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The Medieval Empire Of Jews

Colophony  -  A Case Study in Fictitious Etymology

Dr. Werner Kulla

Colophon, first attested in the English language not earlier than in 1774, is a "publisher's inscription at the end of a book," from L. colophon, from Greek (kolon) =  "final touch, coping-stone summit" (fig. sense). The second component "phone" (from Gr. phn  = voice, sound) is - strangely enough - always left unexplained. Colophon must not be confused with colophony.

Colophony, preferably called rosin in English, is the non-volatile component of resin obtained from conifers, especially pines (Pistacia terebinthus). Rosin is a specific type of resin; not all resins, however, are rosins. Cleaned and freed from water and essential oils by distillation, it is a brittle, brownish or yellowish substance. Traditional etymology derives this term from the ancient Greek city of Colo­phon, situated on the top of a small mountain between Lebedos (today's Hypsili-Hissar in Turkey) and the port of Ephesos (Aya-Solouk). Its inhabitants should have been famous traders in colophony.

Traditionally, Ancient Greek "rhtin" and Latin "resina" = resin have nothing to do with rosin (colophony), a residue of resin distillation, because this procedure was unknown in ancient times. The major results of distilling resin are 70 percent colophony and 20 percent turpentine.

Turpentine, this thin volatile essential oil (C10H16) and ARTIFICIAL organic solvent, appeared not earlier than in the 15th c. and was immediately used in painting (c.f. the Dutch van Eyck brothers). Not until this same time could colophony, this translucent, hard, amber-coloured to dark brown brittle friable rosin, be obtained as well, ONLY by chemical means (after distilling off the volatile oil of turpentine) from the oleoresin or dead wood of pine trees or from fir oil.

Insoluble in water, but soluble in alcohol, colophony has various applications, such as:   

      use as flux (metallurgy) for soldering

      as a main ingredient of a powder used to polish and figure glass mirrors and optical lenses or as a fixing material for jewellery cutting

      as glue in the production of soap, paper (gumming), printing (ink), and lacquer

      or in music as adhesive to increase sliding friction on bows for string instruments


                     Colophony with the Ancient Writers and in the Bible

The corresponding terms for "colophony" seem to be nowhere attested in ancient Greek or Roman writers (all in all about 8 million [!] words, allegedly truly preserved to us over millennia) or in Mediaeval Latin (13th - 16th centuries) nor are any archaeological remnants discovered. This alchemical distillation result of the late Middle Ages was most probably used first for a military purpose (cf. the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 and the "Greek fire"). Only afterwards, in times of peace, its use is found broadened in peaceful applications for this alchemical product.

"Colophony" was used very rarely in English (they preferred rosin, a "14thc.-variant" of resin). Surprisingly enough, we can detect the first appearance of "rosin" in an English translation of the Old Testament ! But according to Easton's 1897 Bible Dictionary, the corresponding Heb. "tsori", elsewhere uniformly rendered as "balm", is attested only in King James Authorised Version (KJV, 1611), margin, Ezek. 27:17, that became the standard for the next 250 years.

Biblical "Balm of Gilead [Galaad]", however, began with Bishop Myles Coverdale's Bible (purportedly in 1535 and based on Latin and German [!] sources). In the Greek Septuagint (LXX) and Latin Vulgate the Heb. "tsori" is rendered simply as "resin" (Gk. rhtin, L. resina). The Vulgate gives Lat. "resina", rendered already as the distillation product "rosin" in the so-called Douay Version 1581 (The Catholic Church printed the English language Douay Rheims Bible based on the Latin Vulgate for its followers only in 1609). As used in St. Jerome's Vulgate ("about 400"), the Lat. "resina" denotes some unspecific odoriferous gum or oil.

                                    Colophony Makes Gut Strings Sound

The musical instruments of the ancient Greeks must have been rather primitive. Their string instruments did not yet have fingerboards (first used with plucked instruments such as the Arabian lute) or the bow for string instruments (e.g. the Arabian rebeq). Without the help of colophony, of course, it is impossible to generate any reasonable sound with a bow on string in­struments due to a lack of appropriate adhesion of the bow hairs to the strings.

