The smell of liquid gold for an Olympian

Ancient Olympics arena

Sigh, I have now had some time to recover from the emotional highs, lows and drama of part one of the Olympic Games.  Intoxicating tension, inspiration and amazing  demonstrations of courage, strength,  determination and skill, virtues indeed for all of us to aspire to.

However, I have now been left with ‘abs-envy’ after being inundated with lithe, taut images of the athletes in motion, but consider, in Ancient Greece  the athletes competed naked,  apart from the charioteers who wore white robes, surely that would be more dangerous – big wheels, loose fabric (go figure!)…. perhaps it was a trade-off against literal ‘whip-lash’.   According to some historians, competing nude was to make all athletes equal by stripping social ranks, that could otherwise be expressed in their clothing and it also ruled out women competing (so far, not so equal!).

Naked Olympian
Cleaning the skin with a Strigil

Massage was an integral part of an athletes regime and competitors would be massaged with a combination of olive oil and fragrant herbs.  Massage was seen as necessary for many reasons, which have not changed to this day:

  • to maintain the elasticity of the skin
  • tone the muscles and
  • treat ailments and injuries
  • aid relaxation and recovery

Image: Applying oils under the watchful eye of a ‘trainer’

It would also make the athlete slippery to its opponent, so aiding those in contact sports such as Wrestling.   There is also the more obvious cosmetic aspect that the oils would make the body smooth, sensual and more aesthetically pleasing for the audiences to look at.  Now we have figure-hugging lycra and tiny pants, which are probably more practical – especially in pommel horse and hurdles!

Olive oil was revered in Greek mythology, it is under the rulership of the Goddess Athena and runners may have been massaged with Olive oil in the belief that its powers of wisdom, power and strength may be bestowed on them.

The renowned ‘liquid gold’ of Olive oil

Perfumed oils were also applied to clean the skin.  After a workout or competing, the athletes was massaged with an aromatic blend of herbs and oils.  A special bottle of oil would be used, called an aryballos,  the oil within it would be rubbed into the skin, then a strigil, a curved stick, would then be used to scrape the oil off the skin, removing dirt and sweat (ancient exfoliation!), leaving the skin clean, hydrated and smooth.   A bath (perhaps with rose petals, the Greek/Roman empire were renowned for their profligate use of roses!) and massage would follow, with gentle stretches and movements to relax and tone the worked muscles.  Sounds bliss – where do I sign up?

Aryballos – an ancient perfumed oil bottle
They don’t make beauties like these anymore!!

A rather fearsome cleansing tool!
A strigil, used to scrape oil off the athlete’s body

(strigil credit:

Although Olympians were usually male vs male, women were not to be outdone.  Females had their own sporting event called the Heraea, held at a different time to the Olympics at the  Temple of Hera.   They were usually unmarried girls, divided by different age groups who would compete in running events.  The girls competed with “their hair hanging loose” and with a “tunic reaching to a little above the knee, with the right shoulder bare as far as the breasts.”

A female Spartan runner, wearing fashion du jour, almost ‘amazonian warrior’ look

(picture credit:

However, In Sparta women competed in front of the men nude in “gymnastics,” which at that time meant “exercises performed naked.” I think I would rather take dibs on being a Spartan runner!  The Spartan women also wrestled but there is no evidence that they ever boxed. Most events required the women to be virgins and when they got married, usually by the age of 18, their athletic career was over. [Source: “The Creators” by Daniel Boorstin]

Female spartan wrestlers – no right hooks now!
Credit: Emmanuel Groise “Spartan Girls” 1903

Inspired by the Olympic legacy, its ancient origins and the current 2012 display of physical feats and dedication,  I was thinking what ‘perfumed massage oil’ could I create, seeing as I kind of missed out volunteering on that side of things!   A blend that would imbue an athlete with aspirational qualities required for such physical achievement and the symbolic attributes of essential oils on a physical, mental and energetic level, I came up with the following – although there could be many variations to have fun with:

  • Vetiver = fortitude and tranquility (inner calm)
  • Cedarwood = inner strength
  • Clary Sage = mental clarity, nerve tonic
  • Rosemary = physical stimulant and aids concentration
  • Rose otto = calmative, heart tonic and passion
  • Lavender = balancing, calmative, stress-relieving
  • Bergamot = positivity and optimism
  • Black pepper = empowering, strengthening and stimulating

Ideally the base is organic Olive oil, which I didn’t have, so I used Almond and Coconut oils instead, smoothing and very mobile though not blessed by Athena’s powers!

I have let it rest for 24 hours, rubbed a little on my skin and I must say it is gently perfumed, with a hint of a medicinal, therapeutic quality – the Rosemary making itself known, but then it dries down to a warm, amber-y wood.  It seems ideal as a unisex massage oil.   I don’t have a Strigil for the ‘cleansing process’ though, only a shoe horn – not sure if that is quite the modern replacement!!

The paralympics are only a week or so away, so my next Olympic blend will be for a ‘Success Oil’ – to celebrate all the athletes and the whole ethos of the Olympics.

What would YOU include in a ‘fragrant’ blend for an athlete, or to celebrate the Olympics?  I would love to hear your ideas.

In the meantime, something to contemplate, before another muffin sends its siren call:

Abs not flabs!

Links for more info on women in Sparta, olympics and oils used in my recipe!


About The Perfume Mistress

"If the eyes are the windows to your soul, then the nose is the doorway to your imagination" The Perfume Mistress Hello, by day I am a clinical aromatherapist and tutor, with over 10 years of working with natural materials and essential oils, by night I delve into the art of botanical perfumery, reading and smelling all things olfactory. I have set up the 'Nosetrodami Club' offering scentsory talks, discussions and master-classes on all topics and themes olfactive. I also offer one and two day workshops in the art of natural perfumery, natural and organic body & skincare. My inspirations range from the mundane to the metaphysical, the hum-drum to the hyperbolic which you may see reflected in my posts.
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