The Bug that had the World Seeing Red

by Matthew Innis |

Once there was a color so valuable that emperors and conquistadors coveted it, and so did kings and cardinals.  Artists went wild over it. Pirates ransacked ships for it. Poets from Donne to Dickinson sang its praises.  Scientists vied with each other to probe its mysteries. Desperate men even risked their lives to obtain it. This highly prized commodity was the secret to the color of desire—a tiny dried insect that produced the perfect red.

How could a color be so valuable?  In culture after culture, red commands the eye. We are drawn to its power, and to its passion, its sacrifice, its rage, its vitality. It’s not an accident that the color is red: It turns out that we humans are unusually susceptible to scarlet hues. Studies show that the color quickens our pulse and breath, perhaps because we link it with birth, blood, fire, sex, and death.

But for much of human existence, broad mastery . . .

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