The term "colophony" is not composed of Greek (kolon) in the sense of "summit", but in the sense of a "member of a body; colon or lower intestine" (see Middle Liddell), - plus "phn" meaning "voice, sound". Thus it describes the function of "colo[n]-phony" and does mean literally "to make sound the gut" (cf. modern coloscopy = to inspect the gut). The denotation of "gut" corresponds also to Latin colon or colum , i, n. (colus , i, m., Ser. Samm. 31, 1) "colon or great gut, the largest of the intestines" (see Lewis & Short; cf. Pliny Nat. Hist. 11, 37, 79, 202).

This denotation for colophony, the material essential to the musical bow, cannot be of "Ancient Greek" origin as they did not make use of the bow - they would surely have made use of if they (or the Romans) had been able to distil resin. But even traditional historiography has to admit that those Ancients had not yet mastered the technology of distillation. 

Consequently "colophony" (Neo-Latin colophonium), nowhere attested in the Ancient authors, must be a Greek-Latin coinage of the late 15th century and was not at all derived from the name of the legendary Ionian town of Colophon in Asia Minor, said to have traded in colophony already some 2.000 years ago. This is a pure guess, an etymology "de fabula" and nowhere attested, but born from sheer helplessness within the framework of traditional historiography; as well as "Hamburger" is not derived from the citizens of Hamburg allegedly famous for dealing in ham-and-eggs. OHG. "hamma" denotes a thicket (on a hill), thus Hammaburg => Hamburg is a "fortified place on a hill" (e.g. on the banks of a river).  

So consequently, the dating of all depictions of colophony-dependent fiddles, hurdy-gurdies (Fr. "chifonie" or "vielle roue"; It. "ghironda"; Ger. "Radleier" or "Drehleier"; Lat. "organistrum"), e.g. on church portals in Spain, dated "10th century", and the like before the 15th or even 16th century are definitely dated far too early as well.


                         Colophony in Sphragistics and Book Production

As colophony is plastic, when heated and liquid, it was also quasi-ideal for sealing; for, brittle and once broken, it cannot be undone and redone. Thus an unaided eye could determine, without difficulty, if a letter had been opened or a signed and sealed document possibly been faked, when the seal was found "broken". In comparison to the formerly used sealing clay, lead (Pb) or gold (cf. Bulla Aurea), thus in the "Middle Ages" the use of this then high-tech product colophony (and turpentine) became indispensable to every chancery because the pliant wax from bees was obviously totally unable to guarantee the authenticity of a document.

In an improved recipe for sealing wax, later on some lacquer (with turpentine) was added; "lacquer" in English is first attested very late, only in 1673. It stems from Fr. lacre "a kind of sealing wax," from Port. "lacre", an unexplained variant of "lacca" = resinous substance, from Ar. "lakk". The same is valid for Ger. "Siegelwachs" = sealing wax, "Siegellack" = sealing lacquer, of which all the rulers, bishops or the Hanse, this federation of cities, for instance could have made use for their parchment or paper documents in the late 15th century at the very earliest.

The technical term "colophony" was secondarily used also for authorship warranty and details in book production (shortened to "colophon") before 1500. See Dasypodius (1535) who in his Latin-German dictionary does mention "colophon", though not its use for the musical bow, but for a confirming procedure: "Colophone<^-> addere, uel imponere, prouerbialiter significat. Vollenden / auma­chen".. This expression in English translation: "to add or to put on colophon, pro­verbially signifies to achieve, to finish". Here Dasypodius literally quotes Plato "kolophna epi­tithenai", commonly translated in a figurative sense as "to put the finishing touch to a thing".


                  Antique Colophon  -  Real or Just Figurative ?

