The Art of Kissing; or Why Sociology is Silly

24 09 2006

Once upon a time, while I was undertaking a BA in Communications at UTS (and majoring in Writing and Contemporary Cultures), I took a class on sociology. My teacher, a lady in her mid-thirties whose name I would probably no longer even recognise were I to hear it again, decided to share with us her thoughts about kissing. She was in the process of writing a book which I hope, for her sake, was never published. Her overriding thesis was that kissing on the mouth is a thoroughly recent phenomenon, thanks to the wonderful developments in the realm of dental and oral hygiene, and that prior generations of amorous lovers (a curious tautology) kissed each other elsewhere.

O, how wrong she was.

The following are some brief examples of kissing in ancient literature, each of which testifies to the existence of this phenomenon so recently attributed solely to the French.

Song of Songs 1:2. Date of composition is disputed.

ישקני מנשיקות פיהו כי טובים דדיך מיין
Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth…
Oh, your loving is better than wine!

While one may choose to argue that the kisses of his mouth may be delivered on other parts of the nameless lady’s body, the reference to wine conjures images of taste-related appreciation.

Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Ḥullin, 127a Composed no later than 700 CE.

אמר רב גידל אמר רב נרשאה נשקיך מני ככיך
Rav Gidel said in the name of Rav,
“If a Nerashean [a people criticised in the Talmud for being thieves] should kiss you: count your teeth!”

Geoffrey Chaucer. “The Miller’s Tale”¹. Composed, c. 1380-1390

The first cock crew at last, and thereupon
Up rose this jolly lover Absalon
In gayest clothes, garnished with that and this;
But first he chewed a grain of liquorice
To charm his breath before he combed his hair.
Under his tongue the comfit nestling there
Would make him gracious. He began to roam
Towards the carpenter’s; he reached their home
And by the casement window took his stand.
Breast-high it stood, no higher than his hand.
He gave a cough, it was a semi-sound;
‘Alison, honey-comb, are you around?
Sweet cinnamon, my pretty little bird,
Sweetheart, wake up and say a little word!
You seldom think of me in all my woe,
I sweat for love of you wherever I go!

I eat as little as a girl at school.’
‘You go away,’ she answered, ‘you Tom-fool!
There’s no come-up-and-kiss-me here for you.
I love another and why shouldn’t I too?
Better than you, by Jesu, Absalon!
Take yourself off or I shall throw a stone.
I want to get some sleep. You go to Hell!’
‘Alas!’ said Absalon. ‘I knew it well;
True love is always mocked and girded at;
So kiss me, if you can’t do more than that,
For Jesu’s love and for the love of me!’
‘And if I do, will you be off?’ said she.
‘Promise you, darling,’ answered Absalon.
‘Get ready then; wait, I’ll put something on,’
She said and then she added under breath
To Nicholas, ‘Hush… we shall laugh to death!’
This Absalon went down upon his knees;
‘I am a lord!’ he thought, ‘And by degrees
There may be more to come; the plot may thicken.’
‘Mercy, my love!’ he said, ‘Your mouth, my chicken!’
She flung the window open then in haste
And said, ‘Have done, come on, no time to waste,
The neighbours here are always on the spy.’
Absalon started wiping his mouth dry.
Dark was the night as pitch, as black as coal,
And at the window out she put her hole,
And Absalon, so fortune framed the farce,
Put up his mouth and kissed her naked arse
Most savorously before he knew of this.
And back he started. Something was amiss;
He knew quite well a woman has no beard,
Yet something rough and hairy had appeared.
‘What have I done?’ he said. ‘Can that be you?’
‘Teehee!’ she cried and clapped the window to.

This last one, while it may perhaps not involve kissing on the mouth, as the subject of this post did promise, nonetheless testifies to the protagonist’s suavic intentions.

[Note: This post originally appeared on my former blog. For earlier comments, please click here.]

¹ 88-106 of The Canterbury Tales (trans. N. Coghill; London: Penguin, 1977).
² 102-103, ibid.




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