Arabic Soap in the Greek City of Colophon Colophon first attested by mikeholy


									                       Arabic Soap in the Greek City of Colophon
                             A Case Study in Fictitious Etymology

                                        By Werner Kulla

Colophon, first attested in the English language not earlier than in 1774, is a "publisher's in-
scription at the end of a book," from L. colophon, from Greek κολον (kólon) "summit, final
touch." It must not be confused with colophony.

Colophony (also called rosin) is the non-volatile component of resin obtained from conifers,
especially pines (Pistacia terebinthus). Rosin is a specific type of resin; not all resins, how-
ever, are rosins. By distillation cleaned and freed from water and essential oils, it is a brittle,
brownish or yellowish substance. Traditional etymology derives this term from the ancient
Greek city of Colophon (Κολοφων), said to have been situated on the top of a small mountain
between Lebedos (today’s Hypsili-Hissar in Turkey) and the well-known port of Ephesos,
because their inhabitants should have been renowned traders in colophony.

Colophony (the Neo-Latin colophonium) has various applications, such as:
   ♦ use as flux (metallurgy) for soldering
   ♦ as main ingredient of a powder used for glass to polish and figure mirrors and optical
   ♦ as adhesive/glue in production of soap, paper (gumming), ink, and lacquer
   ♦ or to increase sliding friction on the bows for string instruments

Alas, the terms “colophony” or “colophonium” are nowhere attested with ancient Greek or
Roman writers or in Mediaeval Latin (13th – 16th centuries) nor are any archaeological rem-
nants discovered.

Ancient Greek “rhêtinê” = rosin, resin has nothing to do with the residue of resin distillation -
there was none in those ancient times. The main results of this procedure are 70 percent colo-
phony and 20 percent turpentine.

Turpentine, this thin volatile essential oil (C10H16) and ARTIFICIAL organic solvent, ap-
peared not earlier that in the 15th c. and was immediately used in painting (c.f. the Dutch van
Eyck brothers): at the same time as colophony presented a flux for soldering or became a fix-
ing material for jewellery cutting or it was used for fiddlestick softening.

Colophony, this translucent, hard, amber-coloured to dark brown brittle friable rosin, can 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 tall oil.

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"] it 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”, however, began with Bishop Myles Coverdale’s bible (purportedly
in 1535 and based on Latin and German [!] sources). In Greek Septuagint (LXX) and Latin
Vulgate the Heb. “tsori” is rendered simply as "resin" (Gk. rhêtinê, L. resina).
The Vulgate gives Lat. "resina", rendered 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 by St. Jerome’s Vulgate
(“about 400”), the Lat. "resina" denotes some unspecific odoriferous gum or oil.

The Traditional Etymology of Soap

Soap - according to Pliny the Elder (Gaius Plinius Secundus, dated 23 – 79 CE.) - should be a
Gallic invention (“sapo”, a hair-dye) adopted by the Germans (“…et sapo, Galliarum hoc in-
ventum rutilandis capillis. fit ex sebo et cinere, optimus fagino et caprino, duobus modis, spis-
sus ac liquidus, uterque apud Germanos maiore in usu viris quam feminis.” Pliny, Naturalis
*saipo- ("dripping thing, resin") should have been exported in Roman times from German
into Latin “sapo”. For an appropriate explanation for this word, traditional etymology even
took rescue to similarly sounding Greek “sêpôn”.

This adventurous etymology however seems very far-fetched as “sêpôn” (pres part act masc
nom sg) is from the Greek transitive verb “sêpô” = to make rotten (cf. entries in LSJ or Mid-
dle Liddell or Autenrieth).

Searched in all known collections from Greek and Roman Materials, the total for the 3 words
whose definitions contain "soap" – borion, causticus, and sapo – gives only 4 occurrences
[sapo] out of 1.556.585 words in all the Roman writers, all of them with Pliny the Elder. A
search for roots of “soap” in Ancient Greek, even in form of a hypothetical sapôn, saphônion,
sapônarikos or the like (conforming to LSJ or Middle Liddell or Autenrieth), remains com-
pletely fruitless.

