IT IS TIME to consider the nose.

If you didn't have a nose you couldn't smell so good. You knew that.

If you didn't have a nose your glasses would sag.

If you didn't have a nose you would look very strange.

But you could see a lot more out of one eye.

The whole concept of human beauty comes down to a matter of nose fashions. The Greeks admired people who had a straight line down the forehead to the tip of the nose.

In the reign of Doris Day, Barbara Streisand would have been considered a Poor Thing. Maybe somebody would have talked her into a nose job, and then where would we be today? Meryl Steep would be working in the back row of an IBM typing pool, that's where we'd be.

The nose is the prow of the face. Unless you're going backwards, in which case it is the rudder.

It is more, much more.

"Maharanis have set their noses with rubies," writes Richard Selzer in his compulsively readable "Confessions of a Knife" (Simon and Schuster, 1979). "There is a Filipino flute that is played with the nose. In the recesses of the nose, smugglers and spies have hidden secret messages, and witches poured vials of poison. Jealous caliphs have chained their concubines to nose rings. But it is as the organ of sexual expression that the nose has realized its highest purpose. It is no accident that the olfactory portion of the brain lies next to the center of the emotions. Nor is it without import that the olfactory lobes are called the testicles of the brain. Does not the swelling of a lusty nostril reveal the stallion's passionate intent?"

He also mentions the condition known as a "bride's nose," a nasal congestion caused by sexual excitement. Why the bride is singled out here is nothing but lubricious sexism.

You used to be able to send away for a nose flute to Johnson Smith & Co., the mail-order house of our childhood. It cost 10 cents. But that was a while ago.

In India and some other central Asian countries a thousand years ago, thieves, adulteres and conquered peoples were punished by having their noses cut off. This caused the invention of plastic surgery. Amateur doctors (actually they were a caste of Indian bricklayers, presumably given to stealing and fornicating) cut a long strip in the forehead, attached the free end to the nose stump and left it to heal, looking like a pitcher handle. Eventually the forehead end was cut loose, nostrils were carved and the flap shaped into a workable nose.

Europe didn't invent nose surgery until the 16th century, "doubtless having been brought from Bombay to Bologna," writes Dr. Selzer, "by some itinerant surgeon or adulterer." Anyway, the operation was very popular in an era when disfiguring syphilis was rampant.

Famous nose owners in fact and fiction: J.P. Morgan. W.C. Fields. Pinocchio. Cyrano de Bergerac. Basil Rathbone. Durante. Hope. Nixon. Roman Nose, a man actually named after his own nose. Short noses do not bring fame.

Nose celebrities: In the story by Gogol (also a Shostakovich opera), a nose sets up a separate existence and has various adventures. In "Sleeper," the nose of a dead dictator is being kept alive so he can be cloned, but Woody Allen and Diane Keaton steal the nose and throw it under a steamroller.

The human smelling arrangement consists of about a square inch of territory in the nostrils covered with olfactory cells, miniature knobbed spikes. Each knob has a tiny hair which probes the nasal mucus where odors become trapped. Smells, by the way, are carried in cloudlets of moisture.

Detected by the filament in the mucus, the smell information is communicated to the olfactory nerve and the brain. We still don't know exactly how all this works.

Five billionths of a gram of vaniilin in a liter of air can be smelled by humans. Some humans, that is. Our need for smelling skills has all but disappeared with the millennia, and some of us are virtually blind and deaf in the nose.

The nose draws insults the way a top hat draws snowballs. No one ever did it better than Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac, that great poet, swordsman and noseman.

In the play, someone disparages his nose ("Ah . . . your nose . . . hem! . . . Your nose is . . . rather large!") and Cyrano points out the many things the poor fop might have said ("Mon Dieu, why waste your opportunity?") before being skewered in a duel set to rhyme.

"Aggressive: I, sir, if that nose were mine, I'd have it amputated on the spot! Friendly: How do you drink with such a nose? You ought to have a cup made specially. Descriptive: 'Tis a rock -- a crag -- a cape -- A cape? Say rather, a peninsula! Inquisitive: What is that receptacle -- a razor -- a case or a portfolio? Kindly: Ah, do you love the little birds so much that when they come and sing to you, you give them this to perch on? Insolent: Sir, when you smoke, the neighbors must suppose your chimney is on fire. Cautious: Take care -- a weight like that might make you top-heavy . . ."

