Originally posted by wolfgang59
The relationship of language to colour is an interesting one.
I know some (all?) of the bible has come to English via Greek
and the Ancient Greeks had no distinct word for blue. Homer
I believe described the sky as 'Bronze' and uses the same word
to describe Achilles hair (which paradoxically is sometimes
translated as blue!!)
Didn't you (Sonh ...[text shortened]... describing it as a shade of green.
All very curious - and perhaps a factor in the bible?
Interesting. Thanks. The following is what I wrote on the other thread, where sonhouse first raised the issue. In light of your comments here, I would have written it somewhat differently—giving more weight to the idea that how we translate such terms is determined by our interpretation of color (for example, yereq
The Hebrew word conventionally translated as “blue” is t’kelet
is translated as “purple”, and likely includes shades from deep red-black to violet; karmil
can be translated as “crimson” or “carmine”. All of these can come from dyes in ancient times, particularly blues and purples from the secretions of various mollusks. Because of the crude dyeing processes, specific hues were likely hard to produce.
The word t’kelet first appears in Exodus where it appears 34 times (out of an approximate 50 in the Hebrew scriptures). There seems no reason to assume that the Israelites could not have taken various dyeing agents with them when they left Egypt—however, the Exodus seems generally viewed as happening (if it did happen) around 1250 BCE, and the written account is generally dated to the Babylonian Exile in the 6th century. It may be a mythic account of a much more mundane event;* and the references to dyed colors could be an interpolation from when the account was written.
So far as I can determine, t’kelet always refers to a dye, and never a color simply occurring in nature—the same for karmil and argaman. yereq
, “green” refers to various plant life, and is related to yaraq
, “herb” or “herbage”. adom
is “red”, and can refer to such things as skin tone, blood and wine (“Red” Sea is, however, a mistranslation: the Hebrew word is suf
which means “reed” ). I didn’t bother to research other colors.
Although I really don’t know any modern Hebrew, from my small exposure, it is a language capable of far more precision than its ancient ancestor language. The power of classical Hebrew comes precisely from its rich polysemy, rather than from linguistic precision.
*American author and rabbi Chaim Potok, in his historical account of the Jews, Wanderings, came to this conclusion. The best introduction to Judaism that I have read, David S. Ariel’s What Do Jews Believe refers to the stories in the Torah/Tanach as Israel’s “sacred myths”. Myth, like poetry, only becomes invalid when it is taken for something else; a myth might certainly refer to some historical events and personages, but that does not make it literal history.