Liddel&Scott (An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon) seems to feel the urgent need to add that the derivation of this term ("ho kolophn, nos") is uncertain (and not from the city of Colophon, an idea which, in fact, only transfers the problem and explains nothing). Here some of their (LSJ) ci­ta­tions pertaining to colophon[y] with references:

      kolophna epitithenai put the finishing touch to . . , Pl.Euthd.301e, Lg.673d;

      ton k. prosbibazein Id.Tht.153c ;

      k. epagein ti logi Ael.NA13.12 ;

      kolophn epi ti logi eirsth Pl.Lg.674c ;

      k. tou logou Com.Adesp.433 ;

      later k. ts asebeias height of impiety, Jul.Gal.333c;

      of persons, ho k. ts adikias the arch-criminal, Lib.Decl.30.12;

      tn atopmatn k. Zos.4.15. (Expld. by Str.14.1.28 from the belief that the cavalry of [the city of] Colophon was so excellent that it always decided the contest.)

For illumination, a look at two examples in context, both quoted from of Plato and consequently translated in a figurative sense, because real colophony should not have been available then.

(1) Plato, Laws book 2, section 673d

"Athnaios epi toinun ti ts meths chreiai ton kolophna prton epithmen, ei kai sphin sundokei." (7.70)

In English:

"Athenian: But, if you both agree, let us first put the finishing stroke .

(2) Plato, Epistles letter 3, section 318b:

"ta gar d chrmata panta apodomenos, ou peisas Dina, phaskn ou plsein aneu tou peithein, ton kolophna, thaumasie, tais huposchesesin hapasais neaniktaton epethkas:" (2.37)

In English:

"For when you had sold all the goods, without Dion's consent--though you had declared that without his consent you would not dispose of them--you put the coping-stone on all your promises, my admirable friend, in a most outrageous way:"

In general, if an object is used in a figurative sense ("proverbialiter" as Dasypodius has emphasised), it must have been already commonly used before in a real sense (e.g. "summit"). However, among more than 700 hundred entries for "summit" in Classic Greek authors it occurs in less than 1 percent - and is never translated "as is" (i.e. colophony). In each of these cases, a literal translation in the sense of colophony (rosin) would have perfectly matched the situation.


                    Colophony in Various Languages

Colophony does not make the hills phone, but does make the [anat.] colon sound, this indispensable raw material for the production of sound with gut strings for bowed musical instruments. Almost all important European music languages draw on the stem "colophon"; see e.g. Sp. and  It. colofono, Ger. Kolophonium (adj., Latinised; less frequently "Bogenharz, Geigenharz", resin for the bow or viol; see Dutch "vioolhars"), in Russian called ???????? (kanifol') since the times of Peter the Great (about 1700) via Lower German/Dutch, or even the Greek ????????? (kolofnio).

Somewhat more complicated appears the story of this term for the French  colophane  or  cola­fane , this thinkable derivation from "cola" (pl. of colon) plus Gr. phanai [a^] ("to speak", inf. of phmi), mentioned not before the second half of the 16th century. Jean-Franois Fraud: Dic­tionaire critique de la langue franaise (Marseille, Mossy 1787-1788), explains this mixture simply  "by usage". See his entry for:

 COLOPHANE, ou COLOFANE, s. f. [Plusieurs disent Colophone, et il est ainsi dans le Dict. de Trv., qui dit aussi colafane. L'usage est fort partag sur les deux premiers, dit La Touche: le 1er  est pourtant le plus usit: le second n'tait pas d'abord dans le Dict. de l'Acad., on le mit dans les Additions: on l'ta dans la suite. - Rgulirement parlant, dit Richelet, il faudrait dire colofone, mais l'usage, plus fort que les rgles, veut dire colofane.]. (Page A477b)


                      Seals and Sealing in the Bible

Frequently mentioned in Old Testament history, e.g. as a signature of the owner (Deut. 32:34; Neh. 9:38; 10:1; Esther 3:12; Cant. 8:6; Isa. 8:16; Jer. 22:24; 32:44, etc.), in the New Testament the use of seals is mentioned only in a very special case: in a unique reference to the burial of the Christ. Late on Sabbath's eve, the Pharisees and High Priests had sealed his grave in order to make sure that no person would steal the corpse (Matt. 27:63,64), left a guard and immediately went off. What kind a material was used for this sealing, an obviously rapid and not infrequent outdoor action as depicted by the evangelist? Gold, lead, clay, or even sealing wax (colophony) ?

