Colours of Love in Ancient Greece


  • Franco Giorgianni Culture and Society Department, University of Palermo


Greek colour terms, Greek lyric poetry, Greek medicine, Eros/love as disease and possession, Love physiology, Poikìlos, Chloròs, Erythròs


  The paper contains a detailed investigation of some colour terms (poikìlos, chloròs, erythròs, pòrphyros and their compounds) which are examined in their semantic aspects and in their use by the Greek archaic lyric poets as well as by ancient physicians, particularly in erotic contexts. It emerges, according to previous studies by other scholars on this issue, that both lyric poetry and medicine contribute to an extension and upgrading of the traditional semantic and cultural range of these terms, often to the detriment of their chromatic traits. Specifically, the comparison between the poetic and medical, particularly Hippocratic, use of the colour terms considered shows some correspondences in representation and imagery of erotic experience: in the case of chloròs, love is represented as a disease which consumes the lovers, while the adjectives erythròs and pòrphyros express the blood agitation which makes the person in love blush, according to the topic of the fire of love. Poikìlos is used in poetic context to allude to the deceptive and seductive aspects of love, while in the medical language it refers to a theatrical show of technical skills, where no apparent connection with erotic motifs is present.