The use of the word “soap” is uninterruptedly attested in references via Pliny, Hist. Nat. (Lat.
„sapo”) – OHG. “sapona / sabona” (begin “9th century”!) – OHG. “sapo” (“11th century”) –
OE. “sápe”, ME. "sope” , MLG. “sepe” , Du. zeep, to “seifa”, and finally to MHG. “seife“, as
such first reported in both Dasypodius (Strasburg 1535/6) and Serranus (Nuremberg 1539).
This allegedly Germanic term still exists today in all Roman languages, e.g. under It. “il sapo-
ne”, Fr. “le savon”, or Sp. “el jabón” (see ANNEX).

“Colophony” a Distillation Product From Arabic Alchemy

Here it is suggested here the first time that “colophony” were derived from ARABIC (!)
“sabuneh” with its 3 denotions in Arabic for:
                       1. (dripping) “resin / rosin”,
                       2. “soap” and
                       3. “colophony”.

And exactly these same 3 meanings (resin – rosin/colophony – soap) we do find also in Eng-
lish and German for “soap”, from the very beginning. All these exactly 3 meanings in all
these 3 languages with such a completely different background at the same time!

“Soap”, a cultural key term, already since the times of Charlemagne (begin “9th century”) in
German attested as “sabona” and “sapona”, but never (!) in Greek, in Latin “sapo” only (!)
with Pliny the Elder, is undoubtedly derived from Arabic “sabuneh”. First of all the spelling
will be considered here:

As European « p » and « o » are unknown in Arabic spelling, these characters replace here
quite regularly the original Arabic characters “b” and “u”: thus Arabic “sabuneh” results in
“sapone” (sapona). Its earliest mentioning in German (sabona) allegedly from the 9th century
still renders truly even the “weak” Arabic consonant “b”. And the light ending “eh” (pro-
nounced like “lee”) is darkened to the O.H.G. “a”.

The colophony, this distillation result from conifers in Arabic alchemy, was most probably
used first for 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
al-chemical product, mentioned introductorily here already above.

Having first purported its etymological origin from Arabic “sabuneh” to German “sabona”
and Italian “sapone”, let us now consider where “colophony” is derived from in its function.

Arabian Soap Makes the Gut Strings Sound

The music instruments of the ancient Greeks have been rather primitive. Their string instru-
ments did not know yet the fingerboard (first used with plucked instruments such as the Ara-
bian lute) or the fiddlestick (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.

Colophony is not derived from Greek κωλον (kôlon) spelled with o-mega vowel (summit),
but composed of Greek κολον (kólon) written with o-mikron, i.e. the short “o” (anat. colon,
i.e. intestines, gut; see coloscopy) plus φωνη (phônê) meaning “sound”. Thus it describes the
function of “colo[n]-phony” and does mean literally “to make the gut sound” (cf. chordo-
phone, symphony etc.). This denotation for the material necessary to treat the bow cannot be
of Greek origin as they did not make use of the fiddlestick – they would surely have made use
of if they had been able to distil it. But even traditional historiography have to admit that the
Ancients did not yet master the technology of distillation.

Consequently the meaning of “colophony” (colophonium), nowhere attested with the ancient
authors, must be a Greek neologism 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 histo-
riography; as well as “Hamburger” is not derived from the citizens of Hamburg famous for
dealing in ham-and-eggs. O.H.G “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).

And consequently, the dating of all depictions of colophony-hungry fiddles, hurdy-gurdies
(Fr. “chifonie” or “vielle à roue”; It. “ghironda”; Ger. “Radleier“ or „Drehleier“; Lat. “or-
ganistrum”), e.g. on church portals in Spain, dated “10th century”, and the like before the 15th
or even 16th century are definitely far too premature as well.

Colophony in Sphragistics and Book Production

If written in Latin characters it is impossible to decide if the first vowel of colophonium is –o–
long or short. As colophony is plastic, when heated and liquid, it was also very suitable for

seal wax, too; for, brittle and once broken, it cannot be undone. Thus everybody could detect
without difficulties that a letter had been opened or a signed and sealed document possibly
been faked, if the seal was found “broken”. Thus in the “Middle Ages” the use of this then
high-tech product colophony (and turpentine) had become indispensable for every chancery
because the sheer wax from bees or candles was obviously totally unsuited to guarantee the
authenticity of a document.

