Hello Rebels, and welcome back to my life.
Researching today’s video is the most fun I’ve had in a while, and it’s THE FREAKING WEIRDEST THING I’ve ever talked about in a video.
I want to give a huge thank-you to viewer Simon Cantan, who told me about this in the first place. He’s a fellow indie author and there’s a link to his Amazon page in the description.
Ancient cultures didn’t see blue.
I know that sounds crazy…and it is…and yet apparently somehow it is true.
Apparently in the 1850s a British scholar named William Gladstone was reading the Odyssey and realized that Homer always described the ocean as wine-dark, never as blue or dark green.
He did a lot more research and discovered all the color descriptions were super weird. Like Homer described sheep and iron as violet and honey as green.
I don’t know about Homer, but if I saw green honey I would not eat it.
Gladstone went through again and counted every color reference in the book. Black and white are mentioned a lot, red is mentioned a fair bit—I mean, you know, there’s a lot of wine and blood in the Odyssey.
But the other colors are barely mentioned at all, and when they are, they’re not attached to nouns we commonly associate with them.
Later a philologist named Lazarus Geiger—no relation to the Geiger counter—followed up on his work and examined the writings of tons and tons of ancient cultures and NONE of them had a word for blue.
Like the Vedic hymns talk a WHOLE WHOLE lot about the red glowing dawn and sunlight and the sky but they NEVER say that the color of the sky is blue.
The Egyptians were the only ancient culture found to have a name for blue, and interestingly, they were also the only ancient culture capable of making blue dyes for fabrics.
One slightly more contemporary researcher named Guy Deutscher tried an experiment where he raised his daughter without EVER telling her that the sky was blue.
One day he finally asked her what color the sky was, and amazingly, his daughter looked up at the sky and said, “I don’t know.”
SHE DIDN’T KNOW.
She knew what blue was, and she’d been looking at the sky all her life, but she had never associated the two things!
After he brought it up, she eventually decided it was white, and the finally said it was blue, but Deutscher had discovered something amazing: without being told what color the sky is, children don’t automatically learn it on their own.
This was further looked into when a researcher named Jules Davidoff tested several members of a Namibian tribe called the Himba by showing them a circle of squares that were green, except one of them, which was blue.
When asked which square looked different from the others, the members of the Himba tribe couldn’t tell him—some got it right, but a huge portion of them got it wrong, much more of them than we would consider “normal.”
But when he showed them THIS circle of squares and asked them which one was different, they all immediately got it right. Now, I’m betting you can’t tell which one it is. It’s this one. It’s like two shades lighter than the other ones.
I’ve wondered my whole life if people see different colors different ways. Like maybe the color I see when I look at a healthy green apple is actually what someone else sees when they look at a brilliant red tomato.
(And just like that, I’m hungry).
And this…kind of shows that that’s actually true. When blue isn’t a common concept, maybe humans see it—but they don’t know that they are seeing it.
And I think it is both frightening and amazingly awesome and beautiful that there are still so many universal truths and commonalities that all humans share when we can’t even agree what color the sky is.
That’s it for today, Rebels. A special shoutout as always to my lovely supporters on Patreon, who make my YouTube channel possible. If you want to be one of those excellent people, or pick up signed copies of my books, there are links to both of those things in the description.
Thanks so much for watching, and I will see you tomorrow. Byyye.