WHEN the philosopher Favorinus was on his way to visit the exconsul Marcus Fronto, who was ill with the gout, he wished me also to go with him. And when there at Fronto's, where a number of learned men were present, a discussion took place about colours and their names, to the effect that the shades of colours are manifold, but the names for them are few and indefinite, Favorinus said: "More distinctions of colour are detected by the eye than are expressed by words and terms. For leaving out of account other incongruities, your simple colours, red (rufus) and green viridiss), have single names, but many different shades. And that poverty in names I find more pronounced in Latin than in Greek. For the colour red Rufuss) does in fact get its name from redness, but although fire is one kind of red, blood [p. 213] another, purple another, saffron another, and gold still another, yet the Latin tongue does not indicate these special varieties of red by separate and individual words, but includes them all under the one term rubor, except in so far as it borrows names from the things themselves, and calls anything ' fiery,' ' flaming,' 'blood-red,' 'saffron' 'purple' and 'golden.' For russus and rubber are no doubt derived from rufus, and do not indicate all its special varieties, but ξανθός and ἐρυθρός and πυρρός and κιρρός 1 and φοῖνιξ seem to mark certain differences in the colour red, either intensifying it or making it lighter, or qualifying it by the admixture of some shade." Then Fronto, replying to Favorinus, said: "I do not deny that the Greek language, which you seem to prefer, is richer and more copious than ours; but nevertheless in naming these colours of which you have just spoken we are not quite so badly off as you think. For russus and ruber, which you have just mentioned, are not the only words that denote the colour red, but we have others also, more numerous than those which you have quoted from the Greek. For fihlvus, flavus, rubidus, poeniceus, rutilus, luteus and spadix are names of the colour red, which either brighten it (making it fiery, as it were), or combine it with green, or darken it with black, or make it luminous by a slight addition of gleaming white. For poeniceus, which you call φοῖνιξ in Greek, belongs to our language, and rutilus and spadix, a synonym of poeniceus which is taken over into Latin from the Greek, [p. 215] indicate a rich, gleaming shade of red like that of the fruit of the palm-tree when it is not fully ripened by the sun. And from this spadix and poeniceus get their name; for spadix in Doric is applied to a branch torn from a palm-tree along with its fruit. But the colour fulvus seems to be a mixture of red and green, in which sometimes green predominates, sometimes red. Thus the poet who was most careful in his choice of words applies fulvus to an eagle, 2 to jasper, 3 to fur caps, 4 to gold, 5 to sand, 6 and to a lion; 7 and so Ennius in his Annals uses fulvus of air. 8 Flavus on the other hand seems to be compounded of green and red and white; thus Virgil speaks of golden hair as flava 9 and applies that adjective also to the leaves of the olive, 10 which I see surprises some; and thus, much earlier, Pacuvius called water flava and dust fulvus. 11 I am glad to quote his verses, for they are most charming:
Give me thy foot, that with the same soft hands“Now, rubidus is a darker red and with a larger admixture of black; luteus, on the other hand, is a more diluted red, and from this dilution its name too seems to be derived. Therefore, my dear Favorinus,” said he, "the shades of red have no more names in Greek than with us. But neither [p. 217] is the colour green expressed by more terms in your language, and Virgil, when he wished to indicate the green colour of a horse, could perfectly well have called the horse caerulus rather than glaucus, but he preferred to use a familiar Greek word, rather than one which was unusual in Latin. 12 Moreover, our earlier writers used caesia as the equivalent of the Greek γλαυκῶπις, as Nigidius says, 13 from the colour of the sky, as if it were originally caelia." After Fronto had said this, Favorinus, enchanted with his exhaustive knowledge of the subject and his elegant diction, said: “Were it not for you, and perhaps for you alone, the Greek language would surely have come out far ahead; but you, my deal Fronto, exemplify Homer's line: 14
With which oft times I did Ulysses soothe
I may with golden (flavis) waters wash away
The tawny (fulvum) dust and heal thy weariness.
Thou would'st either have won or made the result indecisive.But not only have I listened with pleasure to all your learned remarks, but in particular in describing the diversity of the colour flavus you have made me understand these beautiful lines from the fourteenth book of Ennius' Annalns 15 which before I did not in the least comprehend:
The calm sea's golden marble now they skim;for 'the green seas' did not seem to correspond with 'golden marble.' But since, as you have said, flavus is a colour containing an admixture of green and white, Ennius with the utmost elegance called the foam of the green sea 'golden marble.'”
Ploughed by the thronging craft, the green seas foam;