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The Semitic root kpr, either in the Hebrew kopher or another form, was borrowed into Greek as kupros, and from there it apparently spread into late Egyptian Demotic and Coptic as qwpr or kwpr; this appears in Hellenistic Egyptian papyri as a medicine and as a sweet-smelling plant, interestingly, in a funerary context: the Papyrus Harkness records that the deceased woman is buried with a grapevine to provide drink in the afterlife, a henna bush [b‘.t kwpr] to provide perfume, and an ebony shoot to provide shade. The earliest record of kupros in Greek appears to be in the botanical work Peri phutōn historias [Concerning the Investigation of Plants] by the Greek scientist and philosopher Theophrastus (c. 371 – c. 287 BCE). He writes, in the section on perfumes and scents, Peri Osmōn [‘Treatise on Smells’]: “For each perfume [muron] they add the appropriate aromatic [spices], such as in the [manufacture of] kupros [perfume], mixing in cardamom and aspalathos, [soaked] in fragrant [wine]… The manufacture of kupros [perfume] is similar to that of [making] rose [perfume]” (Peri Osmōn 25-26).
The henna plant (kupros) is mentioned by several Greek and Roman writers as growing in the area of the Levant. In the Stephanos [Garland] of Meleager (1st century BCE), Meleager describes the epigrams of Antipater of Sidon [modern-day Ṣayda, in southern Lebanon] as phoinissan te neēn kupron [fresh reddening henna]; this implies that henna was grown, or at least associated, with Sidon and the Levantine coast (phoinos means deep-red or purple, and the verb phoinisso means to redden or empurple (this is the origin of the word Phoenician, due to the Phoenicians’ involvement in the dyeing industry and the manufacturing of Tyrian purple). Meleager here is making a pun on the fact that Antipater of Sidon is Phoenician).