Ignorance of Blue Among The Ancients

Harper's new monthly magazine, 41 / 1870

De. Geiger, of Frankfort, calls attention to the curious fact that in all the most ancient writings there is no term used to indicate the color blue, notwithstanding the inducement to this in the description of natural phaenomena, such as the cloudless sky, etc. Neither in the Rig Veda nor in the Bible, the writings of Hesiod, the Zendavesta, nor in the Koran, is there any reference to the blue color of the heavens. Theocritus and Virgil speak of a sun-burnt conntenance, and compare it with the black of the violet and the hyacinth. Cassiodorus confounds blue with gray. References to green even do not occur in the highest antiquity, although it is mentioned earlier than blue. In the Rig Veda and Zendavesta, in speaking of trees and plants, golden fruits are described, but no mention is made of the green color of leaves; and among the Greeks green was frequently confounded with yellow. Xenophon, Aristotle, and the Edda, recognize only three colors in the rainbow; the Pythagoreans, four; while the Chinese and Arabians are to first to add green to the list. We find that in the very earliest periods the colors black and red are very sharply and accurately defined. From this, and many other facts adduced by Dr. Geiger, he concludes that the most refrangible rays of the spectrum were last of all appreciated by the human eye, while previously one the most brilliant portions around the red were noticed. He infers, therefore, a successive improvement in this important sense. The speculations in question are highly curious and interesting, and deserve to be followed up, although it seems hardly possible that entire nations should be insensible to the existence of certain colors in early times, or should be, in a measure, color-blind. If, however, the deductions referred to are legitimate, such a conclusion would seem to be a natural consequence.

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