For an improved mixture of sealing wax later on some lacquer (with turpentine) was added;
“lacquer” in English is first attested very late, only in 1673. It stem is 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 famous rulers, bishops or the Hanse for instance could have made
use for their documents in the late 15th century the very earliest.

The technical term “colophony” was secondarily used also for authorship warranty and details
in book production (somewhat altered to “colophon”) before 1500. See Dasypodius (1535)
who gives in his Latino-German vocabulary “colophone” solely as a publisher's inscription at
the end of a book (the IMPRESSUM in our modern sense): “Colophone<^-> addere, uel im-
ponere, prouerbialiter significat. Vollenden / außmachen” (in English translation “proverbially
to achieve, to finish”).

touch”, as it is a deductive etymology that covers both (!) the spellings AND the functions and
is based at the same time on numerous founds. Colophony on the contrary does not make the
hills sound, but the [vet.] colon, this indispensable raw material for the production of gut
strings for music instruments.


Traditional etymology for “colophony” is – without the slightest reference –based purely on
the coincidental similarity of the sound of two words the functions of which have really noth-
ing in common. Such a “deduction” restricted solely to the philological level, is always rather
questionable and reminds a typical “embarrassment-etymology” of the 19th -century such as:
“pistol” is derived from the city of Pistoia/Tuscany (because it were invented in this Italian
city), or the spinet (a kind of small harpsichord) is named after a certain Giuseppe Spinetto
(who allegedly should have invented it), or – even worse – Hastings is called after the *hastin-
gi, a tribe said to have resided in that English coastal village about 1066.

This new and rather surprising etymology for the artificial products “rosin-soap-colophony”,

however, presented here for the first time as having come to Europe from Arabic civilisation,

         is based upon an uninterruptedly attested chain of numerous references
         combined with one identical and logically consistent denotation (“resin-soap-

         colophony”) in several different languages and civilisations (cf. also ANNEX).

         Furthermore it follows the main streams of technical development and musicology
         and is supported also by numerous archaeological remnants (though dated premature).
In this case study the insurmountable difficulties for creating a urgently needed fictitious an-
cient Greek-Roman provenance in European civilisation for a three central cultural terms are
revealed, explained and resettled in a new-conceived framework stuck to mostly well-known
facts (except the well-hidden sabuneh/soap-connection).

Alas, an Arabic origin would be in no way admissible to traditional textbooks, for it funda-
mentally contradicts Scaligerian historiography. Imagine: the Historia Naturalis of Pliny
based upon early Arabic alchemy of the late Middle Ages – inconceivable! Yet it matches
perfectly the timeline of revised history and even corroborates it. Which of these two ety-
mologies for this key word is to prefer?


Translation is interpretation, unavoidably. The accepting of this new etymology implies not
only a revision of basic central assumptions and dates constitutive for Scaligarian historiogra-
phy; furthermore it opens the perspective to far-reaching questions. Let me close this essay by
discussing only two of them:

Did Pliny the Elder perhaps pick up somewhere from hearsay this for him brand-new term
“sapone” (from Arabic “sapuneh”), mistook it for an ablative and reduced it in good old clas-
sic manner to the Latin nominative “sapo”? Remember: this term is found only in his writ-
ings, nowhere else! And Pliny’s History of Nature describes well the technological standard
of about 1500. This would not be the first example, where Pliny confused an etymology. See
his well-known “cuniculus” (derived from Spanish rabbit) which he transformed erroneously
from a beast into a burrow/tunnel! Only since this coinage we may say in Golden Latinity
“cuniculos agere” (to dig a tunnel) or even better: “cuniculo murum suffodere” if we want to
describe in Latin how Turkish pioneers undermined the stonewalls of a fortified town in the
16th century, an activity unthinkable of course in Pliny’s 1st century CE.

