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Ἵππος χλωρός (Rev 6.8): A Methodology for the Study of Colour Terms in the New Testament

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 March 2021

Lourdes Garcia Ureña
Departamento de Humanidades, Facultad de Humanidades y Ciencias de la Comunicación, Universidad CEU-San Pablo, Avda. Juan XXIII, 3, Madrid 28040, Spain. Email:
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The meaning of χλωρός in Rev 6.8 has been given a variety of interpretations (green, yellow, pale, vigorous etc.) due to its polysemic character; that is, it possesses a chromatic as well as an achromatic meaning and, in addition, if it denotes colour, can express a wide spectrum of hues. From this arises the need for a methodology that offers not merely a gloss, but rather a ‘meaning’. This methodology is based on: an analysis of the text; the use of the term; the concept of colour that existed in antiquity and the entity in which the colour was embodied; and the use of various lexicographical tools provided by the field of cognitive linguistics.

Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press

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This article has been made possible thanks to a research stay at Harvard University at the invitation of Prof. Giovanni Bazzana and a grant from the Fundación San Pablo CEU – Santander Bank. The article forms part of the research developed by the study group The Language of Colour in the Bible LECOBI (PC06/0720).


2 Vetus Latina Institut and Brepols, Vetus Latina Database (Turnout: Brepols, 2002): Rev 6.8.

3 Conferencia Episcopal Española (CEE), Sagrada Biblia (Madrid: BAC, 2011).

4 Meaning ‘gaunt and drained of colour’ (DLE, s.v. ‘macilento’).

5 Peterson, E., Offenbarung des Johannes und politisch-theologische Texte, vol. iv (Würzburg: Echter, 2004) 82Google Scholar; I. Boxall, The Revelation of Saint John (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson/London: Continuum, 2006) 111: ‘sickly green’; E. Lupieri, L'Apocalisse di Giovanni (Torino: Fondazione Lorenzo Valla – Mondadori, 20095) 148; Belano, A., Apocalisse. Traduzione e analisi filologica (Roma: ARACNE, 2013) 296Google Scholar; Allen, G. V., ‘Zechariah's Horse Visions and Angelic Intermediaries: Translation, Allusion, and Transmission in Early Judaism’, CBQ 79 (2017) 222–39Google Scholar, at 232; Vanni, U., Apocalisse di Giovanni (Assisis: Citadella, 2020) 273Google Scholar; E. Lohmeyer, Die Offenbarung des Johannes (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr (P. Siebeck), 1926) 59 maintains that the colour green is a free translation from the LXX reading of Zech 1.8.

6 Mounce, R. H., The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977) 152 and 156Google Scholar; Aune, D. C., Revelation 6–16 (WBC 52B; Nashville, TN: T. Nelson, 1998), 400Google Scholar; Smalley, S. S., The Revelation to John: A Commentary on the Greek Text of the Apocalypse (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2005) 155Google Scholar; Harrington, W. J., Revelation (Colleville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2008) 8Google Scholar; Paul, I., Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary (TNTC 20; London/Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2018) 46Google Scholar.

7 R. H. Charles, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of St. John: With Introduction, Notes, and Indices, also the Greek Text and English Translation (2 vols.; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1920) i.168–9; P. Prigent, Commentary on the Apocalypse of St. John (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2001) 271.

8 A. Volokhonskiĭ, ‘Is the Color of that Horse Really Pale?’, The International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 18 (1999) 167–8.

9 BDAG s.v. χλωρός.

10 LSJ s.v. χλωρός; BDAG s.v. χλωρός; Bailly, 960 s.v. χλωρός; Brill Dictionary, 2364 s.v. χλωρός. A detailed study can be found in E. Irwin, Colour Terms in Greek Poetry (Toronto: Hakkert, 1974) 31–77.

11 LSJ s.v. χλωρός; Bailly, 960 s.v. χλωρός.

12 Irwin, Colour Terms in Greek Poetry, 65–7; M. González González, ‘Otra lectura para Safo Fr. 31.14, χλωροτέρα . . ποίας ἔμμι’, Veleia (Anejos, Series Minor 17) (2002) 39–46.

13 A more detailed explanation of this methodology can be found in L. García Ureña et al., The Green Dimension of Creation according to the Biblical Native Speaker of Hebrew, Greek and Latin: Introduction, (forthcoming).

14 A characteristic technique of the author of the book of Revelation is to describe his vision through aspects and elements that can be discerned through the sense of sight: L. García Ureña, Narrative and Drama in the Book of Revelation: A Literary Approach (SNTSMS 175; Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019).

