Despite having seas this color
And skies THIS color
apparently, the ancient Greeks did not have a word for “blue”. In fact, there is some evidence that they did not even perceive blue, despite working with lapis lazuli, turquoise and the aforementioned seas and skies. Homer mentions the “wine-dark sea” and refers to the “bronze sky”. Sheep were bronze as well, and honey was green. In fact, “blue” was not a word in ancient China, Japan, Hebrew or other ancient cultures. Only the Egyptians had a color for “blue” and they were the only ones for centuries with the ability to create the color through dye. What the Greeks had were words for “light” and “dark”. Color was less important than the depth.
Which is FASCINATING to me, because the ancient Greeks had a word for EVERYTHING! One of the phrases that travelers will share with each other with great humor is the Greek tendency to tell you, “_____ is Greek word. You know this word? Is Greek!”
Click here for Youtube clip of My Big Fat Greek Wedding- I show you how the root is Greek.
The pride with which the Greeks inform you that your language, your perceptions, your way of thinking, started HERE is palpable. A phrase from Mary Stewart’s book “My Brother Michael” that I recently read had a phrase that says, “There’s your own country, and then there’s Greece“.
A short listing of words gives you an idea:
anarchist, ambidextrous, anatomy, androgynous, archaic, architect, autograph, ancient, amphitheater, antiseptic... and that is just the As!
Their legends, their concepts, their ideas of things have formed the foundation of our language and our way of understanding the world. Our sense of ourselves as individuals, not parts of a collective; our belief in “one person/ one vote”; our aesthetic sense of balance and justice- these are rooted in Greece.
The impact of Greece is far bigger than the country itself. In land mass (50,000 square miles), it’s smaller than Louisiana (51,000), but slightly bigger than Mississippi (49,000). Much smaller than my home state of Georgia (59,000). Yet, Alexander the Great was the first empire to dominate the world, and he was the last (the LAST) person to conquer Afghanistan.
Greece is studied by third graders in Georgia as part of the “Ancient Greece and Rome” unit where they study the impact on our design, our language and our democracy. Kids made models of the Acropolis, dress in togas, and get a vague understanding that we are where we are because of the works and thoughts of people long ago past. They read Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series with a vague understanding that it’s based on ancient stories. For most American children and adults, Ancient Greece is a story, a backdrop- along with fairy tales and nursery rhymes.
But here, it’s personal. They see themselves in all aspects of the world. They see how their culture is so much larger than their country. There is a significant pride in their past, their art, their poetry and their impact. They see themselves as a treasure and the source of all that is Western. Their thoughts formed how we think.
Which is why is was such a shock that they did not have “blue”. did not know “blue”. For a country whose FLAG is blue and white…
In an article about “Blue“, Wikipedia notes that blue was a word from Middle English derived from the Germanic tries, who would paint their faces blue in war. It became the color of Christianity when the Byzantine Muslims world chose green as their “Color” and Christians had to wear the color blue to identify themselves. Blue became a war color again and was adopted by the Greeks in their centuries-long battle against the Ottoman Turks.
So- blue is not a Greek word- and apparently, wasn’t even a Greek concept. I had no idea of the history and cultural references that a single color, one that pervades this country, could have.