Celebrating the Colour Purple

Purple has been with us since ancient days.

According to a legend handed down through the centuries, purple was discovered by Heracles, or rather his dog. It all began when Heracles, with his dog and his companion nymph, Tyrus, decided to take an afternoon walk along the coastline of the Levant. It was a beautiful day, with the wind coming off the water and the sun sending warmth to the earth.

Suddenly, Heracles’s dog spotted tender snails and greedily bit into the delicious feast. What happened to his mouth? It was all purple.

It was only a matter of time before Heracles put two and two together to establish the cause of the purple stain around the mouth of his dog – those tender snails held the power of purple.

Hercules’s Dog Discovers Purple Dye, by Peter Paul Rubens, Musée Bonnat, Bayonne, France

It was said that Tyrus, the nymph, embraced the beauty of the purple as her own. She demanded that Heracles create a garment for her of the same colour. And that, my dear friends, was how Tyrian purple came into the world.

As an aside, I had no idea that Heracles was known to make garments. But I digress…

The colour purple was truly a gift from the sea, for there was only one source for this brilliant colour – the secretions of a specific gland of the unfortunate and rare species of sea snail now known as Bolinus brandaris.

Fortunately, we have learned to create the purple colour in more sustainable ways, thanks to Sir William Henry Perkin (1838-1907),a British chemist and entrepreneur, who was trying to synthesize quinine for treatment of malaria. It was a failed attempt. But serendipity stepped in when his experiment created the first synthetic organic dye – mauveine (aka purple). He was only 18 years old, an auspicious beginning for entrepreneurial endeavours. But that is another story…

Join me in a celebration of the colour purple.

84 Thoughts

    1. I agree – my first thoughts were for the snail, Lavinia. IMaya Angelou’s profound thought came to mind: ““I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” May we continue to learn, grow and find ways in which to care for our environment, giving value and reverence to our earth and all who dwell here. Sending hugs!

      Liked by 2 people

  1. I am very much enjoying your contribution and information to purple, Rebecca! I certainly didn’t know about the original source of quinine. This is a quote about violet, which I like:
    “The Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”
    In our parts the hydrangeas flower in summer, but now their leaves are already green.
    Big hug and many thanks :)Martina

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Martina – you send me on the best research projects. I had to find out where that quote comes from “The Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the hell that has crushed it.” I LOVE this thought. I found out that the quote was attributed to Mark Twain – but according to this website, there is a long history associated with these words, which I have taken for my thought for the week! Many many thanks! https://quoteinvestigator.com/2013/09/30/violet-forgive/

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Great Rebecca, it makes me happy that you like it and that you can use it further!
        I’ve also to tell you about a big surprise! This morning I opened a magazine and there was a headline THINKING AHEAD and an article about the philosopher Yuval Noah Harris and his SAPIENS, which started with: “Every event in history has occurred against the backdrop of climate change” ! Thank you for your friendship:)

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for your feedback on my website, Shehanne! WordPress themes are becoming even more easy to work with, now that I understand the block system. Well, I don’t understand it all, but I’ve made a start. Thank you for stopping by – always enjoy our conversations.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. HI Rebecca, purple is a lovely colour and has been the historical colour of royalty – maybe because of this story or because of the limited source of material for the dye. I enjoyed your short video. I must say that the hydrangeas you have featured are a much darker and more vibrant colour than the ones we have here. It must be to do with the quality of the soil.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I always thought that hydrangeas were pink. But you are absolutely right – it has all to do with the soil. It has something to do with the acidity of the soil. So I went to check it out and this is what I found: “Generally speaking, acidic soil, with a pH lower than 6.0, yields blue or lavender-blue hydrangea blooms. Alkaline soil, with a pH above 7.0, promotes pinks and reds. With a pH between 6 and 7, the blooms turn purple or bluish-pink.”

      Liked by 3 people

    1. Dear Magician! How wonderful to receive your comment. Spring is coming – the azaleas are starting to bloom, the cherry blossoms have opened and there is a gentle breeze coming off the ocean. It is a beautiful time of year.

      Liked by 3 people

    1. I am delighted that you enjoyed the purple hydrangeas. I have never read Alice Walker’s book “The Colour Purple” but know the plot, the synopsis etc. I heard Alice Walker interviewed – brilliant writer!

      Liked by 3 people

      1. The Color Purple is an epistolary novel that the synopsis can’t do justice to, although it’s not for the faint of heart. Walker’s short story “1955” is one of my favorite stories. (Speaking of brilliant!)

