The Scent of Language and Social Synaesthesia at Rome

Author: Stevens, Benjamin
Title: The Scent of Language and Social Synaesthesia at Rome
Review/Collection: Classical World - Volume 101, Number 2
Year edition: 2008
Pages: 159-171
Keywords: Éloquence - Eloquenza - Eloquence, Histoire - Storia - History
Description: [Abstract] In Roman authors like Cicero and Quintilian language itself may be described as having an odor. In its synaesthetic blending of senses, this image defies “linguistic” expectations but confirms the observation of sensorial anthropology that sense-perception varies across cultures. The image is thus interpretable as an example of how Romans could use all sense-perceptual data, including natural odors and artificial scents, to determine one’s origins and position in a social hierarchy. In addition to complicating the definition of “language” in Roman antiquity, the image thus suggests understanding odors as “osmetic” or “osmemic,” depending on their meaningfulness in a given cultural context. I. Introduction Early in Plautus’ Mostellaria, Tranio and Grumio have the following exchange (38–50): TR. At te Iuppiter / dique omnes perdant, fu, oboluisti alium. / germana inluuies, rusticus, hircus, hara suis, caeno ???? ? commixte. GR. Quid uis fieri? Non omnes possunt olere unguenta exotica, / si tu oles, neque superiores accumbere / neque tam facetis quam tu uiuis uictibus. / tu tibi istos habeas turtures pisces auis / sine me aliato fungi fortunas meas. / tu fortunatu’s, ego miser: patiunda sunt. / meum bonum me, te tuom maneat malum. TR.: May Jupiter and all the gods destroy you! Phew, you smell strongly of garlic. Lump of native filth, hick, he-goat, pigsty, mixture of mire and...
Author initials: Stevens 2008