Another etymology for purple

Joannes Richter

Fig. 1: A king in Codex Manesse
This essay is a chapter from the book “Nederlands voor Gevorderden1” by Joannes Richter (2010).

translation: “Dutch for the experienced”

1 A resurrection for dead words
From time to time I wake up in the middle of the night from a bad dream in which a particular word has only survived in one single language, being lost forever in German, French and English and other languages as well. The dead word is barely alive and may only be understood if we study the ancient remains of the prehistoric colour coding. It was only yesterday I started a discussion with my friend Stephan, who claimed the world purple cannot be explained as a religious symbol, because “purple” has been derived from the special snail from the Mediterranean area, where clever people managed to produce and export a very expensive dye by boiling huge portions of snails in large pots. My antithesis the purple colour originally had to be woven from red and blue coloured threads could not convince Stephan. Obviously purple robes had become ceremonial objects at a time in which the original androgynous symbolism had been lost. The very next morning however I woke up after a thoughtdream about the Dutch adjective “paars”, which still preserves the true symbolism of the English word “purple”. In fact purple is a mixed dye originally identifying a couple or a pair, composed from a woman (as a red symbol) and a man (as a blue2 symbol).


There is some evidence the blue colour symbolizes a female element and the red colour symbolizes a male element at the southern side of the Alps.


2 “Paars” is the colour for the peers
The official etymological explanation for “paars” is obscure. Etymological experts suggest a derivation from Persae 'Persians', Persia 'Persia' and perzik (Peach). The main etymological database reveals the following entries for medieval words around 1300 AD: paars Substantive (as a 'colour') Mnl. perse 'purple (sheet)' [1294; VMNW], perse saye 'purple woolen sheets' [1296; VMNW], peers bruxsch lakene ' purple sheets from Brugge' [1343-44; MNW], groen of blaeu of root of paers [ca. 1475; MNW]. Two documents from 1672 and 1742 reveal references to the words „Paars“ respectively „Pers“, which may be analysed in details. Both documents describe an assembly hall for the peers of Leiden, called „Paars“ or „Pers“. Basically these words have been derived from Latin „Pares“, the “equals”.


Korte besgryving van het Lugdunum Batavorum nu Leyden door Simon van Leeuwen – 1672 Het selve Stadhuys is soo onder als boven in verscheide plaatsen verdeelt, elk tot sijn byfonder gebruyk, als fijn boven de Grote Vroedschaps-kamer, Burgermeesters kamer, Schepens kamer, Secretarie, Griffie ende Weeskamer, voor ende tussen dewelke een groote Wandelplaats, dat men de Paars nomt, ten eynde van dewelke twee vertrekken voor sijn, daar de Burgen alle nagten de wagt houden. Boven deselve Paars is de Artelerie ende Wapen-kamer, Hedendaegsche historie... - Seite 523 Thomas Salmon, Jan Wagenaar, Matthias Van Goch – 1742 Langs den eerst beschreeven' Buiten-opgang van twintig trappen naar bovengaande, komt men op eene ruime Zaal, gemeenlyk de Paars of Pers genaamd, die zeventig treden lang is. In order to understand why “purple” and “paars” may have been used as religious symbols we will have to study medieval colouring theories in the next chapters.


3 The rules for colouring the icons
Traditionally icons and most of the other artworks had to be painted in red and blue, as prescribed by the Bible. The books Exodus3 and 2. Chronicles4 are specifying the divine commands for Aaron's garments, who had to perform the rites in the Covenant Tent and in the temple of Solomon.

Fig. 2: Jesus Christ in red and blue And even today icons are being painted as in the Middle age. Jesus and Maria have to be painted in red and blue combinations. And although the Carolingian synod released the medieval artists from the burden of colouring anything red & blue the painters took several centuries to free themselves from these old conventions. The majority of medieval art has been painted in red and blue or purple.
3 4

25 entries in the chapters 25->27 and 35->39 Three entries in chapters 2 & 3


4 A clothing convention from Exodus
From the holy garment for Aaron we may read the command to use blue, purple and scarlet red, as well as twined linen: Exodus, Chapter 39 “Of the blue, purple, and scarlet, they made finely worked garments, for ministering in the holy place, and made the holy garments for Aaron; as Yahweh commanded Moses. 2He made the ephod of gold, blue, purple, scarlet, and fine twined linen. 3They beat the gold into thin plates, and cut it into wires, to work it in the blue, in the purple, in the scarlet, and in the fine linen, the work of the skillful workman. 4They made shoulder-pieces for it, joined together. At the two ends it was joined together. 5The skillfully woven band that was on it, with which to fasten it on, was of the same piece, like its work; of gold, of blue, purple, scarlet, and fine twined linen; as Yahweh commanded Moses.” As a remarkable fact the German Bible reveals some additional information by adding a colour attribute “white” tot the fine twined linen in the Bible. Probably the English translators may have ignored the word “white” as if any twined linen must have been considered white.