Traditionally it is supposed to have been brought about with sealing-clay on a chord stretched across the stone. But, how many days would it have taken, until that combination was reliably fixed to the rock and the impression of their signet on fine clay burnt by means of charcoal? Unquestionably until after Easter! Unburned clay would have been useless; the seal would not break but soon erode, thus inevitably loosen the rope etc. For this reason the Authorities must have utilised a material that was at their disposal for rapid outdoor action ; immediately and irreversibly attached to the chord and rock, one which hardened immediately and that could not be redone once it was broken, in short: a piece of colophony ! Heat it, drop it, and impose a signet, finished!

Sealing in the New Testament is singular and unique, forever and a day; it cannot be undone and redone. God has sealed the Redeemer (John 6:27); circumcision is an attestation of the Covenant (Rom. 4:11); believers are sealed with the Holy Ghost (Eph. 1:13; 4:30). Especially the Apocalypse makes abundant and enigmatical use of this solemn procedure (5:1; 6:1; 7:3; 10:4; 22:10). Should all that have been sealed by ordinary clay found all over the roads and fields and exposed to erosion? By baked mud - or by the spirit of high-tech alchemy in the 15th century?

The Bible was only printed after the distillation product colophony had already been introduced into sphragistics as a means of solemn, inimitable and irreversible confirmation.


                     Technological Progress and the Reliability of Sources

Unavoidably, translation is interpretation and not an aim in itself. Accepting this new etymology would imply not only a revision of basic central assumptions and dates constitutive for Scaligerian historiography; furthermore it opens the perspective to far-reaching questions. Let me close this essay by discussing a few of them:

The famous scholar Petrus Dasypodius, a chaplain and the father of Conrad Dasypodius (aka Kon­rad Hasenfratz, 1531-1601; professor of mathematics at Strasbourg Academy; he built there the famous church clock, 1571-1574), has published an influential Dictionarium Latino­ger­ma­ni­cum, Strasbourg: Rihel, 1535 (2nd ed. rev. enlarged 1536), the first of its kind for German.

In his glossary, Dasypodius mentions also contemporary and extinct towns. For example, the famous city of Pompeji/Campania at the Gulf of Naples/Italy, however, buried by the volcano Mount Vesuvius allegedly in 79 CE, and forgotten by the world until the start of its excavation in the first half of the 18th century, is described here as a living contemporary town, though even the name of this city should have been extinct ! How reliable is Dasypodius as a source?

A writer Plinius, completely unknown to him in the first edition of his Latin-German Dictionary in 1536, is given frequently as an authoritative reference already in the second edition, which appeared only one year later, again printed at Strasbourg. Why? Most probably because Dasypodius had got to know that the first German translation (by Heinrich von Eppendorff; "Natrlicher History Fnff Bcher") of five books (vol. VII about anthropology and human physiology, vols. VIII-XI about zoology) of Pliny's "Naturalis Historiae" (Latin first print "at Venice, dated 1469" but without rezeptionsgeschichte; "second" print of some volumes in 1511) was prepared and print­ed only six years after the publication of his own dictionary, also at Strasbourg, in 1543!

Dasypodius did never mention the famous Tacitus ("Germania"!) writing a generation later than Pliny (Ann. 16.5), who should have died from asphyxiation (or of cardiac arrest) during the famed eruption of the volcano Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE, a catastrophe dramatically depicted by his nephew Pliny the Youn­ger in a letter (letters 6. 16) to an enquiry by Tacitus. All 37 books of Pliny's Naturalis Historiae were edited only post mortem and intermittently.

