Saturday, February 13, 2021

Etymology of Carole

 Middle Ages / Medieval Period

5th to 15th centuries (400 to 1499 AD)

The most documented form of dance during the Middle Ages is the carol also called the "carole" or "carola" and known from the 12th and 13th centuries in Western Europe in rural and court settings

The word carol is derived from the Old French word carole, a circle dance accompanied by singers (in turn derived from the Latin choraula). Carols were very popular as dance songs from the 1150s to the 1350s, after which their use expanded as processional songs sung during festivals, while others were written to accompany religious mystery plays (such as the Coventry Carol, written before 1534)  -  W. J. Phillips, Carols; Their Origin, Music, and Connection with Mystery-Plays (Routledge, 1921, Read Books, 2008), p. 24.


Carole, medieval European dance in a ring, chain, or linked circle, performed to the singing of the dancers. An indefinite number of persons participated, linking arms and following the step of the leader. The origins of the carole are in ancient ring dances of May and midsummer festivals and, more remotely, in the ancient Greek choros, or circular, sung dance. Mentioned as early as the 7th century, the carole spread throughout Europe by the 12th century and declined during the 14th century.

There is good evidence that caroles were danced to ballads. Many ballad refrains suggest dance movements (e.g., “bow-down, bow-down”). A relic of medieval Danish caroling survives in the circular ballad dances of the Faeroe Islands. The medieval French word carole (Medieval Latin: chorea; Middle High German: reigen) referred only to sung chain and ring dances; danse (Medieval Latin: ballatio; Middle High German: tanz) indicated a couple dance with instrumental accompaniment.

Chain dances of common origin with the carole and danced in serpentine chains, linked circles, or straight lines to singing or instrumental music persist in the 20th century in the Balkans (e.g., the Romanian hora, Serbo-Croatian kolo, Bulgarian horo, and Greek syrtos) and elsewhere (the farandole and carmagnole of France; the Catalonian sardana). In modern Switzerland a few coraules survive; they begin as a chain and end with couples dancing. Choros in modern Greek still means a circular dance. The branle, danced in the late European Middle Ages, derived from the carole. Some authorities believe that country dancing, with its lines or circles of couples, also derives from the carole.


(from The Carole: A Study of a Medieval Dance By Robert Mullally)

Diefenbach 1857 "Glossarium Latino-Germanicum Mediae et Infimae Aetatis"

The Old French Carole is ultimately derived from the Greek noun (one who accompanies a chorus in the aulos)  From this came the Latin form choraula and thence carole.


The earliest citation was in the form chorolla found in an account of the legend of the dancers of Kolbigk.  This is the tale of a supposed miracle that took place in Saxony in the 11th century.  It relates how a group of men and women who, in spite of protests of the priest, persisted in dancing around a churchyard while Mass was being celebrated on Christmas Eve, and were consequently condemned to continue their dance for a whole  year.