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 century, 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 century, 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.

chapter |10 pages


Why odor?

part Part 1|2 pages

The anatomy and physiology of olfaction

chapter 1|23 pages

“A smell is always a ‘half-breed’”

Greek and Arabic discussions of smell 1

chapter 2|35 pages

Odor is a fumous evaporation

The medieval anatomy and physiology of smell

part Part 2|2 pages

The powers of odors

chapter 3|40 pages

Aromaticity strengthens the spirits

Physical powers of odors in scholastic texts

chapter 4|42 pages

Beware fetid air

Scholastic powers of odor in the popular sphere

part Part 3|2 pages

The spiritual sense of smell

chapter 5|26 pages

The smell of my son

The sense of smell in theology to c. 1200

chapter 6|35 pages

The sense of smell of discretion

Medically aware olfactory theology in the later Middle Ages

chapter |6 pages


Certain odors