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Albarello drug jar for Mesue's French Musked Lozenges of Aloes Wood, Sicily, 1601-1630

The inscription on this jar translates from Latin as “Mesue’s French Musked Lozenges of Aloes Wood”. The preparation was made from aloe wood and two animal products, ambergris and musk, which are both difficult to find in large quantities. Pressed into lozenges, they were used to strengthen the brain and heart. All of the ingredients are very fragrant and so they also acted as a deodorant and breath freshener. The French part of the name derives from the preparation’s popularity in France. Mesue (777-857 CE) was the European name for Yuhanna Ibn Masawayh, a prominent Christian physician who wrote in Arabic. Ibn Masawayh worked at the Baghdad hospital and was personal physician to a number of Caliphs. ‘Meuse’ was also the pseudonym of a pharmaceutical writer.

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Glossary: musk

a strong-smelling reddish-brown substance which is secreted by the male musk deer for scent-marking and is an important ingredient in perfumery.

Glossary: drug jar

A (usually earthenware) container designed to hold apothecaries' ointments and dry drugs.

Glossary: pharmacy

The preparation and medicinal dispensing of drugs.

Glossary: albarello

A form of jar, typically from Medieval Spain, used for storing drugs. The word ‘albarello’ is of Spanish origin but historians appear divided over whether or not the design of the jar originated in Spain, Morocco or China. The shape of the waisted jar is distinctive.

Glossary: lozenge

A small medicated sweet to be dissolved slowly in the mouth. Lozenges are intended to sooth and lubricate the throat.

Glossary: ambergris

A wax like substance that is an intestinal secretion of the sperm whale. It is found floating on tropical seas and has been used to make perfume.