I was chatting with a friend the other day about kissing and started to think about the history of the kiss. When did human's start kissing? Animals seem much more open with who they kiss and when... so what's the story with humans?
Kissing allows prospective mates to taste each other's pheromones for biological compatibility. It is a much stronger chemical reaction than merely sniffing each other. Humans also judge potential mates on the quality of the kiss as a sign of a potential lover's personality among other things.
This painting, called "Kiss," was painted by Francesco Hayez in the 19th century. Before the 19th century, kisses did not appear frequently in Western artwork.
The History of the Kiss Historians really don't know much about the early history of kissing. Four Vedic Sanskrit texts, written in India around 1500 B.C., appear to describe people kissing. This doesn't mean that nobody kissed before then, and it doesn't mean that Indians were the first to kiss. Artists and writers may have just considered kissing too private to depict in art or literature.
After its first mention in writing, kissing didn't appear much in art or literature for a few hundred years. The Indian epic poem "Mahabharata" describes kissing on the lips as a sign of affection. The "Mahabharata" was passed down orally for several hundred years before being written down and standardized around 350 A.D. The Indian religious text "Vatsyayana Kamasutram," or the "Kama Sutra," also describes a variety of kisses. It was written in the 6th century A.D. Anthropologists who believe that kissing is a learned behavior theorize that the Greeks learned about it when Alexander the Great invaded India in 326 B.C.
There aren't many records of kissing in the Western world until the days of the Roman Empire. Romans used kisses to greet friends and family members. Citizens kissed their rulers' hands. And, naturally, people kissed their romantic partners. The Romans even came up with three different categories for kissing: Osculum was a kiss on the cheek Basium was a kiss on the lips Savolium was a deep kiss
The Romans also started several kissing traditions that have lasted to the present day. In ancient Rome, couples became betrothed by kissing passionately in front of a group of people. This is probably one reason why modern couples kiss at the end of wedding ceremonies. Additionally, although most people today think of love letters as "sealed with a kiss," kisses were used to seal legal and business agreements. Ancient Romans also used kissing as part of political campaigns. However, several "kisses for votes" scandals in 18th century England led - in theory - to candidates kissing only the very young and very old. Religious Kissing Like the Romans, early Christians often greeted one another with an osculum pacis, an holy kiss on the cheek. According to tradition, the holy kiss caused a transfer of spirit between the two people kissing. Some historians believe this was the result of the church wanting to foster a sense of "brotherly love amongst the clergy", but could also have been the result of rampant homosexuality within the clergy.
Works of literature like "Romeo and Juliet" have portrayed kisses as dangerous or deadly when shared between the wrong people. Some folklorists and literary critics view kissing as a form of physical vampirism, symbolic of the physical and emotional dangers that can come from kissing the wrong person.
The Holy Bible (in the gospels of Matthew and Mark) for example shows the betrayal of Judas by singling out Jesus with a kiss, while Sleeping Beauty is awakened by a princely kiss and stories of succubi tell of women sucking the life out of men with a kiss (ie. Hans Baldung Grien - Death and the Maiden - 1518-20 or John William Waterhouse - La Belle Dame Sans Merci - 1893).
In the Greek myth of Pygmalion and Galatea (an older version of Sleeping Beauty) a romantic kiss is used by a male to awaken or breathe life into a female statue (ie. Jean Leon Gerome - Pygmalion and Galatea - c.1890).
In modern American versions of the fairy tale "Frog Prince" it is the male who is transformed into the prince from the frog kissed by the beautiful female princess. A similar account occurs in "Beauty and the Beast".
*KISSING UNDER THE MISTLETOE Today, some people seem to spend the holiday season waiting under the mistletoe in the hopes of kissing whoever passes by. But until the 1400s, kissing under mistletoe was a big commitment. Such kisses often meant that a couple was engaged.
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