        Liked by 2 people

  3. I learned a lot of interesting things about purple from your excellent post, Rebecca, and the visuals were beautiful and striking — as always!

    You also made me think of purple in literature and music. Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple,” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “Purple Hibiscus,” Crockett Johnson’s “Harold and the Purple Crayon,” Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze,” Prince’s “Purple Rain”…

    Liked by 5 people

    1. You will laugh when I tell you that I had to dig deeper for my search for the colour purple, because what came up in the search engine was: Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze,” Prince’s “Purple Rain” and most of all Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple.” The question that came to mind was: Why was the colour purple so prevalent with creatives? It seems that purple often inspires creativity. Having purple near you can spark new ideas. So I am getting out my purple scarves and placing them around my computer, which I will forever think of as “purple screen.” Thank you so much for your heartwarming comments.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. Purple was my mom’s favourite colour. She would wear it in every shade and always look good in it. Your beautiful purple hydrangeas reminded me of ones we bought many years ago in South Africa and planted one each side of our driveway entrance. The next day, they were gone, spirited away during the night it seemed. Obviously someone else loved their purple hue and just had to have them. It’s amazing how some things stick around in one’s mind for ever, isn’t it? Your lovely post jogged that memory to the surface. 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Your mother was royalty, Sylvia. Her elegance and gracious embrace of life was an inspiration to me. Your posts about her adventures were so much fun to read. As we looking forward to May and Mother’s Day, I remember this post especially. https://anotherday2paradise.wordpress.com/2020/05/10/silent-sunday-remembering/. Sending much love and many hugs. P.S. I’m certain that those hydrangeas that were taken from your driveway continue to thrive and bloom wherever they may be.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Thank you for your wonderful reply to my comment, dear Rebecca. My darling mom is never far from my thoughts. I do hope that our purple hydrangeas are still blooming and bringing joy to whoever has that garden now. 🤗🤗

        Liked by 3 people

  5. Beautiful purple… I do indeed rejoice at the sight of the extraordinary richness of the beautiful colour with the intensity depicted in the flowers you show. A calming effect to my impatience for the summer, my favourite season, always too short. Thankful that I am to you Rebecca, for this enlightenment and an to my old sailor’s sea, for its colour’s influence.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I am no colour expert but I read that purple symbolizes magic, mystery, spirituality, the sub-conscious. I love the purple that appears at the very last light of day – when the sun has disappeared. It doesn’t happen often but when it does, there is a sense of renewal and joy – the purple acts as a mantle of grace that surrounds the world. All the very best to my friend who has the wisdom of an old sailor who has charted unknown seas.

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  6. I love the color purple and from all the comments from others above, I believe it is a favorite of many. I am very glad and relieved to know that the color purple, though discovered at first from a little living friend has been put together scientifically. The color purple has been featured in royal robes and lovely attire for decades, possibly centuries, and the color does truly describe royalty in an interesting and unique way. Thank you for introducing this interesting subject, very interesting.

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    1. I am delighted that you enjoyed this post, Frances. I think of all of our sewing expeditions over the years. Purple was a favourite colour. I remember that I had a orange skirt and a purple blouse. Yikes! But what fun it was to wear this combination.

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      1. I love the poem entitled “Warning” by Jenny Joseph. I have added a few lines and a link to the entire poem. I have a purple shawl and a red hat, by the way. It is so much fun to wear when I’m reciting this poem.

        “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
        With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
        And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
        And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter….

        https://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/poem/warning/

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for stopping by and for sharing an summer afternoon. These photos were taken last summer – I keep them close by in the winter months to remind me that summer will come again!!!

      Liked by 3 people

  7. Good morning, dear Rebecca,
    purple became a colour of power. In Rome, only the senators and the nobility were allowed to wear some purple. Actually, the classic recipe for producing this purple was owned by the Phoenician emperor who had a monopoly on producing purple. This recipe went lost when the Turks conquered Byzanz in 1453.
    Thank you for this post full of info. We love your text and the pictures.
    With love ❤ and hugs 🤗
    Klausbernd and
    The Fab Four of Cley
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for your heartwarming comments. I was thinking of you and Hanne when I wrote this post about colour. We are surrounded by colours but in our busy lives we forget how much we rely on their vitality, vibrancy, as well as gentler shades. I did not know about the Phoenician emperor or about the monopoly. Those poor snails . Humanity seems to have always had a disconnect with our environment. Isn’t it interesting that history records beginning stories using mythologies. Sending much love and many hugs to my dear friends, The Fab Four of Cley.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Dear Rebecca,
        the Phoenicians used that much purple that the snakes (murex truncus) nearly died out in the Mediterranean Sea. They could produce all warm colours with the pigments from this snail. But it was very expensive, to colour 1 kg wool purple it would cost you the equivalent of 3.500€ today.
        I know all that about purple because for a new edition of my book about colours I added a chapter of ten pages about purple.
        With lots of love and hugs from all of us to you all
        The Fab Four of Cley
        🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

