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Colors in Ancient/Koine Greek

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Colors in Ancient/Koine Greek

Postby uberdwayne » Mon Dec 23, 2013 1:34 am

Hey guys,

I've been looking all over for a place where I could find the different colors in Ancient/Koine Greek. Can anyone help me out?
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Re: Colors in Ancient/Koine Greek

Postby mwh » Mon Dec 23, 2013 2:51 am

Colors are actually a bit of a hot topic right now. They didn't see colors quite the way we do, they divvied up the spectrum differently, so it's very dodgy looking for one-to-one equivalences. And then there's colors' cultural significations and associations. There's a book by Mark Bradley on color and color perception at Rome (reviewed at http://bmcr.brynmawr.edu/2010/2010-09-17.html), with good biblio, and I understand he's done or is doing something similar for Greece.

About colors in NT I don't know, beyond "white" = "pure"!
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Re: Colors in Ancient/Koine Greek

Postby Scribo » Mon Dec 23, 2013 1:14 pm

Well the colour spectrum tends to vary language by language. It is a serious problem that we tend to force north European (or, explicitly, English) definitions onto Greek words isn't it?

This was the kind of stuff we were drilled in as early philological exercises, e.g /ksanthos/ doesn't mean blond in our sense but more of a ruddy brown (like roasted meat, hence xanthizein), the honey is "green" because the chemical processes involved meant ancient Greek honey looks like x and so on.

I don't know how useful an exercise it is overall really actually. I just sat there, listened and took notes.
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Re: Colors in Ancient/Koine Greek

Postby uberdwayne » Mon Dec 23, 2013 3:08 pm

Interesting.... I remember reading about the way colors are divvied up in other cultures. For the sake of learning the language by describing things we see, I was hoping for a quick and dirty guide.

It seems that χλορος is used to describe a color anywhere between yellow and green. Consider the death horse in Revelation and a reference to Χλορος Χορτος.
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Re: Colors in Ancient/Koine Greek

Postby Scribo » Mon Dec 23, 2013 3:40 pm

ωρός, φίλε. Χόρτος χλωρὸς.

I don't know to what degree you'd find a quick and dirty reference, especially since meanings are going to change over time. Take κύανος as a perfect example. Its a loan word into Greek as early as the bronze age and also into some related languages like Hittite etc. Probably from Egyptian tbh and it almost certainly means the kind of blueish stone they used but it fluctuates in meaning; descriptors of precious stones, deities' hair, natural phenomena etc. So not only is taken our "cyan" as an approximation very bad practice, you have to automatically allow some leeway.
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Re: Colors in Ancient/Koine Greek

Postby uberdwayne » Mon Dec 23, 2013 8:42 pm

Xλωρός, φίλε. Χόρτος χλωρὸς.

Hahaha.... I blame my modern pronunciation!

So from what your saying there is no real color guide in Greek? Are there any examples of someone saying, "your blood is red" or "the Pumpkin is orange." Something like that. I'm sure distinctions could be made, however I am not as well read as many people are here.
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Re: Colors in Ancient/Koine Greek

Postby Qimmik » Mon Dec 23, 2013 9:00 pm

To illustrate the point others have been making:

red blood = μέλαν αἷμα

http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/searchresults?target=greek&collections=Perseus%3Acollection%3AGreco-Roman&all_words=me%2Flan+ai%28%3Dma&phrase=&any_words=&exclude_words=&search=Search

Not all of these are valid instances of αἷμα described as μέλαν, but many are. (Be sure to click on "More" to see the full number of instances in some of the authors or works, e.g., the Iliad.)
Last edited by Qimmik on Mon Dec 23, 2013 9:51 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Colors in Ancient/Koine Greek

Postby uberdwayne » Mon Dec 23, 2013 9:47 pm

Thanks for your input... I didn't realize color was such a complicated matter. I guess I'll have to put this aside for a little bit so I can make time to study the issue.
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Re: Colors in Ancient/Koine Greek

Postby Qimmik » Mon Dec 23, 2013 9:51 pm

Also be aware that plants and vegetables might have looked quite different in antiquity even if we could travel back to see them (or in fact shouldn't be identified with those we know).
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Re: Colors in Ancient/Koine Greek

Postby Qimmik » Wed Dec 25, 2013 3:46 pm

Not only does the "red blood" example illustrate the difficulty of pinning down precisely the nomenclature of color in Greek and Roman antiquity, the "orange pumpkin" does, too.

Pumpkins are native to North America.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pumpkin

Oranges were cultivated in China but apparently unknown in Europe before the second millenium CE.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orange_%28fruit%29#History

This search in LSJ shows the slipperiness of the Greek word conventionally translated as "red," namely, ἐρυθρός:

http://www.tlg.uci.edu/lsj/#eid=43497&context=search

A cognate is applied to blood in the Iliad.

Both ἐρυθρόν and μέλαν are applied to wine in the Odyssey.

And ἐρυθρός is also applied to bronze in the Iliad.
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Re: Colors in Ancient/Koine Greek

Postby Paul Derouda » Fri Dec 27, 2013 9:29 pm

A further problem is that I don't think the so called colour terms convey only the meaning of hue; I haven't really studied the question myself, but I think sometimes the main idea these colour terms convey isn't really colour but something else like warmth, texture, brilliancy or gloss. In Homer, we have for example μέλαν ὕδωρ, and also we have λευκός applied to ὕδωρ and πολιός applied to the sea. Whatever these exactly mean I'm not sure although I could have a guess, but "black", "white" and "grey" would be too simple in my opinion. I also wonder whether for Greeks "black" and "red" blood had different shade of meaning (fresh, especially arterial blood is not as dark as venous blood or clotted blood, etc.).

Without having properly studied the question I suspect that the "technical" conception of colour is typically Western peculiarity; I mean the idea that the visible spectrum can be cut up into great number of clearly defined segments and each assigned to colour term without much overlap, while the colour terms themselves have not imply much more than a particular hue, i.e. they say nothing about warmth, gloss, texture etc.
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