Horace, Colors, and Pragmatics

  • Jacob L. MeyEmail author
Part of the Yearbook of Corpus Linguistics and Pragmatics book series (YCLP, volume 2)


When discussing the use of color terms in societies that diverge from ours (in time, space, and other respects), the problem is not only that the ways colors are perceived, differ, but also that the use and importance of colors in the daily lives of users vary vastly from society to society. (The (in)famous, now much critiqued case is of course that of the many words for ‘snow’ in the Inuit languages and dialects).

The chapter sets out to examine the null-hypothesis (‘Horace was suffering from color blindness’) and finds there is no evidence to support it in the corpus examined here (comprising the bulk of his poetic production, with the exception of parts where color terms are less likely to occur: most of the Sermones, the Epistulae and Ars Poetica). The pragmatic angle on all of this is that one cannot discuss the use of language in the abstract (e.g. based on isolated vocabulary entries). What is needed is to place the study in a wider, societal context, to the extent that this is possible (avowedly, there are difficulties in cases like Horace’s, where the relevant societal structures have been changed or lost over time, such as it has happened to the ‘languaculture’ of which Horace was a member). Even so, the poet emerges from my study as one who decidedly has a certain ‘feel’ for color, but perhaps did not always use it in ways that we consider familiar.


Q. Horatius Flaccus Color terms Color relativity Historical pragmatics Latin lexicon & phraseology Mimesis Metaphor & metonymy 



An earlier, much shorter version of this paper appeared as Mey 2005a; a revised version as Mey 2005b. For the present, thoroughly revised and enlarged version, I owe thanks to Professor Jacqueline Clarke of the University of Adelaide, South Australia, who provided a number of useful comments and corrections.


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© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Language and CommunicationUniversity of Southern DenmarkOdenseDenmark

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