Aroma: The Cultural History of Smell

Constance Classen, David Howes, Anthony Synnott

Roses, musk, incense and myrrh–smells have always been associated with magic, healing and sexual power. Yet what is experienced as fragrant varies dramatically from one culture to the other and from one epoch to the next.

Aroma uncovers the secret history of smells: from the perfumed banquets of ancient Greece to “the best blueberry flavor ever made”, from the sweet “odor of sanctity” to the latest in designer fragrances. A journey of discovery that takes place in the perfume potions of the Pacific as well as Andean aromatherapies

Aroma maps the “smellscapes” of different cultures and explores the roles that odors have played throughout history. Along the way, the authors open our senses to the powerful cultural meanings of smells. Odors, they show, inform power relations between the sexes, between classes and ethnic groups–the sultry femme fatale, the “sweaty working class”, the body odor of “the foreigner” are cultural stereotypes made strikingly real.

The book breaks the “olfactory silence” of modernity by offering the first comprehensive exploration of the cultural role of odors in Western history–from antiquity to the present–and in a wide variety of non-Western societies. Its topics range from the medieval concept of the “odor of sanctity” to the aromatherapies of South America, and from olfactory stereotypes of gender and ethnicity in the modern West to the role of smell in postmodernity.