Re: [xmca] Homer's colour blindness

From: Mike Cole (
Date: Thu Aug 10 2006 - 19:07:50 PDT

Andy-- It is MUCH more likely that this is an example of the cultural
evolution of color terms. See the
work of Eleanor Heider, Berlin and Kay and others. Homer was a "singer of
tales" whose work was not
written down until long after his death, which somewhat complicates matters.

On 8/10/00, Andy Blunden <> wrote:
> I suspect this is an urban myth, but since I heard it as part of a course
> in Hegel from an academic philosopher I wouldn't mind a second opinion.
> The speaker claimed that Homer was almost colour blind, i.e., he know of
> only a limited variety of colours, including describing the sea as "blood
> red". This is well-known apparently. The speaker added that Mycean pottery
> has also only a very limited palette of colours. For my part, I suspect
> that this reflects the availability of materials in the ground and
> proficiency in chemistry, if not the ravages of time. I can also believe
> that outside of societies with a highly developed and widely used chemical
> industry providing a wide range of artificial colours in the environment,
> and a literature which talk about those colours, there is not a large
> vocabulary of colour.
> But the speaker claimed that the colour-sensing cones in the eye had not
> fully evolved in Homer's time. I.e, despite being a philosopher, he
> provided a biological explanation for the lack of a colour vocabulary in
> ancient times.
> He' was wrong wasn't he?
> Andy
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