And the following painting, which I found in a major Viennese art-museum, reveals a saint or Jesus (?) wearing a blue overcoat over a red garment. Even a slice of white twined linen is found at the collar area.

Fig. 3: Saint or Jesus in red, white & blue


5 The symbolism in red and blue
Generally the red sun and the blue may have been considered male, respectively female at the southern side of the Alps. The idea may be proved by a male gender for the word sun (Latin: sol) and a female gender for the moon (Latin: luna). At the north side of the Alps the genders for the red sun (female) and the blue moon (male) see to have been chosen at the opposite side. The following painting depicts a red sun and a blue moon from the Viennese Bible (sixth century AD).

Fig. 4: Joseph observing a red sun and a blue moon


6 The Codex Manesse
Of course the divine commands have been applied to define the colouring prescriptions for painting the icons and other religious artwork, but they also have been used to define the colours for emperor's garments and even for a simple peasant's clothes. You may inspect the Manesse Codex to check the garments for the German emperor Henry VI who wears a purple robe and a blue undergarment. In the illustrated border the painter confirms the red, white and blue symbolism of the purple coloured robe, indicating an “androgynous couple” by a pairwise woven elements of male and female objects.

Fig. 5: Emperor Henry VI (detail Codex Manesse) The couple's symbolic colour refers to an ancient androgynous Adam, created as a male and female being, who had to be separated later. 9

Another example of a king and a queen may demonstrate the standard colour coding as applied for the icon paintings. The king wears a blue overcoat over a red garment, whereas his queen is wearing a red-purple overcoat over a blue garment. Both also reveal some white applications in their dresses.

Fig. 6: King & queen in Codex Manesse


7 An androgynous symbol
Now why is the Dutch adjective “paars” so important and why is the associated word missing in all other languages? The colours purple, red and blue must have been well known as religious symbols in biblical eras and in the Middle age.Purple however also used to be the imperial colour for the “divine” emperors (including Caesar) in ancient Rome. Roman emperors used to promote themselves to deities. Nero did not allow others (except himself and his close relatives) to wear the divine purple colours. He even sentenced trespassing Roman citizens to death. Merely the imperial family was allowed to wear purple clothings and to sleep between purple blankets. They clothed their babies in purple nappies. Generally purple is a symbol of a couple's fertility and “paars” of course refers to a standard married couple (→ “pairwise”). Purple however consists of the elementary symbols red and blue.

Fig. 7: Headerline in the Korczek-Bible (Prague- ca.1410) In the Middle Age only normal, married couples were able to raise children, which must have been welcomed as a blessing in times of war, starvation, infectious diseases and poverty. Of course the Dutch considered matrimony as a holy, religious institution, which has been inherited from ancient Celtic and German religions.


Jacob Grimm identified the ancient German creator god Tuisco as an androgynous deity, who in analogy to Yahweh had created an androgynous Adam. Purple (as translated from the Dutch adjective “paars”) has been the religious symbol for “pairs” and their androgynous creator god.


8 Old traditions
These traditions are old. Yes, they are very old and they have lost most of their religious symbolism. The Church worked hard to get rid of these ancient symbols. Unfortunately they missed the tiny Dutch word “paars”, which escaped unnoticed and now roams around in dictionaries without any meaningful, etymological explanation. Nobody seems to be interested in the real symbolism for this Dutch word “paars”, although it may be most important to explain some mysterious chapters in the Bible. In fact the Dutch adjective “paars” may even be the last and only word to explain the symbolism for the Biblical colours purple, red and blue in the books Genesis and Chronicles. All other traces have been destroyed and cleaned up. Nothing has been allowed to remain from androgynous symbolism. In illo tempore individual people may have been considered as blue or red elements, but they would never reach the divine image symbolized by the colour purple. Of course androgynous Adam has been known in the Middle Age quite well from Rashi's Genesis5 and Rashbam's Genesis6, which prepared the successful publication for the cabbalistic book Sohar, in which androgynous creation has been documented and explained in details. Probably the Middle Age also provided some hidden areas, in which people were allowed to remember ancient traditions and the real symbolism for the Dutch word “paars”...
5 6

Rabbi Rashi 1040-1105, Northern-Europa (chapter 27) Rasbam, Rashi's successor, 1085-1174, Northern-Europa (chapter 27)


Fig. 8: Initials in the Neapolitan Bible The very word “Paars” may also explain the alternating colouring writing in red and blue, which may be found in most of the medieval Bibles and other religious books. The adjective “paars” for purple will also explain Dante's masterpiece as a religious document which allowed him to publish this work at all.

