A lume di naso. Per una storia antica dell'olfatto

Isabella Tondo


'A lume di naso', which literally means 'by the light of the nose', is an Italian expression commonly used to indicate an intuitive leap — a guess made without having proof. This article provides a brief and fascinating review of anecdotes and characters that portray the ancient Latin association between the nose, olfaction and intelligence. In ancient Rome, 'going by the light of one's nose' described the cognitive style of a man who possessed a sense of smell so keen and acute that he could quickly and infallibly sniff out the truth. The sagacitas of the Romans was olfactory shrewdness, but also an intuitive and experiential form of intelligence. Sense of smell could not be deceived — rather, it very often exposed deception and brought the truth to light. As a formidable instrument of discernment however, olfaction, an eminent social sense, could also become a form of discrimination against the Other — a form of control that delineated vice and virtue, almost as if they were malodor and perfume.

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