That royal hue, purple has its origins in the humblest of places, and even quite by accident. Of love, intoxication and penitence, this shade invites us to see beyond that which our mere eyes can conceive.
Text: Annemi Conradie
For both Shakespeare and Jimi Hendrix was a heady hue evoking powerful intoxication. In Antony and Cleopatra, Shakespeare paints the sails of the Egyptian queen’s barge seductive purple, ‘so perfumed that the winds were love sick with them’. In his 1967 hit song Hendrix describes the disorientation of love or intoxicants as ‘purple haze’.
The ancient Greeks believed that purple amethysts offered some defence against intoxication and therefore fashioned glasses from the gemstone. Amethysts amulets were worn by medieval soldiers who believed that it helped them keep a cool head in battle and – failing that – assisted in their wounds.
Ancient Egyptians and Gauls used blueberries and blackberries to make purply fabrics, and European common folk used mulberries to dye clothing. Orchil lichen was used by the Greeks and Hebrews of old to produce a red-violet dye by treating the moss with an ammoniac – mostly urine.
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