      2. YIKES! No wonder the cost was prohibitive for ordinary people. I would love to read those ten pages, Klausbernd! I am grateful that you ignited my curiosity about colours and how they influence our decisions and every aspect of our lives. I did not know that they could produce all warm colours with the pigments from this snail. A small creature with a powerful ability. Sending much love and many hugs across the pond to my dear friends, The Fab Four of Cley.

        Liked by 2 people

  8. Another winner Rebecca. I did not know about the Heracles myth but here is something you might find interesting. It is believed Heracles was not originally Greek but based on the Phoenician hero/ god Melqart. And that is relevent because Phoenicians (or the Sea Peoples as the egyptians called them) were the big traders in the colour purple- they farmed the snails on an industrial scale- known because of evidence of snail shells with holes bored in them by other snails due to they fact they were factory farmed in horrific overcrowded conditions. Also Phoenicia was the Greek name for the people – meaning land of purple. I don’t think its known what they called themselves at this time but they were probably the biblical Canaanites

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    1. Paul – another brilliant and informative comment that adds much depth to this conversation. I suspected that the snails were factory farmed. I heard that the smell of the colour was horrific, but that the colour only deepened with time. My first thought was for the snails and man’s insatiable appetite to possess something without respect to the environment. Now I’m heading out to find Melqart!!!

      Liked by 2 people

    1. I love the colour purple – there is something about this colour that brings out creative energy. During the early 1970’s when bright colours were in fashion, I wore an orange skirt and purple top. You could see me from a far distance. YIKES! Now I will wear purple and a red hat… Thank you so much for connecting and for your amazing support and encouragement of the blogging community – very much appreciated. Sending many hugs.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Lovely photos, Rebecca! And the history of (dyes) colors is fascinating. I read a book about the color red and how it came to be as well as how it was valued. Insects were an original source, if I recall correctly. Happy Spring.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You had been scurrying around the internet to find out more about those insects. You were absolutely right!!! This is from Google Arts and Culture: “When the Spaniards landed in Mexico in the 1500s they discovered textiles dyed vivid red. In Europe, the substances used for to make red dye (madder and kermes) produced a weaker, browner hue. The Aztec’s secret was cochineal, a small bug that was scraped off cactuses, dried, and then crushed. The Spaniards soon set up an extensive trading system to export cochineal to Europe, where it became a (red) hot commodity.” https://artsandculture.google.com/theme/the-secret-history-of-the-color-red/GwLyao99SLXVKg?hl=en.
      I did not know this!!! Thank you. Sending hugs!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Ha ha. This history is fascinating… The book I read is “The Perfect Red” by Amy Butler. It’s interesting too how certain colors were reserved for nobility and royalty. Wow, was there ever a big to-do about red! Such wonderful history out there. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

  10. Lovely post Rebecca. The myth is fab. Still the story of how Sir William Henry Perkin discovered purple dye is a fave of mine. Interesting that he discovered purple. Purple is a Royal colour, and he was cut from that cloth.
    Your video is sweet and most pleasant. Thank you!

    Purrr the sound cats make
    Pull the opposite of push
    If one is sweet to a kitty
    One can pull out the purr
    A most doggerel ditty!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Resa – I LOVE that poem. Sir William Henry Perkin saved all those snails. What I appreciated most about that story is that the journey of discovery has many twists and turns. The outcomes are never certain and what comes to be is even more exciting that what was planned. Did you hear that a 23-year-old accountant who discovered the recipe for bubble gum and then lost the recipe. It took him 4 four months to recover it. https://www.thoughtco.com/the-invention-of-bubble-gum-1779256.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. Your photos are gorgeous! I love purple but that makes me sad about the snail, too. I tried to follow you but it keeps telling me I don’t have a valid email. Lots of glitches on wordpress lately, I’ll just check back from time to time. And I’ll try the “notify me of new posts by via email” box under the comment.

    Liked by 1 person

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