The Greek Sense of Smell: Olfactory Perception and the Sociocultural Roles of Perfume in Antiquity
Grant, Grainne Louise
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
I wish to publish papers from this thesis.
Olfactory perception is as sociocultural a phenomenon as it is a physiological one. Scents of all types and the meanings assigned to them contribute to and shape human cultures, and humans have deliberately manipulated smells to sway the opinions and value judgements of others since, at the very least, the dawn of agriculture. ‘Smellscapes’ define our environments. How we smell what we smell and why we interpret what we smell the way we do are inextricably intertwined, and this was no less true in the Classical world. When we study how people in antiquity examined the sense of smell in general and the corresponding roles of perfume in particular, we see many of the same issues and questions being raised as concern scientists today. Applying modern models to ancient practices can enhance insight into Greek and Roman cultures. This paper will discuss physiological olfactory perception as the authors in the Classical and Hellenistic periods defined and described that, and will examine the primary literature regarding perfume in order to provide a specific example of one way in which we can be initiated into the mysteries of a different and long-gone cultural sensorium through the written word.
PhD in Classics