Lucretius and the Salty Taste of Sea Air


  • Pamela Zinn



This article treats the sense of taste in Epicurean thought through the evidence in Lucretius’ De rerum natura. It reconstructs Lucretius’ account of what taste is and how it works, with a view to explaining instances like the taste of salt by the seaside, where we seem to taste at a distance. I argue that such instances are not exceptions, but examples that reveal more about the processes behind them. When analyzed in conjunction with the physiology of taste and the water cycle, the salty taste of sea air confirms the traditional view that the perception of flavor consistently occurs through direct contact with the object of perception, not through indirect contact with an intermediary. Moreover, it advances the understanding of what comes into contact, what the perceiver contributes to taste, and taste’s sensory threshold.