Valentine's Day kisses continue odd human tradition

  • It started with a kiss (Source: photos.com)

A kiss may be just a kiss, but when sweethearts pucker up on
Valentine’s Day, they will be participating in one of the most
bizarre and unlikely of human activities.

Experts say kissing evolved from sniffing, which people did
centuries ago as a way of learning about each other.

“At some point, they slipped and ended up on the lips, and they
thought that was a lot better,” said Vaughn Bryant, an
anthropologist at Texas University and an authority on the
evolution of human kissing.

“You got a lot more bang for your buck.”

For most of early human history, smell was more important than
any other sense for human relationships, said Sheril Kirshenbaum,
author of The Science of Kissing.

People would use smell to determine a person’s mood, their
health and their social status, she said.

“There were a lot of sniff greetings,” said Kirshenbaum,
director of the Project on Energy Communication at the University
of Texas.

“They would brush the nose across the face, because there are
scent glands on our faces, and over time the brush of the face
became a brush of the lips, and the social greeting was born that
way.”

Kissing as a romantic sense of expression is believed to have
begun in India, where an epic poem called the Mahabharata -
believed to have been written about 1000 BC – included history’s
first recognisable descriptions of romantic kissing.

“She set her mouth to my mouth and made a noise that produced
pleasure in me,” the poem said.

Historians believe that at the time, romantic kissing was
unknown in the rest of the world, and that it was brought to Europe
by Alexander the Great.

In ancient Greece, kissing was a way to communicate status,
rank, and loyalty among men in a military or court setting,
Kirshenbaum said.

“It was a way to express a sort of a social hierarchy,” she
said.

Kissing is mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey, but as a form of
supplication, not romance, she said.

For example, Odysseus returns home and is kissed by his
slave.

‘Kissing fools’

For much of human history, the location of the kiss on the body
would demonstrate rank within a royal household or the army.

A social equal would kiss a man directly on the mouth, and
subservient soldiers, servants, and slaves would kiss the cheek,
the hand, the feet, the hem of the robe, or even the ground in
front of a person who was considered to be too regal to be kissed
at all.

This continued into the 18th century.

But by the days of Julius Caesar, the Romans were “kissing
fools,” Bryant said.

 

The Roman Emperor Tiberius tried to ban the kiss because he thought
it was a way that people were spreading leprosy, Kirshenbaum
said.

“But he was unsuccessful, because people really liked to kiss,”
she said.

The biggest kissing killjoys of all were the early
Christians.

Kissing is prominently mentioned nine times in the Bible, but
only once, in Romans, does it refer to a romantic kiss.

There are kisses of treachery (the Judas kiss), kisses of
greeting, kisses of subjection and the kiss of life (in
Genesis).

Several popes tried over the years to ban romantic kissing.

In 1312, Pope Clement V decreed that “kissing done with the
intent to fornicate was to be considered a mortal sin.”

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