The Sense of Smell in the Middle Ages: A Source of Certainty, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

The Sense of Smell in the Middle Ages

A Source of Certainty, 1st Edition

By Katelynn Robinson


272 pages

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Hardback: 9780367000684
pub: 2019-09-20
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Odors, including those of incense, spices, cooking, and refuse, were both ubiquitous and meaningful in central and late medieval Western Europe. The significance of the sense of smell is evident in scholastic Latin texts, most of which are untranslated and unedited by modern scholars. Between the late eleventh and thirteenth centuries, medieval scholars developed a logical theory of the workings of the sense of smell based on Greek and Arabic learning. In the thirteenth through fifteenth centuries, medical authors detailed practical applications of smell theory and these were communicated to individuals and governing authorities by the medical profession in the interests of personal and public health. At the same time, religious authors read philosophical and medical texts and gave their information religious meaning. This reinterpretation of scholastic philosophy and medicine led to the development of what can be termed a medically-aware theology of smell that was communicated to popular audiences alongside traditional olfactory theory in sermons. Its impact on popular thought is reflected in late medieval mystical texts. While the senses have received increasing scholarly attention in recent decades this volume presents the first detailed research into the sense of smell in the later European Middle Ages

Table of Contents



Introduction: Why Odor?

Part 1 - The Anatomy and Physiology of Olfaction

Chapter 1: "A smell is always a ‘half-breed’": Greek and Arabic Discussions of Smell

Chapter 2: Odor is a Fumous Evaporation: The Medieval Anatomy and Physiology of Smell

Part 2 - The Powers of Odors

Chapter 3: Aromaticity Strengthens the Spirits: Physical Powers of Odors in Scholastic Texts

Chapter 4: Beware Fetid Air: Scholastic Powers of Odor in the Popular Sphere

Part 3 - The Spiritual Sense of Smell

Chapter 5: The Smell of My Son: The Sense of Smell in Theology to c. 1200

Chapter 6: The Sense of Smell of Discretion: Medically-Aware Olfactory Theology in the Later Middle Ages

Conclusion: Certain Odors



About the Author

Katelynn Robinson completed her PhD at the University of Missouri. Her current research focuses on the importance of the sense of smell in medieval culture.

About the Series

Studies in Medieval History and Culture

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / General