“Bring, bring that musk-scented wine! That wine is the key to joy, and it must be mine… that wine is the key that will open wide the door to the treasure of rapture’s rich and varied store…” The medieval Persian reader scanning these lines by the 12th century poet Nezami would have understood instantly the subtle nuances of the word “musk.” Since natural musk was black, the reader would have envisioned a dark potion. Also, musk was considered the most sumptuous and alluring of scents, and musk-scented wine would surely be the libation to intoxicate one to the point of ecstasy. Most importantly, however, musk evoked seduction and passion, and in Nezami’s masterpiece about star-crossed lovers, Layla and Majnun, musk is the scented leitmotif. The nights are musk scented and so is the beloved’s hair. Even the dreams about her carry a musk-tinged sillage.
Several centuries later, we also understand the association of musk and seduction, but since natural musks have been replaced by synthetic versions, the darkness of musks has paled. Natural musk, such as the one referred to by Nezami, consisted of the dried secretions from a sac in the abdomen of the musk deer. Obtaining several grams of musk took the life of a dozen animals, and when the creature became endangered to the point of extinction, the use of natural musk became prohibited. Today’s musks are more likely to be the so-called white synthetic musks, which smell soft, cuddly and evoke laundry, rather than lovemaking.