15 Volokhonskiĭ, ‘Is the Color of that Horse Really Pale?’, 168. It is true that John's vision is related to the eighth vision of Zechariah (Zech 6.2–3), as claimed by Volokhonskiĭ, but also to the first (Zech 1.8). John seems to reinterpret these two versions, which do not coincide either in the number of horses (three in the first and four in the eighth) or in their colour. This chromatic variation is present in the Hebrew text, which describes a group of horses with the term שרק (Zech 1.8) and others such as ברדים אמצים (Zech 6.3). The Septuagint unifies their colours and uses ψαροί (Zech 1.8) to translate both שרק (Zech 1.8) and ברדים (Zech 6.3), thus offering a chromatic interpretation of אמצים ’ămuṣîm, which it translates as the adjective ποικίλοι. The Vulgate provides an interpretation along the same lines as the Septuagint: varius (Zech 1.8) and varii fortes (Zech 6.3). Affirming that χλωρός is the Johannine reading of אמצים ’ămuṣîm would be to ignore not only the chromatic context of the Johannine pericope, but the semantic content of χλωρός (which expresses freshness and youth in contexts related to moistness, cf. body of the text) and to blindly accept the version used by John of Patmos when today we know that different textual sources were then in circulation (perhaps one in Hebrew and several in Greek – OG, 8Hevxiigr, [proto] Hexaplaric revisions: Allen, ‘Zechariah's Horse Visions’, 223).

16 The author of De coloribus states that horses may be white, grey, reddish or black: λευκά καὶ φαιὰ καὶ πυρρὰ καὶ μέλανα (797a). It is true, in any case, that these colours – μέλανες, ‘black’, πυρροί, ‘sorrel’ and λευκοί, ‘white – appear in the apocalyptic visions of Zechariah that have already been mentioned (n. 15).

17 U. Vanni, ‘Il simbolismo nell'Apocalisse’, Greg 61 (1980) 461–506; L. García Ureña, ‘Colour Adjectives in the New Testament’, NTS 61 (2015) 219–38, at 232–7; ‘The Book of Revelation: A Chromatic Story’, Colloquium Biblicum Lovaniense lxiv: New Perspectives on the Book of Revelation (ed. A. Yarbro Collins; Leuven/Paris/Bristol, CT: Peeters, 2017) 393–419.

18 R. W. Langacker, ‘Context, Cognition and Semantics: A Unified Dynamic Approach’, Job 28: Cognition in Context (Biblical Interpretation Series 64; ed. E. J. Van. Wolde; Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2003) 179–230, at 187.

19 R. Janko, ‘The Shield of Heracles and The Legend of Cycnus’, The Classical Quarterly 36 (1986) 38–59, at 38–9. The precise date is uncertain, but thought to be the mid or late sixth century bce: J. Signes Cordoñer, Escritura y literatura en la Grecia arcaica (Tres Cantos: Akal, 2004) 213–14.

20 Translation by E.-W. G. Hugh, The Homeric Hymns and Homerica (rev. edn; LCL 57; London: Heinemann/Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1936).

21 De coloribus is the first specific treatise on colour, dating from the late fourth century–early third century bce. Its authorship has long been attributed to Aristotle, although this is contested today, as its style and the manner of presenting its content are quite removed from the usual Aristotelian dialectical and speculative discourse (Aristotle, I colori e i suoni (ed. M. F. Ferrini; Milan: Bompiani, 2008) 41–2, 56, 67 n. 3).

22 M. Bradley, Colour and Meaning in Ancient Rome (Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009) 74–86, 87–110.

23 S. Bussata, ‘The Perception of Color and the Meaning of Brilliance among Archaic and Ancient Populations and its Reflections on Language’, Antrocom Online Journal of Anthropology 10 (2014) 300–47, at 312. In the same line, Maria Fernanda Ferrini in her introduction to De coloribus, in the section entitled I colori e la riflessione antica sulla visione (I colori e i suoni, 56–65).

24 Not from the perspective of cognitive linguistics, but in the sense that colour has a physical form.

25 M. J. Cuenca and J. Hilferty, Introducción a la lingüística cognitiva (Barcelona: Planeta, 20182) 72–3.

26 The white horse has been interpreted in various ways. A good status quaestionis can be found in Aune, Revelation 6–16, 393–4. On the meaning of the colour white in the book of Revelation, see García Ureña, ‘The Book of Revelation: A Chromatic Story’, 395–6 and 418–19; ‘Colour Adjectives in the New Testament’, 233–8.

27 R. W. Langacker, Foundations of Cognitive Grammar (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987) 488: ‘a coherent area of conceptualization relative to which semantic units may be characterized’. For a more detailed study: A. Cienki, ‘Frames, Idealised Cognitive Models, and Domains’, The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics (ed. D. Geeraerts and H. Cuyckens; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007) 170–87.

28 See above, section 2. A good summary can be found in BDAG s.v. χλωρός.

29 CEE, n. 6.8.

30 Nor are these hues mentioned in the apocalyptic visions of Zechariah.

31 Rev 6.4 omits the formula.

32 We have drawn upon data provided by the Loeb Classical Library Database: J. Loeb and J. Henderson, Loeb Classical Library (Harvard University Press, 2014); web site accessed 28/8/19. As is well known, the dating of the books that comprise the corpus is debatable, but we offer the latest contributions in this regard: Morb 2 and Morb 3 are thought to be from the mid-fifth century bce; Loc. Hom. from around 450 bc; Prog. from the late-fifth century bcE; Dieb. Iudic. late, of uncertain date; Epid. 2 from around 410 BCE; and Mul. 1 and 2 from the late-fifth or early-fourth century bce (E. M. Craik, The ‘Hippocratic’ Corpus: Content and Context (Abingdon/New York: Routledge, 2015) 180, 184, 162, 237, 144, 90, 206).

