Research Rapture

Research Rapture

“… sacrifice myrrh troglitis …” What is the troglitis form of myrrh?

Yesterday, a simple reposting (from 2013 on a now deleted website) of an Egyptian incantation allowed me today an hour of bliss. It’s called Research Rapture, subcategory of Flow, the label appointed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi to a particular creative mental state: “The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost."

I remember the old style rapture, when I covered my dining room table with opened volumes of the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, cross-referencing articles and checking bibliographies. A dear friend suffered from a more advanced case. She spent happy hours at the Library of Congress.

Myrrh, I found out, is “a sap-like substance (resin) that comes out of cuts in the bark of trees that are members of the Commiphora species” according to WebMD, my first stop on the research way. The road ended, at least for this episode, at Thomas Dobson’s 1798 opus (take a deep breath) — Encyclopædia: Or, A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Miscellaneous Literature; Constructed on a Plan, by which the Different Sciences and Arts are Digested Into the Form of Distinct Treatises Or Systems, Comprehending the History, Theory, and Practice, of Each, According to the Latest Discoveries and Improvements; and Full Explanations Given of the Various Detached Parts of Knowledge, Whether Relating to Natural and Artificial Objects, Or to Matters Ecclesiastical, Civil, Military, Commercial, &c., Including Elucidations of the Most Important Topics Relative to Religion, Morals, Manners, and the Oeconomy of Life; Together with a Description of All the Countries, Cities, Principal Mountains, Seas, Rivers, &c. Throughout the World; a General History, Ancient and Modern, of the Different Empires, Kingdoms, and States; and an Account of the Lives of the Most Eminent Persons in Every Nation, from the Earliest Ages Down to the Present Times. ...

The entry for Myrrh on page 571 (ignore an obvious misprint for the number of the following page) states: “The ancients reckoned two kinds of myrrh: the one liquid, which they called ſlač'é or ſtarti: the other was ſolid, and went by the name of troglodite myrrh.”

Here we are referred to footnote B, the gist of which is that the ancients had much higher quality myrrh than we do. (Good-Old-Days syndrome.) It came from a region called by the Greeks Trog odytria and seems to have been transported by Abyssinians. Dobson calls it Abyssinian myrrh to distinguish it from the modern and inferior Arabic myrrh.

According to Dobson, this better quality Abyssinian myrrh was being produced at the time of his writing, but in quantities so small as to be unavailable to Europeans. Alas, “theſe barbarians” who harvested it also burned the trees for firewood and did not replant. He laments: “the true Troglodite myrrh will be entirely loſt” and will lead posterity “to form many miſtaken conjećtures.”

I emerge from my blessed rapture to record these travels. I have learned we are still barbarians, burning up the trees without replanting them, and we are a posterity that is without doubt forming “miſtaken conjećtures” due to all we have destroyed.

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