Advertisement

What the Nose Knew: Renaissance Theologies of Smell

  • Sophie Read
Chapter
Part of the Crossroads of Knowledge in Early Modern Literature book series (CKEML, volume 1)

Abstract

From the earliest times, and well into the Renaissance, the sense of smell was seen as an index of truth, irresistibly revelatory of the essence of things; it was thought to bypass cognitive processes, and register its wordless impressions directly on the brain. There was danger as well as enlightenment, of course, in this unmediated sensory pathway to knowledge: danger of infection from evil smells, of seduction from sweet ones. But despite its potential hazards, smell remained an important mode of theological understanding: it allowed the apprehension of divine intelligence though the created world, and offered a way of knowing things that might be immediate, transcendent, devout. This chapter explores some of the beliefs surrounding smell in early modern religious contexts, their origins, and the uses to which they were put by poets and other writers seeking a trope for the experience of communion with the divine.

Bibliography

  1. Andrewes, Lancelot, XCVI Sermons by the Right Honorable and Reverend Father in God, Lancelot Andrewes, Late Lord Bishop of Winchester (London: George Miller, 1629).Google Scholar
  2. Ashbrook Harvey, Susan, Scenting Salvation: Ancient Christianity and the Olfactory Imagination (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006).Google Scholar
  3. Atchley, E.G. Cuthbert F., A History of the Use of Incense in Divine Worship (London: Longmans, Green, 1909).Google Scholar
  4. Baum, Jacob M., ‘From Incense to Idolatry: The Reformation of Olfaction in Late Medieval German Ritual’, Sixteenth Century Journal, 44 (2013): 323–43.Google Scholar
  5. Berkeley, Richard, A Discourse on the Felicitie of Man, or His Summum Bonum (London, 1598).Google Scholar
  6. Brathwait, Richard, Essais Upon the Five Senses (London: E. Griffen, 1620).Google Scholar
  7. Detienne, Marcel, The Gardens of Adonis: Spices in Greek Mythology, trans. J. Lloyd (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977).Google Scholar
  8. Dugan, Holly, The Ephemeral History of Perfume: Scent and Sense in Early Modern England (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011).Google Scholar
  9. Ellis, Aytoun, The Essence of Beauty: A History of Perfume and Cosmetics (London: Secker & Warburg, 1960).Google Scholar
  10. Freedman, Paul, Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008).Google Scholar
  11. Goody, Jack, The Culture of Flowers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).Google Scholar
  12. le Guerer, Anick, Scent: The Mysterious and Essential Powers of Smell (London: Chatto & Windus, 1993).Google Scholar
  13. Herbert, George, The Country Parson: Or, A Priest to the Temple (Cambridge, 1656).Google Scholar
  14. ———, The English Poems of George Herbert, ed. H. Wilcox (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).Google Scholar
  15. Herrick, Robert, The Complete Poetry of Robert Herrick, vol. I, ed. T. Cain and R. Connolly (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).Google Scholar
  16. Jacobson, Miriam, Barbarous Antiquity: Reorienting the Past in the Poetry of Early Modern England (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2014).Google Scholar
  17. Kellwaye, Simon, A Defensative Against the Plague (London: John Windet, 1593).Google Scholar
  18. Milner, Matthew, The Senses and the English Reformation (Farnham: Ashgate, 2011).Google Scholar
  19. de Montaigne, Michel, ‘On Smelling’, in Essais, trans. John Florio (London, 1603).Google Scholar
  20. Nagler, Danielle, ‘Towards the Smell of Mortality: Shakespeare and Ideas of Smell, 1588–1625’, Cambridge Quarterly, 26 (1997): 42–58.Google Scholar
  21. Palmer, Richard, ‘In Bad Odour: Smell and Its Significance in Medicine from Antiquity to the Seventeenth Century’, in Medicine and the Five Senses, ed. W.F. Bynum and R. Porter (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 61–68.Google Scholar
  22. Pliny, The Historie of the World: Commonly Called, the Naturall Historie of C. Plinius Secundus, trans. Philemon Holland (London: Adam Islip, 1601).Google Scholar
  23. Prynne, William, Canterburies Doome, or, The First Part of a Compleat History of the Commitment, Charge, Tryall, Condemnation, Execution of William Laud, Late Arch-Bishop of Canterbury (London: John Macock, 1646).Google Scholar
  24. Robertson, David, ‘Incensed Over Incense: Incense and Community in Seventeenth-Century Literature’, in Writing and Religion in England, 1558–1689: Studies in Community-Making and Cultural Memory, ed. R.D. Sell and A.W. Johnson (Farnham: Ashgate, 2009), 389–409.Google Scholar
  25. de Sales, Francis, An Introduction to a Deuvoute Life Composed in Frenche by the R. Father in God Francis Sales, Bishop of Geneva (London, 1613).Google Scholar
  26. Shakespeare, William, Mr William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies (London: I. Iagaard & E. Blount, 1623).Google Scholar
  27. Stoddart, Michael D., The Scented Ape: The Biology and Culture of Human Odour (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).Google Scholar
  28. Stubbes, Philip, Anatomie of Abuses (London: J. Kingston, 1583).Google Scholar
  29. Wall, John, Euangelicall Spices, or, The Incense of the Gospell (London: John Clarke, 1627).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sophie Read
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of EnglishUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK

Personalised recommendations