33 In contrast to what was believed in the Hellenistic world, today we consider colour as consisting of three elements: hue (the length of the wave; that is to say, its colouration); brightness (the quantity of light emitted, by which we may refer to darker or lighter colours); and saturation (the intensity of that aspect which causes colours to appear bolder or more faded). In modern languages, saturation is expressed by the use of adjectives such as ‘pale’: pale blue, pale green etc.

34 In the Corpus Hippocraticum we also find compound forms used to express degrees of colour saturation: ἐρυθρόχλωρος, ‘pale red’ (Epid. 6. 3); ὑπέρλευκος, ‘exceeding white’ (Mul. 2.111); ὑπόλευκος, ‘whitish’ (Epid. 3.14). This phenomenon is frequent in Greek medical literature (ξανθόλευκος, ‘pale yellow’ (LSJ s.v., citing Gal. 17(1).835); ὠχρόξανθος, ‘of a pale yellow colour’ (LSJ s.v., citing Gal. 14.81), although not exclusive to it (μελίχλωρος, ‘honey-yellow’ (Plato, Resp. 474e; Arist. Physign. 812a19; Theocritus 10.27]).

35 καὶ τὸ χρῶμα μεταβάλλωσι, καὶ χλωρὸν ἢ πελιὸν ἢ ἐρυθρὸν ἴσχωσιν.

36 In the edition by P. Potter, Hippocrates, vol. ix (LCL 509; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994) 308: χλωροτέρη ἢ οἱ σαῦροι οἱ χλωρότεροι· παρόμοιος δὲ καὶ ὠχρός. However, É. Littré (Oeuvres complètes d'Hippocrate, vol. ix (Paris: Baillière, 1811; repr. Amsterdam: Hakkert, 1962) 298–306) proposes ὁ χρώς instead of ὠχρός, because the fragment appears in Morb. 3.11.1–3 with this reading. It is well known that in the Corpus Hippocraticum there are fragments that are repeated.

37 P. Chantraine, Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue grecque. Histoire des mots (Paris: Klincksieck, 1968) s.v. ὑπόχλωρος.

38 See above, n. 34.

39 LSJ s.vv.

40 LSJ s.v.

41 This describes a person's physical aspect.

42 LSJ s.v. See above, n. 35.

43 LSJ s.v.

44 Text and translation by Potter, Hippocrates, ix.309. Cf. n. 36.

45 This explains Galen's commentary in which χλωρός is used to describe people. According to the Hippocratic commentator (xvii1 928S. K.), χλωρός is not as intense as the green of grass, and so he affirms that it possesses lower saturation; for this reason he uses the colour term ὠχρός: οὐκ ἒχοντας ὁμοίαν τῇ χλόῃ τὴν χρόαν, αλλὰ μᾶλλον ὠχράν. This is supported by A. Lorenzoni, who notes that Galen emphasises that χλωρός, when applied to people in the Corpus Hippocraticum, primarily denotes the colour green (‘Eustazio: paura “verde” e oro “pallido”’, Eikasmos (1994) 139–63, at 144). It may also be relevant that sixteenth-century translations of On the Disease of Virgins were instrumental to the incorporation of ‘pale’ into English medical vernacular, according to Helen King: ‘the green skin, adopted from green jaundice, was replaced by claims for the paleness of the sufferer's complexion’ (The Disease of Virgins: Green Sickness, Chlorosis, and the Problems of Puberty (London/New York: Routledge, 2004) 42).

46 S. E. Presnell et al., ‘Postmortem Changes : Overview, Definitions, Scene Findings’, available at, accessed 13/10/2015: ‘Putrefaction involves the action of bacteria on the tissues of the body. This process, prevalent in moist climates, is associated with green discoloration of the body.’ I am grateful to Prof. Bandrés Moya, Director of the Cátedra Extraordinaria de Diagnóstico e Innovación, UCM, for the bibliographical information provided.

47 See above, section 2.

48 Louw–Nida tends to provide definitions of terms rather than translations. This is not the case, however, with colour terms (79.26–38).

49 A. Wierzbicka, Lexicography and Conceptual Analysis (Ann Arbor: Karoma, 1985) 5.

50 A significant example of this is fact that the Diccionario Akal del color includes more than a hundred types of green, from lime green to sumac green: J. C. Sanz and R. Gallego, Diccionario Akal del color (Madrid: Akal, 2001) 931–51.

51 A. Wierzbicka, ‘The Meaning of Color Terms: Semantics, Culture, and Cognition’, Cognitive Linguistics (Includes Cognitive Linguistic Bibliography) 1 (1990) 99–150, at 142.

52 Wierzbicka, ‘The Meaning of Color Terms’, 141.

53 L. Hablot, ‘L'orange et le vert au Moyen Age’, Vert et orange: deux couleurs à travers l'histoire (ed. J. Grevy; Limoges: Presses Universitaire Limoges, 2013) 21–42, at 42.

54 Horae ad usum Parisiensem, folio 113v; available at BnF:, accessed 25/9/20.

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