Posted on Sep 17, 2013 in Health & safety, Other stuff
Where in the world did the custom of blessing someone following a sneeze come from?
It’s just automatic, isn’t it? Someone sneezes and we say “bless you” almost immediately. Some people even consider it rude to not say it after a sneeze. But how many people ever stop and wonder where this custom came from?
Well, here’s the thing — no one really knows where and why it started. In my research I came across numerous sources that indicated the practice dated at least as far back as 77 A.D., according to Pliny the Elder. The problem is, Pliny didn’t bother to elaborate as to why anyone thought blessing another person following a sneeze was a good idea.
According to this analysis of writings of Herodotus and Pliny, the ancient Latins said “salvere jusserunt,” or “save you” after a sneeze, which was generally believed to have come about due to some disease which was invariably fatal.
On the other hand, according to the Odyssey, sneezing was considered an auspicious omen as seen in this passage:
She spoke — Telemachus then sneez’d aloud;
Constrain’d, his nostrils echoed through the crowd;
The smiling queen the happy omen bless’d;
So may these impious fall by fate oppress’d.
In this context, the blessing is not in response to the sneeze — the sneeze itself is the portent of a blessing to come.
Unfortunately, unless someone either invents a time machine or digs up some heretofore undiscovered ancient document describing the beginning of the tradition, I doubt we’ll ever actually know the full story.
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