Skip to content

Adjectives associating with ‘capillus’ in classical Latin.

Last week, Iustinus had posted an issue he had run across — a student had attempted to refer to ‘brown hair’ in Latin, but a mot juste in this case seemed to be lacking.

I did a bit of searching through my handy corpus and found that among all the classical authors I had, color adjectives were generally not applied to capillus except in poetry; the one exception was Vitruvius, who speaks of men in the North who had straight red hair (directo capillo et rufo).

A point several brought up, and which I’m tending to agree with, is that the Romans may not have considered brown hair a separate category from dark/black (niger), light/blonde (flavus), gray/white (canus/albus), and red (rutilus/rufus).

While adjectives of color may not have been frequently applied to capillus, I found that adjectives of condition were much more common; those most frequently occurring (both in prose and poetry) are below.

Most commonly modifying ‘capillus’ or ‘capilli’

  • 14× passus (from pando ‘spread out’) — loose, disheveled; once in Caesar, once in Horace, twelve times in Ovid
  • 7× canus — gray, once in Horace, six times in Ovid
  • 7× sparsus — scattered, six times in Ovid, once in Propertius
  • 5× longus — long, once in Nepos, three times in Ovid, once in Tibullus
  • 4× incomptus — unkempt; once in Horace, once in Ovid, twice in Propertius
  • 4× pexus/pectendus — combed/to be combed, once in Cicero, three times in Ovid
  • 4× positus/ponendus — arranged; four times in Ovid (usually with a complement, e.g. positus sine arte, ponendus in mille modos)

Less frequently modifying ‘capillus’ or ‘capilli’

  • albus — white, once in Horace, once in Propertius, once in Tibullus
  • compositus — arranged, twice in Cicero
  • comptus — arranged, tidy, once in Cicero, once in Ovid, once in Vergil
  • digestus — arranged, twice in Ovid
  • effusus — twice in Ovid
  • flavus — blond, three times in Ovid
  • immissus — long, uncut, overgrown; three times in Ovid
  • incultus — once in Ovid, once in Seneca the Elder
  • inornatus — unadorned; twice in Ovid
  • intonsus — uncut, untrimmed; once in Ovid, once in Tibullus
  • madidus — damp, sodden, three times in Ovid
  • mollis — soft; once in Ovid, once in Tibullus
  • neglectus — unkempt, twice in Ovid
  • niger — black, twice in Horace
  • nitidus — neat; once in Horace, once in Tibullus
  • nudus — uncovered, twice in Ovid
  • odoratus — perfumed, once in Horace, twice in Ovid
  • ornatus/ornandus — arranged/to be arranged, twice in Ovid, once in Propertius
  • purpureus — purple, once in Ovid, once in Vergil
  • raptus — torn; three times in Ovid
  • rigidus — stiff; three times in Ovid
  • rutilus — gold-red; three times in Ovid
  • sacer — holy; once in Ovid, once in Tibullus
  • scissus — torn; once in Ovid, once in Tibullus
  • tortus — twisted; once in Ovid, once in Propertius, once in Vitruvius
  • turbatus — disheveled, twice in Ovid
  • vittatus — garlanded or banded, twice in Ovid

Only occurring once:

Albescens — Horace, anguinus — Catullus, carus — Ovid, coronatus — Ovid, crispus — Vitruvius, croceus — Ovid, deformis — Seneca the Elder, delibutus — Cicero, demissus — Ovid, diffusus — Ovid, directus — Vitruvius, [male] dispositus — Ovid, fulvus — Ovid, funestus — Ovid, fusus — Ovid, hirsutus — Ovid, horridus — Cicero, impulsus — Ovid, incintus — Ovid, indignus — Ovid, iniectus [umeris] — Ovid, inflatus — Ovid, laetus — Ovid, laniatus — Seneca the Elder, lapsus — Propertius, maestus — Ovid, motus — Ovid, muliebris — Vitruvius, praecinctus — Ovid, prensus — Ovid, promissus — Livy, pulcher — Propertius, pullus — Ovid, rorans — Ovid, rufus — Vitruvius, subcrispus — Cicero, summus — Ovid, tenues — Ovid, tonsus — Ovid, udus — Ovid, umens — Ovid, unctus — Horace, ustus — Tibullus, and viridis — Ovid.

As you may be able to tell, this is chiefly Ovid’s game; he is inordinately fond of using the word capillus to end a line, doing so no less than a hundred and fifty times (which is more than all other uses of the word combined in these authors).

Disclaimers: Of course I was only able to take a cursory glance at this many texts at once — it’s entirely likely I’ve included an adjective or two that doesn’t belong, or overlooked some (aside from the ones I deliberately left out, such as pronouns), or given a gloss that’s closer to a dictionary sense than to the context.   And this is only intended to be a survey of adjectives applied directly to capillus — more complicated constructions are left out.

Aside from this, I think these lists give an interesting start to Latin vocabulary pertaining to hair…

{ 2 } Comments