Fig. 9: Codex for Dante's Divina Commedia


Ancient and medieval people must have had a common knowledge for the religious symbolism of purple, red and blue. The biblical book Numeri 15:37-41 provides us with some information, that: Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, 38Speak to the children of Israel, and bid those who they make them fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put on the fringe of each border a cord of blue: 39and it shall be to you for a fringe, that you may look on it, and remember all the commandments of Yahweh, and do them;

Instead of the word “blue” the German translators however preferred “purple”. The following painting from 1336AD reveals Jesus wearing a purple overcoat over a blue garment. The colour code exactly meets the previous painting of the German emperor Henry VI. The garments however does not depict the fringes, which had been commanded for any Hebrew person.


Fig. 10: Judas kissing Jesus (1336)


9 Hochdorf

Fig. 11: Celtic sovereign in red & blue towels (530 BC) Purple has also be found at the garments for the Celtic sovereign, discovered in an untouched grave at Hochdorf. The weaving reveals extremely thin singular threads which may only be identified as red and blue elements under a microscope. Around 530 BC this weaving technology has been exported to Italy and weaving red & blue tor produce purple must have preceded the manufacturing of purple dye in the Mediterranean area.


The Celtic sovereign had been wrapped in several alternating coloured red and blue blankets. The grave has been erected around 530 BC.

Fig. 12: Celtic sovereign wrapped in red & blue towels

These resemblance between the colouring codes of the Hochdorf grave and the Bible's book Exodus may trigger the idea whether there may have been a common colouring code shared by the Hebrew and the Celtic people. If successful the idea may have to be expanded to the Greeks7 and the Romans8.
7 8

Androgynous creation legend in Plato's Symposium Purple as an imperial colour and divine symbol


10 The Dutch flag
If a biblical and religious expert were to choose a recipe to design a banner for his country he may probably choose:

shall make a breastplate of judgment, the work of the skilful workman; like the work of the ephod you shall make it; of gold, of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen, shall you make it.

Fig 13: Dutch banner The word “Paars” also explains why emperor Henry VI wears a purple overcoat at the codex Manesse and why the red-whiteblue colours may have been used to create the Dutch national banner.


11 Tuisco
That's why I keep the Dutch word “paars” (purple) as a treasure with mine and as a last farewell to my ancestors' ancient religion; to Tuisco, who has been honoured by naming the cities of Duisburg and Doesburg. The word “Paars” taught me to read U and I as androgynous symbols, and explained me how to understand the religious symbolism of matrimony. The word “Paars” explains that red and blue initials in an overwhelming number of decorated medieval Bibles cannot be understood as neutral illustrations, but have been designed to symbolize religious ideas. The initials are symbolizing the return and transformation of married couples to androgynous Adam and the return to the original androgynous deity.

Fig. 14: Initials in a codex from 14th century


12 Weaving words “like purple”
Purple may be identified as a symbolic colour for the interwoven letters and words of the Utrecht Bible and other codices if you are allowed to look at the manuscript from a distance.

Fig. 15: Utrecht Bible (1460) 21

13 Pomegranate arils
At a few locations we may be able to find references towards the colouring codes in the Bible. According to Wikipedia the pomegranate´s seeds and surrounding pulp, ranging in colour from white to deep red, are called arils. There are some cultivars which have been introduced that have a range of pulp colours such as purple (see photograph). Exodus9 directed that images of pomegranates be woven onto the hem of the me'il ("robe of the ephod"), a robe worn by the Hebrew High Priest. The book Kings10 describes pomegranates depicted on the capitals of the two pillars Jachin and Boaz which stood in front of the temple King Solomon built in Jerusalem. It is also a symbol of fruitfulness. The pomegranate is one of the few images which appear on ancient coins of Judea as a holy symbol, and today many Torah scrolls are stored while not in use with a pair of decorative hollow silver "pomegranates" (rimmonim) placed over the two upper scroll handles.

Fig. 16: Pomegranate arils



Exodus 28:33–34 1 Kings 7:13–22


14 Conclusion
A globally accepted convention accepts light red as a female and blue as male symbol for genders. A special colour symbol for androgynous genders or matrimonial couples does not seem to be well known. Dutch language however provides us with a word “paars” for the colour “purple”, which may have been in use in ancient eras as religious symbols in analogy to the colours red and blue. From the recipe for painting icons and the books Exodus and Chronicles we may identify the religious symbolism for the colours purple, red and blue. In fact we may even discover these symbols from the flags of a number of countries: the Netherlands, France, England, USA and Russia. A medieval etymology for the Dutch word “paars” (equivalent to purple) refers to the free citizens of the Dutch city of Leiden, whose assembly hall has been named “de Paars”, respectively “de Pers” for their “peer”-members. The colour of “paars” is the symbolic colour for the peers. Keywords Bible, Genesis, Chronicles, paars, pair, Purpur, purple, Flag, Pomegranates, androgynous, Tuisco, Tuisto, Colourcode, etymology, Manesse, Codex, Hochdorf, Rashi, Rashbam, icon, Henry, emperor


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