Petrus Dasypodius, Dictionarium Latinogermanicum, Strasbourg: Rihel, 1535 (2nd ed. revised
and enlarged one year later), a chaplain and the father of Conrad Dasypodius (aka Konrad
Hasenfratz, 1531-1601), professor of mathematics at Strasbourg Academy (built there the
famous church clock, (1571 – 1574), mentions in his very influential dictionary (the first of its
kind for German) not only ancient writers, but also contemporary and extinct towns.

Dasypodius describes the famous city of Pompeji/Campania und the Gulf of Naples buried by
the volcano Mount Vesuvius allegedly in 79 CE, and world-forgotten until the first half of the
18th century, as a lively contemporary town, though even the name of the city was extinct!
And a person Plinius is unknown to him as well as the famous Tacitus (“Germania”!) writing
a generation later than Pliny (Ann. 16.5), who should have died from asphyxiation (or of car-
diac arrest) during this catastrophe as dramatically described by his nephew Pliny the Youn-
ger in a letter (letters 6. 16) to an enquiry by Tacitus.

Until 16 Dec. 1631, the huge explosion and effusion of Mount Vesuvius, the only active vol-
cano on the European mainland, no reliable report of its volcanic activity is available – except
a (smaller?) explosion in (about?) 1500, reported by Ambrogio di Nola. Volcanoes are even
unknown to the Bible or to the Quran; no eruption is recorded. So when did Gaius Plinius Se-
cundus [maior] die?

Not only books have “their stories”, as a Latin saying goes, but even etymologies. We have to
pay meticulously attention to prevent wild liberties from taking place here. Further – and ex-
citing – research is needed.


The allegedly Germanic term “sapone” for “soap”, denoting a Celtic hair-dye and imported
into Latin before the time of Pliny the Elder (“1st century CE.”) is found widespread: from
Wales via France, the Iberian peninsula, Germany, Bulgaria, Turkey, Kurdistan, Greece to
Madagascar, in Classic Arabic, its real language of origin, as we have just learnt.

For completion here non-exhaustive list is given to show the wide circulation of this allegedly
“Germanic” word, which is undoubtedly derived from this Arabic term

         “sabuneh” (Ger. transliteration “sabuni”) :   íñݯñ   ;   áå ±Ùå íñݯ ƒåÝ•­

We find it in the Romanised world, e.g.:
  ♦ Romani                  *s@pún
  ♦ Sicilian                sapuni
  ♦ Sardinian Campidanesu saboni
  ♦ Venetian                saon
  ♦ Valencian               sabo
  ♦ Portuguese              sabão
  ♦ Spanish                 jabón
  ♦ French                  savon

and in its periphery, e.g.:
   ♦ Danish                   sæbe
   ♦ Welsh                    sebon
   ♦ Saami                    sáibu

We find this Classic Arabic term in Asia Minor, e.g. in:
  ♦ Turkish                   sabun
  ♦ Kurdish Kurmanji          sabûn

as well as in the Slavonic languages in Eastern Europe and on the Balkans.

But there is a sharp boundary between the Classic Arabic root (“sapun”) in:
   ♦ Bulgarian               kZimg

   ♦ Serbian                 kZimg

   ♦ Croatian                sapun

plus in the singular Illyrian IE-language Albanian ”sapun”, all of them (Croatia only partially)
influenced by Arabian culture under the Ottoman reign, on the one hand – and on the other
hand the Slavonic regions of:
    ♦ Ukrainian, Russ.          fbeh

    ♦ Polish                    P\GáR
    ♦ Czech                     mýdlo
    ♦ Slovak                    mydlo
    ♦ Slovenian                 milo

Here all of them are derived from the Slav stem “miti” = “to wash” (possibly with a slight
connection to wash potash or the like).

Even Modern Greek does not hold the Classical Greek phantom term “colophony” but, from
the Classic Arabic, the term “1.Œ *” (sapuni), exact as even the so-called uncivilised Ara-
bian influenced regions e.g. of Eastern Africa:
    ♦ Swahili                 sabuni
    ♦ Maasai                  esabuni

26 – 11 – 2004

To top