storace (13), terebentina (17), and zinzibar (8).

An examination of the identities of these drugs reveals a startling fact: most can only be found in the orient. Eastern drugs seemed to have been the “miracle drugs” of the Age.

Here is a breakdown of specific Middle Eastern natural remedies used in Europe during the Middle Ages, as cited in Riddle’s study:

Aloes – The juice or liquid exuded from a cut in the leaves of the succulent plant aloe. There are more than 500 species of aloe but only a few were used as traditional remedies, primarily Aloe vera but also a few others, including A. perryi and A. ferox. The medicinal use of A. vera is cited in the Materia Medica of Dioscorides.

Ammonicum – This is a salt, ammonium chloride. It was associated in antiquity with the oracular Egyptian deity Amun or Hammon, famously based at the oasis of Siwa in Egypt’s Western Desert, where ammonicum is found. Both Pliny and Galen note the use of this salt in early medicine. It is known to have been manufactured in the late Middle Ages, distilled from the horns and hooves of oxen.

Amomum – This is the spice known as black cardamom, which is different in flavor from the more common green cardamom. It usually has a smoky flavor derived from drying of the pods over open flame. According to Riddle, amomum is an aromatic scrub said by Pliny to come from India, Persia and the Aral Sea region and currently attributed to the latter two areas. In Chinese medicine today, black cardamom is used to treat stomach upsets and malaria.

Cassia – This is Chinese cassia or Chinese cinnamon, less subtle in flavor than Ceylon cinnamon, or true cinnamon. Cassia is the dried bark of a plant in the Laurel family. Riddle believes this type of cassia is “probably a product of Cinnamomum pauciflorum Nees, is said by Pliny to be the ‘skin’ of a scrub, and it is known to be found only in the far east.” Most types of cinnamon are known to reduce blood sugar.

Ciminum – Ajwain or Ajowan seeds or Ethiopian cumin (Trachyspermum ammi). It has a flavor reminiscent of thyme. Though the plant is found in modern, southern Europe as well as in Egypt and Asia, Pliny spoke only of a species from Ethiopia. In the Middle Ages, it was grown in Swiss herbal gardens, but was also imported from Islamic countries. It is used as a digestive aid or for relief of stomach problems in South Asia and parts of the Middle East.

Crocus – This is the Latin term for saffron, a well-known product from the East. Saffron is a spice made of the dried red stigmas of the flower of the saffron crocus (Crocus sativus). It originated in Greece or Asia Minor, and is believed to have first been cultivated in Greece. Iran today produces about 90% of the world’s saffron.  The spice has long been used for various medicinal purposes. Recent research has found it has anticancer properties.

Fenogrecum or Fenum Grecum – Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) was first cultivated in the Near East. Fenugreek seeds have been shown to have antidiabetic effects, among other medicinal benefits. Fenugreek seeds were found in the tomb of Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun.

Libanus – This is frankincense (Boswellia sacra and related species), a well-known product of the Arabian Peninsula and the nearby African coast. The best frankincense is produced in Yemen and on the northern coast of Somalia. A tree resin, it is burned for incense and is chewed for medicinal purposes. Recent research has shown frankincense is able to suppress cancer cells and provide relief from osteoarthritis.

Mastice – Mastic, a resin from the tree of the same name (Pistacia lentiscus), originated in the Eastern Mediterranean, and in the Middle Ages it was imported from this region. The best mastic comes from the Greek island of Chios. Mastic is antibacterial and antifungal, and has antioxidant properties. It has been used since ancient times to treat colds, indigestion and other ailments.

Murra – Myrrh is the aromatic gum resin of Commiphora myrrha, a tree found in southern Arabia and eastern Africa. Myrrh has antiseptic and other medicinal properties. Its gum is used to treat numerous ailments, including colds, asthma, skin problems and even cancer.

Piper – This term refers to the Old World spices black pepper (Piper nigrum), its unripe form white pepper and its hotter cousin long pepper. These forms of pepper, native to south India, are unrelated to the chili pepper, which originated in the New World. Dried ground black pepper, white pepper and long pepper have been used since ancient times both for flavoring foods and as medicine. Pepper had many medicinal uses in medieval times and earlier, but few of these uses have survived the scrutiny of modern medicine.

Scamonia – Scammony (Convolvulus scammonia) is a weed native to the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean. The juice of its root or a resin made from the root acts as a powerful purgative. Scammony also kills roundworms and tapeworms in the process of passing through the digestive tract.

Storace – Storax is a resin exuded by the Oriental or Turkish sweetgum tree (Liquidambar orientalis). The resin is often used in incense or as a fixative in perfumes. The biblical “Balm of Gilead” cited in Jeremiah is storax.

