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 meaings 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.
With "Aroma" Constance Classen, David Howes and Anthony Synnott invite us to follow the scent of cultures present and past and to discover a universe criss-crossed by the scent trails of the people, animals and plants that inhabit it. them, unite people or divide them, empower or disempower.
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.
"Warning: this book may bring on the desire to fill your home with bouquets of freesia, spread lavendar under your sheets, take baths infused with verbena, and rub rosemary through your hands. For "Aroma, through its examination of the role of odor in various cultures and at different periods, cannot help but make a reader painfully aware of the great olfactory void that characterizes Western civilization in the late 20th century.... Considering the omnipresent olfactory backdrop of automobile exhaust, a short growing season and limited access to the earth, that anyone is trying to take back odor' surely is cause for celebration, especially for such olfactory afficionados as these authors."
-"The Montreal Gazette
"Better than anything written on the subject thus far . . . Tremendously rich and attention-holding."
""Aroma: The Cultural History of Smell is fascinating on how odours are not just biological and psychological but cultural, employed by societies as a way of defining and interacting with the world...it is quite a relief to open this deliciously rich stew of a book and smell nothing more than paper and ink."
"Classen, Howes and Synnott have brought the day a little closer with their fascinating book."
-John Emsley, Imperial College, London
..."a fine survey of the meanings of olfaction from the historical, anthropological and sociological viewpoint...their text will prove valuable to teachers and students alike."
-"Journal of Social History