General · Non-Fiction

The Wine-Dark Sea

I read Through the Language Glass by Guy Deutscher last week.

In it, he says something surprising, that the phrase “the wine-dark sea” from Homer’s epic is not poetic license (it certainly looks like poetic license to me!) but straight description. And not even description of the color of the sea – the Ancient Greeks apparently had no word for the color blue – but a description of the darkness of the sea.

And not just sheep, but oxen, too: the wine-dark oxen.

Also, Homer also apparently uses violet to describe the sea, sheep and iron.

I was really quite astonished. The idea of describing how dark a color is instead of the specific color strikes me as odd.

But if you have no word for blue – blue things being rare in nature; the color of the sky and ocean are vastly different from each other and change based on the time of day anyway and weather. With such few blue things around you, maybe you don’t need a word for blue. And how would you then describe the sea or the sky?