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Is the Ocean Blue?

Blue is a color which took  long time to come into existence and eventually gain the popularity which it has this day. When Homer wrote his epic poem the Iliad and the Odyssey, there was no “Blue yonder” but only an ocean filled with adventure described as the “ wine red sea”. According to a theory  by Hugo Magnus, the famous poet Homer and contemporaries could not yet see blue as a color but later as the human species evolved, their eyes could see blue. Language picked up the new perception and coined the word “blue”. Magnus was confusing the biological function of sight with perception which is created  by culture. So if Hugo was wrong , when and how did the sea become blue?

The history of color is huge and beyond pure science. Color naming is made by societies with their own words, languages and cultural perceptions. For example, in the European culture of the high middle ages, the colors of importance included red, white  and black. Green was added as a noun for vegetation and then last in place was blue. Skies in art works were painted red, white, or gold, not blue. Blue, however, played a role among the peasantry who wore clothes dyed with woad, which made the color of fabric slightly blue. This was a Germanic and Celtic tradition.

Christine de Pisan, professional writer who wrote in 1390: Book of the City of Ladies, about women in the Middle Ages.

By the 13th century, Pope Innocent III had gained singular authority over Church practices.In his papal decrees, he outlined the specific colors to be used for the Catholic mass. Blue was never mentioned but red, white and black were. However, in the stained glass windows of the 12th century churches, blue glass was used in the backgrounds to allow more light through the stained windows.

photo by Dominic Arizona Bonucelli, Rick Steve’s “Chartres Cathedral: The Age of Faith in Stone and Stained Glass.”

Finally, by the high medieval period, artists found an aesthetic role for blue. Mosaics and holy book illuminations of the early Christian era used blue often. By the Carolingian period of the 9th century, blue was used in miniature paintings, especially as a background color. The robes of the emperor and those of the Virgin Mary and the Saints were often painted in blue. The meaning here of blue became one of divine presence . As artistic technology improved, blue became less murky and was used to bring light and celestial illumination to a painting or stained glass window. While the aesthetic role of this color was more and more appreciated, many debates about the true nature of color intensified and continued on. These debates centered on the question of whether color was of matter or light. How the ocean became blue since the time of Homer’s epic remained unanswered. For interested readers, the story can be found in Michel Pastoureau book Blue…, which is one in a series he has written on various colors. These books are beautifully illustrated. Blue:The History of Color.

Catching up to modern times, the color blue connotes a general impression of calm, coolness, quiet and unassuming qualities. When blue is used in food, however, it suppressed the appetite. A shade of blue like dark blue connotes integrity, professionalism, and power while light blue suggest softness, healing and understanding. In relationships, blue has a calm, peace loving albeit distant sex appeal. People who like blue make good partners and are in control. Blue-eyed people have the second most eye color  and are believed to be tough and have stamina.

Two artists wearing blue: the one wearing dark blue expresses masculinity and the other wearing a light blue shirt expressing a more feminine color choice.

Blue is symbolic for masculinity so dark blue pants on men look especially fashionable. Women wear blue,too, just lighter and may be matched with a forest green, mint, white , or scarlet top. Blue is an outstanding logo color. It exudes reliability, stability, and trustworthy, intellectual qualities. One finds conservative corporations use blue frequently in their logos. Blue logos are found with technology and health industries,too. Indigo, a form of blue, speaks “new age” while bankers, lawyers, and educators like to use indigo. This indigo blue works well with magenta, turquoise, and emerald.  For color blind readers, it may be good to know that using the contrast colors of : black and white; or yellow and blue create greater readability for this particular audience.

“Birds and humans prefer blue because of the color’s association with all things pure”.

                     William Henry Hudson, Birds and Man

Lastly, colors have different meanings depending upon where they are used geographically throughout the world. As mentioned previously, in the US blue symbolizes masculinity for the most part while in China, blue symbolizes “the feminine”. For Hindus, blue represents immortality and Krishna. For the Ukrainians, blue means healing and in Turkey, Greece, and Albania, blue will repel evil.


  1. Michel Pastoureau, Blue: The History of Color, 2001,Princeton University Press