Zinzibar – This is ginger, or ginger root, from the rhizome of the south Asian plant Zingiber officinale. As a kitchen spice, ginger is hot and fragrant. It has traditionally had various medicinal uses in the Middle East, among them ginger tea for colds and flu. Recent studies have been undertaken to determine if ginger has the ability to shrink cancerous tumors, but so far the results have not been conclusive.

Other natural remedies cited by Riddle traditionally make their home in Western Europe but are also known in the Middle East – including Apium Semen (parsley seeds), Colofonia (rosin), Linum (flax), Petroselinum (rock-parsley), Picea (pitch) and Terebentina (terebinth or turpentine).

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Sirens & Pomegranates


Siren with pomegranate, 5th century BC, Getty Museum, Malibu.

Most people are familiar with the Greek mythological creature known as the Siren, usually via Homer’s Odyssey, in which Odysseus, on his way back to Greece from the Trojan War, determines to hear the Sirens’ song as his ship passes by their island. Anyone who hears the song of the Sirens becomes captivated, and is destined never to return home. The only one who had successfully resisted the Sirens was Orpheus, who drowned out their song with his own music. Odysseus, for his part, has his crewmen stop up their ears with wax, so they won’t hear the Sirens. He then has the crew tie him to the mainmast, where he can listen to the Sirens’ song with ears unstopped, and yet not interrupt his voyage.

The Sirens were strange creatures, with the head of a woman and the body, wings and feet of a bird. They also had human hands according to some Greek representations. The Sirens were associated with the pomegranate, that extraordinary fruit of the Mediterranean and Middle East.

The J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu, California, has an intriguing bronze representation of a Siren, described here by Greek archaeologist Despoina Tsiafakis:

The Siren published here, a bronze askos in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, was presumably used to hold expensive scented oils. The name of the artist is unknown, though there is no doubt that the askos was made by a South Italian workshop. Features of the face and the head as well as the musculature of the figure of the male youth that serves as the handle date the Siren to the second quarter of the fifth century B.C. The piece is of great importance both because it is an early Classical bronze of fine quality and because it provides valuable insight into bronze-casting techniques….

… As human-headed birds, Sirens represent both chthonic and demonic powers, closely related to music and the world of the dead. Famous for their musical abilities, they used their skills to charm men and keep them away from home forever. With the exception of Orpheus and Odysseus, no moral heard the Sirens’ song and lived to tell about it….

Tsiafakis writes about the symbolism of the pomegranate, showing how the red fruit connects the Sirens with the underworld….

The rendering of the Getty Siren is in keeping with the iconography of Sirens in the Archaic and Classical periods. She holds a syrinx [Pan flute] in her right hand and a pomegranate in her left. As we have seen, pomegranates occur in association with two of the Greek bronze Sirens of the sixth century B.C., namely the Siren from the Peloponnese and the one from Crotone, but in both cases the fruit hangs around the neck as a necklace. Whether in the hand or around the neck, the pomegranate is a symbol closely related to the world this human-headed bird represents. Both the Siren and the pomegranate are connected with Persephone’s kingdom [the underworld], and Sirens were well-known as Hades’ musical birds. Plato relates that their home is the underworld, and they often occur on graves or funerary scenes….

The red juice of the pomegranate is suggestive of blood and the fruit itself is the symbol of Plouton [Pluto, or Hades] and Persephone. According to the myth, when Hades raped Kore [Persephone], he gave her some seeds of this fruit to eat, by which means he kept her one-third of the year with him in the underworld. Moreover the relation of the pomegranate with chthonic cult is indicated by its frequent presence as a votive offering in graves and its depiction on grave reliefs and in vase-painting. It is at once a symbol of death and of rebirth; its numerous seeds symbolize fertility and life. Pomegranates are very often represented in art, especially in South Italian tomb-painting, particularly in Campania and Lucania, together with other fruits, such as apples, as well as eggs – all symbols of the cult of the dead.

Despite their symbolic relation to the world of the dead and its deities, Sirens with pomegranates are not often depicted in Greek art. There are two known examples from Magna Graecia: the Getty and the Crotone Sirens; and two more from mainland Greece: the Peloponnesian Siren and a terra-cotta one from Boeotia. The latter has a clearly rendered red painted fruit hanging from a necklace around the neck and a polos [tall, cylindrical headdress] on the head. The provenance of the terra-cotta, combined with the fruit and polos, connect the Siren with Hera, as a chthonic goddess. According to Mueller, the goddesses who mostly wear poloi are Kore and Demeter; Hera usually has a polos decorated with palmettes and flowers, such as that on the Boeotian Siren. In contrast, the Getty Siren has a plain polos, such as that worn by Demeter and Persephone….

The fruit symbolizes life and death at the same time. Fascinating!

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