Smell and the Ancient Senses: 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Smell and the Ancient Senses

1st Edition

Edited by Mark Bradley


210 pages

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From flowers and perfumes to urban sanitation and personal hygiene, smell—a sense that is simultaneously sublime and animalistic—has played a pivotal role in western culture and thought. Greek and Roman writers and thinkers lost no opportunity to connect the smells that bombarded their senses to the social, political and cultural status of the individuals and environments that they encountered: godly incense and burning sacrifices, seductive scents, aromatic cuisines, stinking bodies, pungent farmyards and festering back-streets.

The cultural study of smell has largely focused on pollution, transgression and propriety, but the olfactory sense came into play in a wide range of domains and activities: ancient medicine and philosophy, religion, botany and natural history, erotic literature, urban planning, dining, satire and comedy—where odours, aromas, scents and stenches were rich and versatile components of the ancient sensorium. The first comprehensive introduction to the role of smell in the history, literature and society of classical antiquity, Smell and the Ancient Senses explores and probes the ways that the olfactory sense can contribute to our perceptions of ancient life, behaviour, identity and morality.


"Smell finally receives respect among the “lower” senses. Fragrant odors and foul stenches attracted and assaulted noses in the less hygienic, less deodorized social and commercial environments of Athens and Alexandria and the squalid tenements of Rome and Pompeii. Medical aromatherapies, religious rituals, and literary practice vis-à-vis elusive aromas produced pleased perceptions, scientific explanations, and disgusted reactions. Modern cultural researchers examine ancient production (natural and artificial) and sniffing responses. Bradley assembled 12 scholars who survey stink and savor in Greek, Roman, Hebrew, and Christian sensoriums…Required reading as an introduction to the cultures of antiquity. Summing Up: Essential." - D. Lateiner, Ohio Wesleyan University, CHOICE

"…a welcome addition to the slowly growing corpus of smell literature and is further evidence of the importance of the current 'sensory turn' in the exploration of the lives of ancient peoples…The volume cleverly manages to combine discussions of smelly poetry, satire and physiological texts with archaeological and experiential studies of smelly places – meaning that there is something here for every classical scholar. If this volume is representative of the standard and quality of the forthcoming volumes in the Senses in Antiquity series, then I detect a very strong whiff of anticipation for the next installment." - Stuart Eve, University College London, BMCR

Table of Contents

Introduction: smell and the ancient senses

  1. Smell as sign and cure in ancient medicine
  2. Ancient philosophers on the sense of smell
  3. Divine scents and presence
  4. Smelling trees, flowers and herbs in the ancient world
  5. Making scents of poetry
  6. Roman urban smells: the archaeological evidence
  7. Urban smells and Roman noses
  8. The scent of Roman dining
  9. Foul bodies in ancient Rome
  10. Fragrance in the Rabbinic world
  11. The smell of Christianity
  12. Missing noses



About the Editor


Mark Bradley is Associate Professor of Ancient History at the University of Nottingham, UK.

About the Series

The Senses in Antiquity

Like us, ancient Greeks and Romans came to know and understand their world through their senses. Yet it has long been recognized that the world the ancients perceived, and the senses through which they channelled this information could operate differently from the patterns and processes of perception in the modern world. This series explores the relationship between perception, knowledge and understanding in the literature, philosophy, history, language and culture of ancient Greece and Rome.


Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / Ancient / General