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date: 08 December 2022

colours, sacredlocked

colours, sacredlocked

  • Herbert Jennings Rose
  •  and Simon Hornblower


Three colours are especially important for sacral purposes in antiquity; they are white, black, and red, the last being understood in the widest possible sense, to include purple, crimson, even violet (cf. E. Wunderlich, ‘Die Bedeutung der roten Farbe im Kultus der Griechen und Römer’, 1925 (RGVV 20. 1), 1 ff.).White is in general a festal colour, associated with things of good omen, such as sacrifices to the celestial gods (white victims are regular for this purpose in both Greece and Rome). See for instance Il. 3. 103, where a white lamb is brought for sacrifice to *Helios; the scholiast rightly says that as the Sun is bright and male, a white male lamb is brought for him, while Earth, being dark and female, gets a black ewe-lamb (cf. Verg. G. 2. 146 for the white bulls pastured along Clitumnus for sacrificial purposes). It is the colour of the clothing generally worn on happy occasions (e.g. Eur. Alc.


  • Greek Myth and Religion
  • Roman Myth and Religion

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