St. Joseph of Copertino could identify sins of the flesh by their various smells. Several saints were known to have been offended by the distinct odor of heretics.

The first vertebrates, sea creatures without jaws (ancestors of the lamprey eel), had a single nostril on top of the head. Later they developed twin nostrils, each actually a pair of openings for letting the water in and out. With this gadget a shark can smell meat under water a quarter of a mile away.

A special device, Jacobson's organ, aids smelling in many lower animals but drops out with the primates, which get enough information from their eyes to do without it.

Nose facts:

In 1966 June Clark, 17, of Miami, Fla., started sneezing after a kidney operation and couldn't stop. She sneezed for 155 days before electrical therapy closed her down.

When you sneeze, the germs are blasted out at 103 miles per hour.

A snore has been recorded at 69 decibels. A jet takeoff is about 150.

Insect-eating plants attract flies by giving off a smell of rotting meat.

". . . Thoughtful: Somebody fetch my parasol -- those delicate colors fade so in the sun! Pedantic: Does not Aristophanes mention a mythologic monster called Hippocamelephantocamelos? Surely we have here the original! Familiar: Well, old torchlight! Hang your hat over that chandelier -- it hurts my eyes. Eloquent: When it blows, the typhoon howls and the clouds darken. Dramatic: When it bleeds -- the Red Sea! . . ."

Doubtless for onomatopoeic reasons, the nose figures in a great many "sn" words, two letters that appear in "nose" itself. Most of them are unpleasant. w

There is snarl, sneer, sneeze and snicker. There is snide, sniff, sniffle, snigger, snivel, snoop (as in, "would you kindly keep your long nose out of this?"), snooze, snore and snort. Not to omit snot, a sturdy Middle English word that is still barely printable after all these centuries.

And snout, and snotty, and snootful, snub, snuff and snuffle.

Everybody knows by now that the size of a man's nose has nothing whatever to do with his generative apparatus. The myth, like all myths, persists unscathed. It seems to have obsessed that charming crazyman Laurence Sterne, the most prurient writer ever to make the freshman English reading lists.

In "Tristram Shandy" he tells the Tale of Slawkenbergius, concerning a stranger who rode into Strasburg one August evening, carrying a scimitar to defend his enormous nose. The townspeople were fascinated with this appendage."Benedicity! What a nose! 'Tis as long, said the trumpeter's wife, as a trumpet . . . 'Tis as soft as a flute . . . 'Tis brass . . . 'Tis a pudding's end . . . I'll know the bottom of it, said the trumpeter's wife, for I will touch it with my finger before I sleep."

And so on. Eventually the burghers all rush through the gates to check out the stranger, and the French thereupon invade the city and conquer it.

I guess you had to be there.

". . . Enterprising: What a sign for some perfumer! Lyric: Hark -- the horn of Roland calls to summon Charlemagne! Simple: When do they unveil the monument? Respectful: Sir, I recognize in you a man of parts, a man of prominence. Rustic: Hey? What? Call that a nose? Na na -- I be no fool like what you think I be -- that there's a blue cucumber. Military: Point agains cavalry! Practical: Why not a lottery with this for the grand prize? . . ."

Anne Morrow Lindbergh tells the story of the time J.P. Morgan came to tea with her mother, wife of the financier Dwight Morrow. In his later years the great robber baron was aflicted by a strawberry nose, a huge red knobbly pitted pickle of a nose that stuck out of his terrible face like a judgment.

Mrs. Morrow warned the children: Don't stare at the nose, don't ask about it, and for heaven's sake don't giggle. Any child who giggles goes to her room for a week.

The tea party went beautifully. The girls curtsied, smiled and then sat in a solemn row like a hanging jury. A maid wheeled in the tea caddy. Mrs. Morrow, with a gracious nod, poured for the guest. "Mr. Morgan," she said with animation, "will you have lemon or cream in your nose?"

"Wipe your nose and do not blame God," said Epictetus.