Until 16 Dec. 1631, the huge explosion and effusion of Mount Vesuvius, the only active volcano on the European mainland, no reliable report of its eruptive volcanic activity is available - except a (smal­ler?) explosion in (about?) 1500, reported only by Ambrogio Leone (aka Ambrogio da Nola: De Nola Opusculum, 1514). Volcanoes are even unknown to the Bible or to the Quran; no eruption is recorded therein. So when did Gaius Plinius Se­cundus [maior] die? In that legendary eruption of 79 CE - or in this reliably recorded one, which had happened about 1500? Or is it only one identical eruption? Let us still discuss another topic : glass!

Aristoteles (Posterior Analytics; 1:31) only discussed the possibility to set to fire an object by means of focussing sunrays. Aristophanes (Clouds) is already delighted at the possibility to burn from a distance a letter just being read by an unsuspecting victim. To Cicero the glass is yet not more than a transparent medium and no help for his bad eyes he complains about (Aulus Cae­cina, 52). Ovid (Metamorphoses, 15.352) and Plutarch (Octavius, Para 2) already knew glass mirrors. Bloody Nero seems to have been the only optical genius of the Ancient Roman Empire ;  he used to look at the thrilling gladiators' games through a kind of monocle, a green smaragd (beryll; thence Ger. Brille = glasses), as reported by Gaius Plinius maior (allegedly 23-79 CE) in his Naturalis Historiae:  Nero princeps gladiatorum pugnam spectabat smaragdo. 

As the maximum temperature attainable by the use of charcoal is 1,250 degrees Celsius, it was not possible before the second half of the 15th century to produce crystal glass (Venice, Murano), mirrors and optical lenses (as about 1,500 degrees are required).  Needless to say, these also needed polishing material!

Pliny knew already the latitude on which the cities such as our introductorily mentioned Colophon were situated. Furthermore, in Naturalis Historiae Book 6 chapter 68 he states: "Under the fourth circle or parallel . the longest day contains 14 equi­noctial hours and 2/3 of an hour." Here Pliny obviously refers to a non-temporal universal sundial, e.g. to portable equatorial instruments having hinged meridian, equinoctial and declination circles, as described by Rainer Gemma Frisius (1508-1555) or by Johann Dryander [aka Eichmann] (1500-1560), published Marburg 1537.

In short, Pliny the Elder was an eminent scholar whose Naturalis Historiae exactly reflects the state of the natural sciences of the Renaissance time about 1500. If he really has died in the Vesuvius' eruption of 1500 - when did those "ancient" actors really live mentioned above? And the results of Pliny appeared suddenly as a reference in Dasypodius' 2nd edition, Strasbourg 1536!



Traditional historians - though never philologists ! - base the etymology for "colophony" - without the slightest additional reference - purely on the coincidental similarity of two words the functions of which have really nothing in common, as demonstrated already. Such a "deduction" restricted solely to the philological level - and even apostrophised by the specialists in Greek philologically as "uncertain" - is always at least questionable and reminds a typical "embarrassment-etymology" of the 19th -century such as: "pistol" is derived from the city of Pistoia/­Tus­cany (because it was purportedly invented in this Italian city), or - even worse - Hastings is named after the *hastin­gi, a tribe said to have resided in that English coastal village about 1066.

This new and rather surprising etymology for the artificial product "colophony"

      is based upon an uninterruptedly attested chain of numerous references;

      combined with one identical and logically consistent denotation in several different languages and civilisations;

      furthermore it follows the main streams of technical development and musicology;

      and is supported also by numerous archaeological remnants (though dated prematurely).

In this case study the insurmountable difficulties in creating an urgently-needed fictitious ancient Greek-Roman provenance in European civilisation for a key cultural term are revealed, explained and resettled in a newly-conceived framework which sticks to mostly well-known facts. This etymological deri­vation would be in no way admissible to traditional textbooks, for it fundamentally contradicts Scaligerian historiography. Yet it matches perfectly the timeline of revised history in the sense of Morozov & Fomenko, and even corroborates it. Which etymology is to be preferred ?

Not only books have their stories, as a Latin saying goes, but even etymologies. New doubts are raised, old questions have to be reconsidered, and we have to pay meticulous attention to prevent wild liberties from taking place here. Further - and exciting - research is urgently needed.

1st version: December 2nd 2004