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.
Table of Contents
Introduction: smell and the ancient senses
- Smell as sign and cure in ancient medicine
- Ancient philosophers on the sense of smell
- Divine scents and presence
- Smelling trees, flowers and herbs in the ancient world
- Making scents of poetry
- Roman urban smells: the archaeological evidence
- Urban smells and Roman noses
- The scent of Roman dining
- Foul bodies in ancient Rome
- Fragrance in the Rabbinic world
- The smell of Christianity
- Missing noses
Mark Bradley is Associate Professor of Ancient History at the University of Nottingham, UK.