I'm interested in account of colors associated with emotions. It might be an explicit passage by a Roman, sporadic sentences (like: "he became green out of envy) or relics to be found in specific words such as (I guess there are more):

  • rubesco/erubesco (red with blush)
  • palleo (while/pale with fear)
  • vireo (green with vigor)
  • liveo (blueish? with envy: this one was actually counter intuitive to me and triggered this question.)

Usually color terms develop later in language, as can be discerned(?) from viridis which indeed seem to evolve later to mean the color green; but for the sake of this question it makes no difference what came first.


To search for verbs like the ones mentioned in your question above can indeed be a very good strategy to find out how Romans associated colors with emotions. For a detailed discussion, please see the reference given at the end of my answer. In case you are also interested in the "linguistic" side, here are some comments/remarks & some selected data that exemplify what you're going after:

Let me start by pointing out a relevant difference between pallere/pallescere/expallescere vs. albere/albescere/exalbescere. The "emotional sense" attested in the three members of the former triplet is only typically found in exalbescere ('to turn pale from fear'). E.g., note that, unlike pallere, albere does not typically appear to mean 'to be pale' (from fear).

terribilem minatur vitae cruciatum et necem, quae nemo est tam firmo ingenio et tanta confidentia, quin refugiat timido sanguen atque exalbescat metu (Enn. Trag. 22-24). See translation and comments by H. Halla-aho & P. Kruschwitz.

Equidem et in vobis animum advertere soleo et in me ipso saepissime experior, ut et exalbescam in principiis dicendi et tota mente atque artubus omnibus contremiscam (Cic. De Or. 1.121). See translation and comments by J. Connolly.

As for their so-called "lexical aspect", note that the semantic interpretation of verbal forms like rubere / rubescere / erubescere in Early & Classical Latin (i.e., state / indefinite change of state / definite change of state, respectively: cf. 'to {be/grow/turn} red') is not the same as in Late Latin. For example, in Classical Latin the prefixed verb erubescere describes a (definite/telic) change of state from one color to another in somebody's face and can be used of people turning red with shame and embarassment. In contrast, as pointed out by Haverling (2010: 336), in Late Latin erubescere usually expresses a simple state ('to be ashamed'). The compositional meaning of the prefix + root + -sc- suffix is then lost in Late Latin.

Erubescit, quid respondeat nescit. (Cic. Q. Rosc. 8) 'He blushes with shame (lit. he becomes totally red). He doesn't know what to answer.'

dum percontari obvios erubescit (Lact. Ira 7,1) 'while he is ashamed to ask those whom he meets.'

As noted above, for detailed comments of many relevant examples of colors associated with emotions, i.a., please take a look at Clarke's (1998) Phd thesis Imagery of colour and shining in Catullus, Propertius and Horace. The full text can be found on the bottom of this link.

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