The Green Dream
By R. D. Flavin


     Green, the verdant mixture of the primitive primary colors blue and yellow, is often used as a synonym or to represent a variety of things to different people rather than simply refer to a specific spectral or visible light wavelength (495–570 nanometres). In the U.S., 'green' is most often a slang term for money, though a meaning associating the color to something environmentally friendly is rapidly gaining currency. The green dream whether it concerns cash or promotes a plush planet is both common and popular. Providing, of course, moderation is exercised and neither greed nor excessive and obsessive (read: unreasonably expectative) ecology is sought. It's believed many of our dreams are in color, however 'what' we dream of and about is far more significant than if they are monochromatic or accompanied with imagined perceptions of other senses (i.e., tastes, smells, sounds, and feelings of textures).

Example of ancient Egyptian green paint from the Tomb of Queen Nefertari ca. 1256 BCE.

     Though many early humans were surrounded by the green of plants and the occasional hue of certain bodies of water, in terms of reproduction a poor quality green dye was produced during the European Neolithic from birch bark (Pastoureau 2014), and in historical times both the Sumerians/Akkadians and the ancient Egyptians developed a green dye, though they used different methods to achieve green paint and dyed cloth (Varichon 2000). Later, the ancient Greeks (Caley 1945) would use malachite (a crystal mineral found in stones associated with copper ores), chrysocolla (a blue-green silicate mineral also found near copper deposits), and verdigris (a patina on copper either occurring naturally or purposely manufactured with something acidic, like vinegar or wine). The ancient Romans (Aliatis et al. 2009) followed the Greeks, but also used 'green earth' (a clay colored by iron oxide, magnesium, aluminum silicate, or potassium), glauconite (an iron potassium phyllosilicate mineral often found as pellets or 'sand' near the the seashore, such as the Mediterranean and Black Seas) and celadonite (a phyllosilicate of potassium, iron, aluminium and hydroxide considered a mica-group mineral and found in a variety of settings including basaltic lavas). Modern 'green' is produced from various naturally occurring and synthetic minerals and chemicals, depending on usage, and whether the goal is a colorant for manufactured goods or food dyes, printing, or painting, depends on the country and individual national laws (in passim Gage 1993).

     For many years I've told folks Solomon had said the perfect skin color was myrtle, that is to say 'green', yet now that I've spent several hours reading through various translations and have been unable to find support for my claim, I'm required to admit I may have misremembered and am mistaken. I did, however, encounter reference to the beauty of Esther (the last canonical book of the TaNaKh, the Hebrew scriptures which Christians refer to as the “Old Testament”) and the subsequent debate in the Babylonian Talmud (Tractate Megillah) about whether her skin was 'green' like the color of myrtle or yellowish, though all agree her beauty was from her inner grace and was manifested differently in those who looked upon her. It is said the ancient Jews believed myrtle was symbolic of peace and justice, as in Isaiah 55:13, “Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall be to the LORD for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”

Temperamentenrose or the "Rose of Temperaments", a 1798 study by Goethe and Schiller.

     During the early modern period, Sir Isaac Newton PRS MP (1642-1726/7), the famed English "natural philosopher," i.e., mathematician and physicist, published his 1704 book on light and color, Opticks: or, a Treatise of the Reflexions, Refractions, Inflexions and Colours of Light also Two Treatises of the Species and magnitude of Curvilinear Figures (London: Sam Smith and Benj. Walford, Printers to the Royal Society), which described Newton's work on the theory of light as passed or refracted through a prism and the nature of color. Even at this beginning of the scientific method with testable theories, Newton was soon challenged by no other than the likes of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller (Goethe and Schiller 1798 see above, von Goethe 1810), though their (primarily Goethe's) work was more poetically interpretive than a 'theory' per se.

     Moving on, there's the so-called “Green Disease” as described as “peculiar to virgins” in 1554, given the name “chlorosis” in 1615, referred to as the “green disease” in the mid-17th century (Fairfax 1667), returned to being called chlorosis until 1937, when doctors at the Harvard Medical School declared it to be the same as hypochromic anemia (Heath & Patek, Jr. 1937).

“The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things” by Hieronymus Bosch ca. 1500.

From Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra (1606-1608, published 1623)

SCENE II. Rome. An ante-chamber in OCTAVIUS CAESAR's house.

Enter AGRIPPA at one door, DOMITIUS ENOBARBUS at another
What, are the brothers parted?


They have dispatch'd with Pompey, he is gone;
The other three are sealing. Octavia weeps
To part from Rome; Caesar is sad; and Lepidus,
Since Pompey's feast, as Menas says, is troubled
With the green sickness.

