Was Homer Colour-blind?

Abstract

IN reading Mr. Pole's article on Homer's sensations of colour, there is one point which seemed to me to call for explanation. Mr. Pole says that in the solar spectrum he sees only two colours, blue and yellow, and that the red space appears to him yellow. From this one would naturally infer that the whole of the spectrum visible to ordinary persons is visible to him also, but that it presents only these two colours, which graduate into one another without any break, and that the green space appears as yellow. And with a colour-blind person who has allowed me to test his capabilities, I found this actually to be the case. But later on Mr. Pole says that pure red and pure green appear to him not yellow but grey. I would wish, then, to ask Mr. Pole whether the spectrum presents to his vision, in place of the green, a neutral space or an interval of darkness? In other words, have the rays of that particular refrangibility no action at all upon his retina, or is it that they have no action peculiar to themselves, but simply produce the general effect of light? In either case the phenomenon seems more anomalous than if he saw all colours as colours, though he could only class them under two heads. To take a familiar analogy, it is as if a man should be perfectly able to distinguish the pitch of notes at either end of the scale, but the notes between should either not affect the auditory nerve at all, or should affect it simply as noise.

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PODMORE, F. Was Homer Colour-blind?. Nature 19, 73 (1878). https://doi.org/10.1038/019073a0

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