Balsam of Mecca
|Balsam of Mecca|
(L.) C. Chr.
Balsam of Mecca (likely known in antiquity as balm of Gilead or balsam of Gilead) is a resinous gum of the tree Commiphora gileadensis (syn. Commiphora opobalsamum), native to southern Arabia and also naturalized, in ancient and again in modern times, in ancient Judea. The most famous site of balsam production in the region was the Jewish town of Ein Gedi. The resin was valued in medicine and perfume in ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. Thus Pliny the Elder mentions it as one of the ingredients of the "Royal Perfume" of the Parthians in his Naturalis Historia. In Latin the resin was technically known as opobalsamum; the dried fruit was called carpobalsamum, and the wood xylobalsamum.
The plant was renowned for the expensive perfume that was produced from it, as well as for exceptional medicinal properties that were attributed to its sap, wood, bark, and seeds.
Literary occurrence and symbolism
When "balm" or "balsam" is mentioned in translations of the Bible this is probably the product that is intended. Its literary connection with Gilead comes from Genesis chapter 37 and from Jeremiah chapters 8 and 46 (see Balm of Gilead)
In Act I of Richard Wagner's opera Parsifal (1882), King Amfortas bears a wound that will not heal because it was inflicted with his own holy spear. A wild woman called Kundry bursts in, and presents the king with an Arabian "balsam". She informs the Knights of the Grail present there that if the balsam does not stimulate the king's recovery, "Arabia does not hide anything more that might heal him."
In Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" he writes "Is there - is there balm in Gilead? - tell me - tell me, I implore!'"
- "Medicinal properties of Commiphora gileadensis" (pdf). Retrieved 2013-02-11.
Media related to Commiphora gileadensis at Wikimedia Commons