     The idiom “green with envy” may only date back to the middle of the nineteenth century, but the association of envy with green goes back to Elizabethan times (see Shakespeare's usage above) and likely is much older. Envy is regarded by Roman Catholics as one of the seven deadly (also capital or cardinal) sins, and is based on lists of vices listed in the fourth century (with earlier lists expressed in Galatians 5:19-21 and Proverbs 6:16-19, though its traditional form was first expressed by His Holiness Saint Pope Gregory the Great (papacy from 540 to 604 CE). Afterwards, a mnemonic acronym arose, "SALIGIA," which is made from the first letters in Latin of the seven deadly sins: superbia, avaritia, luxuria, invidia, gula, ira, acedia, i.e., pride, avarice, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and sloth. Envy, though described and despised around the globe since ancient times, is often associated with jealousy and coveting something belonging to another. Green was just in the wrong place at the wrong time...

1861 'greenback' ten dollar bill signed by the U.S. Register of the Treasury.

     As envy is sometimes akin to avarice, at least in America, it's easy to make the leap to dreaming of possessing more 'green', that is to say, the 'greenback' dollar from President Lincoln's paper “Demand Notes” issued to help fund the North's efforts against the South in the American Civil War. The usage of “dollar” as used in Section 9 of Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution was based on the Spanish milled dollar, a coin with a monetary value of 8 Spanish units of currency, or reales (hence, 'pieces of eight' referred to portions cut from such a silver coin). The term 'dollar' is ultimately derived from the German taler, short for Joachimstaler, after St. Joachim's Valley (or tal, the English 'dale') where silver was mined to produce the coinage, later becoming the Dutch and English daler, pronounced as an American would pronounce the word 'dollar' today. The nickname “buck” is thought to have been used in the leather trading and production industry, while “Dead Presidents” is only partially accurate, as today's ten dollar bill has a picture of Alexander Hamilton, a Secretary of the Treasury, and our fifty dollar bill has an image of good ol' Ben Franklin ...just because he was a “Founding Father” and a lecherous cool dude.

     In closing, as I began, 'green' may also refer to those environmentally minded with social justice tossed in for liberal seasoning, as Die Grünen, the German Green Party which formed in 1980, followed by the Green Party of the United States founded in 1984 and achieving widespread attention with Ralph Nader's run for the U.S. presidency. Today, going 'green' would be a practice such as minimiazing one's 'carbon footprint', recycling, being pro-solar and wind energy and against fossil fuels such as oil and coal, and avoiding so-called 'reality' television shows and FOX NEWS. And, Republicans, NRA freaks, and doing anything trendy or too popular... Okay, so going 'green' is just a dream or aspiration to cease fouling the planet more than we already have. As the old punk band, Gang of Four, used to sing, “We live as we dream, alone...”

Gaila, from 2009's Star Trek re-boot film.


Aliatis et al. 2009. "Green pigments of the Pompeian artists’ palette." By Irene Aliatis, Danilo Bersani, Elisa Campani, Antonella Casoli, Pier Paolo Lottici, Silvia Mantovan, Iari-Gabriel Marino, and Francesca Ospitali. Spectrochimica Acta Part A: Molecular and Biomolecular Spectroscopy. 73, 3: 532-538.

Caley, Earle R. 1945. “Ancient Greek Pigments from the Agora.” Hesperia: The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens; The American Excavations in the Athenian Agora: Twenty-Sixth Report. 14, 2: 152-156.

Fairfax, Nathanael. 1667. “Anatomical Observations on a Humane Body, Dead of Odd Diseases; As They Were Communicated by Dr. Nathanael Fairfax.” Philosophical Transactions. 2: 546-549.

Fairfax, Nathanael. 1667. “Divers Instances of Peculiarities of Nature, Both in Men and Brutes; Communicated by the Same.” Philosophical Transactions. 2: 549-551.

Gage, John. 1993. Colour and Culture – Practice and Meaning from Antiquity to Abstraction. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.

Heath, Clark W., and Arthur J. Patek Jr. 1937. "The Anemia of Iron Deficiency." Medicine. 16, 3: 267-350.

Pastoureau, Michel. 2014. Green: The History of a Color. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Varichon, Anne. 2000. Couleurs: Pigments Et Teintures Dans Les Mains Des Peuples. Paris: Seuil.

von Goethe, Johann Wolfgang. 1810. Zur Farbenlehre or "Theory of Colours." Tübingen: Cotta’schen Verlagsbuchhandlung.

Having lettuce bee nightmares,

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