Re: [xmca] Homer's colour blindness

Date: Fri Aug 11 2006 - 10:53:58 PDT

I think we've got that shift again and we call it smog. Does that make us
see or describe things differently? Have our writers narrowed their range
of color choice as a result? I just keep wondering if there's truly good
evidence of a narrower color range among classical Greek writers. Anyone

> I remember watching a program on either "Discover" or "Nova" or a
> similar science show (long time ago) which talked about the shift in
> spectrum due to s slight change in the composition of the atmosphere. In
> that show, I distinctly remember, they said that in the ancient Greece
> times the spectrum was slightly shifted toward red and that people
> actually saw different colors than we see today. (Like looking at the
> world through red tinted glasses, where all the red, orange, brown and
> yellow colors would be much more saturated than green, blue and purple.)
> Just my two cents.
> Ana
> wrote:
>> Andy and Mike,
>> There are also the questions, never completely answered by classicists,
>> of
>> whether the Iliad and Odyssey were written by one man (or woman,
>> according
>> to Robert Graves) or represent a compilation of texts and fragments by
>> multiple authors (all of them color blind?). Moreover, the prevailing
>> "urban myth" has long been that Homer was totally blind, so then the
>> question becomes, was he blind from birth, or did he become blind in the
>> course of his life (as portrayed by Borges). I think some would say
>> that
>> even more likely than Berlin and Kays' view on cultural differences in
>> color terms, is the idea that Homer's use of color was a matter of
>> artistic choice, and perhaps in the oral tradition of the singer of
>> tales
>> (a la Parry and Lord) a formulaic convention. Thus, Homer, whoever he
>> or
>> she was or they were, may have been using standard transitional phrases
>> used for the purpose of calling to mind the next scene, setting that
>> scene
>> with a unusual and unexpected visual element (thus "the sea, dark as
>> wine") or establishing closure for a completed scene. In this way,
>> Homer's many brief descriptions of the sea, for instance, are identical
>> or
>> almost identical, with very slightly differing phrases, repeated again
>> and
>> again, and often the depictions take place at dawn or sunset, thus again
>> the red hues. As to ceramics and the plastic arts, certainly the
>> unfired
>> pieces which we largely find archeologically reflect the hues of the
>> locally available clays, but there's also been discussion recently of
>> evidence that both urns (what colors does Keats describe in his "Ode on
>> a
>> Grecian Urn?") and sculpture were originally painted in bright colors,
>> which have since faded or disintegrated with time and in some cases long
>> burial. When excavated, they may look a bit "unfinished," but were they
>> always that way?
>> Lots of questions, including: Is such a dramatic biological
>> transformation of optic architecture which your philosopher describes
>> (eyes, for better or worse, do not last long enough for the
>> archeological
>> record, so we'll never know the answer for sure) possible within the
>> infinitesimally brief evolutionary moment we're talking about between
>> Homer's time and now?
>> Two final questions: Is there really a lack of color vocabulary in
>> Homer's work? Or in ancient times in general? Is that an argument we
>> can
>> definitely make even on the basis of the texts that are available to us
>> now?
>> Thanks for raising some very interesting questions.
>> Charles
>>> 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.
>>> mike
>>> 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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> Ana Marjanovic'-Shane,Ph.D.
> 151 W. Tulpehocken St.
> Philadelphia, PA 19144
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