Isidore of Seville on Color (Pt.1) [12:50-52] (Latin)

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
The Trickiness of Translating Color
Varieties of White: Something From Nothing?
Closing

{A simple color wheel, yet complexities hide in what it depicts. Image from the Association for Anthroposophic Medicine & Therapies in America.}

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Abstract

Although it “is especially visible,” Isidore expands on the meaning of the various colours he cited in last week’s translation.

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Translation

[50] “Bluish-gray is in fact just as painted eyes and those which are brightly dyed. On the other hand, grayish is a better color than pale yellow. Speckled it is, white dotted throughout with black.

[51] “Moreover, brilliant white and white are in turn differed from each other. For white is that which is pale, while brilliant white is in fact filled with brightness like snow and pure light. White gray it is called which comes from the colors brilliant white and black. Checked it is called because of rings which have brilliant white among purple.

[52] “Horses that are spotted have inferior colors in some ways. Those that have only hooves of true white, known as petili, and whose forehead is white, warm.”
(St. Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae 12:50-52)

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Recordings

Latin:

Modern English:

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The Trickiness of Translating Color

Just as the way in which Anglo-Saxon’s differentiated colors based on brightness, the sense of the colors that Isidore expounds upon this week isn’t entirely clear in translation.

Obviously, in paragraph 52, spotted is pointed out as an inferior color, but even then the why isn’t entirely explicit.

On the one hand it could be because spotted horses don’t live as long as solid colored horses, or it could hearken back to the appearance based judgments that went into relating rippling muscles and certain sorts of ears to a great power and speed respectively.

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Varieties of White: Something From Nothing?

Yet, the differentiation between white and brilliant white is interesting. Rather than being defined by the lack that “white” is (since paleness generally means the absence of color), brilliant white is defined simply as the presence of brilliance (new fallen snow or bright light).

Again, returning to the idea that the outside reflects the inside, it goes unsaid, but chances are a brilliant white horse would be more valued than one that is merely “white.” Projecting whiteness must have been more impressive than simply being white.

Of course, if that line of reasoning is followed, you might just find yourself with an old explanation for why some people thought that Caucasians with skin that’s white-as-a-sheet are better than everyone else. Rather than being white because of lack, they’re white because of excess. A curious reversal of the spectrum, in a way.

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Closing

Check back here Thursday to see what happens when Beowulf and Wiglaf launch their counterattack on the dragon.

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