Page 7, 27th November 1936

27th November 1936
Page 7
Page 7, 27th November 1936 — THE ROMANCE OF COMMON THINGS

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Organisations: Roman army, Indian Government
Locations: Seville


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The ages-old welcome in the offer of bread and salt, which is customary in the BalkaM, and among all the Bedouin tribes throughout North Africa and the East, is one of the oldest examples of symbolism in the world. From Homer's day to our own it has held good; and yet so common is salt to our sight and knowledge that few of us realise the pageantry of its sacred, historic and commercial associations, In the story of mankind salt has played many parts—it has been a token of coinage, a seal to a covenant, a symbol of good faith, a' gage of loyalty besides its thousand and o4 domestic uses.

Before It Was Found Away back in the early days of civilisation comes the first mention; when in his Odyssey, Homer tells of those islanders who knew not the sea, and used no salt with their food. And this is still the case among those tribes who live mainly on milk and flesh, the latter eaten raw or roasted so as to preserve the natural salts. Salluit mentions this fact as peculiar to the Numidians—to-day, two thousand years later, We find the same thing among the Hadrarnut Bedouins, But salt meant more than that to the minds of men. All over the earth, with Christian, Jew, Mahometan or Pagan, bread and salt has been a common phrase in common use. It is almost as if mankind recognised some esoteric significance but dimly apprehended that attaches to it; because with the Greeks, Romans and Semitic peoples, we find salt used as a sacred offering from the earliest times.

It went with all covenants, so much so that the phrase ' a covenant of salt" becomes g household word. "It is a covenant of sialt forever before the Lord to thee and to thy sons. (Numbers xviii, 19, Douai vers.)."

(3) SALT


Perhaps it was that the preservative qualities of salt appealed to man's imagination as a peculiarly fitting symbol of an enduring compact, and influenced their choice of this particular element of the covenant meal as that which sealed an obligation to fidelity. For it must be remembered that all covenants' were made over a sacrificial meal; and are to this day among Eastern peoples.

" Between Thee and Me" And so, to-day, we find among Arabs the phrase " There is salt between me and thee."

Among Moors, if there are stangers present at a meal, bread and salt is the first dish offered. And out of this symbolism there arises the most sacred bond of loyalty in the world. In the fourth chapter, fourteenth verse, of the book of Esdras, comes the significant sentence But we remembering that we have eaten in the palace count it a crime to see the King .wronged." And to-day, in Persia, the pregnant phrase "Namak Harem" meaning " untrue to salt " stigmatises disloyalty with scorn.

But it is not only the Jews and the Mahommedans who have used salt as a symbol. Its use in the liturgy of the Church is extremely ancient and is attested by the great St. Augustine, John the Deacon and St. Isidore of Seville.

In specially blessed form it was used at the baptism of catechumens of old; it is still used in the blessing of Holy Water; and again, blessed and mixed with water, and separately with ashes and with wine it is used in the consecration of churches.

Its Sale

Its commercial history is just as fascinating. The names of its trade centres weave a tapestry of colour and romance.

Palmyra, that far-famed city of wealth and refinement, dealt largely in it; Tyre and Sidon had salt monopolies. The oldest road in Italy to-day is the Via Salaria which carried the produce of the saltpans of Ostia into the Sabine country. Herodotus, that genial old liar, is accurate for once when he tells us that the caravan routes united the salt oasis of the Lybian desert, thus proving that this was mainly a salt road.

Sahara Track

To-day the same holds true. The caravan trade of the Sahara is mainly in salt. Again; the vast salt mines of Northern India were worked, according to Strabo, before the time of Alexander the Great. To-day they are the monopoly of the Indian Government. In Oriental systems of taxation salt has always been taxed, sometimes very highly indeed. These taxes, such is the cupidity and venality of the Eastern tax-gatherer have often been carried out oppressively, so that the article is apt to reach the consumer in an impure state mixed largely with earth.

How well Our Divine Lord was aware of this is proved by His remark : " You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt lose its savour wherewith shall it be salted" —an instance of His apt use of homely. simile. He knew that the salt which has lost its savour is simply the earthy residuum of impure salt (farmed out by the Eastern tax-gatherer) after the sodium chloride has been washed out.

Still a Luxury

To our Western minds it is strange to think that any people could regard it as a luxury. Yet in Central Africa it is still only the rich who can afford it. But stranger still is its use as money. When Marco Polo visited Tibet and the adjoining lands he found cakes of salt being tendered as coinage tokens; and in his writings he has told us about this curious fact. Less than fifty years ago Colonel Yule, travelling in unknown Tibet, was able to confirm Marco Polo's words and a lot of his journal from actual observation. When the Queen of Sheba visited Solomon, cakes of salt were also used as tokens of coinage in her country, Abyssinia; they are still so used there to-day.

Last, but by no means least in this litany of the historic associations of salt, is the following interesting fact. In the Roman army an allowance of salt was made, in Republican times, to officers and men. Later, under the Cwsars, this was cornmuted to a money allowance called the salarium — and from that we get our modern word, in daily me—" salary,"

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