The Kiss in History
By Sheril Kirshenbaum
Classicists and anthropologists have traced kissing history over millennia. The earliest and best literary evidence we have dates to around 1500 B.C. from India’s Vedic Sanskrit texts. While there were no words for “kissing,” there are intriguing lines such as the “young lord of the house repeatedly licks the young woman.” Later, the Vatsyayana Kamasutra (better known as the “Kama Sutra”) composed sometime around the third century A.D. includes an entire chapter devoted to kissing a lover.
Clearly, people in India were kissing thousands of years ago, but it’s doubtful they were the only ones doing so. A Babylonian creation story known as the Enuma elish recorded on stone tablets in the 7th century B.C. contains several references to kisses. Meanwhile, the Old Testament of the Bible (estimated to have been assembled during the twelve centuries before the birth of Christ) abounds with kissing. We also see it among the Greeks in Homers Iliad and Odyssey and later in the Histories of Herodotus. Later, the Romans enjoyed a strong and vibrant kissing culture and apparently introduced the behavior to other parts of the world via their military.
Over time, kissing would permeate much of the globe as explorers and tradesmen traveled to foreign lands bringing the custom with them. Eventually literature and film would also serve as ambassadors. Today kissing is a near universal way to express how we feel when words simply will not do.
About the author: Sheril Kirshenbaum is author of the new book The Science of Kissing: What Our Lips Are Telling Us. She is also a research scientist at the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of Texas at Austin.