Myth trivia: Nero, fortune cookies and nifty shades of blue

History reported is not always factual. Nero never played the fiddle. And Chinese fortune cookies are neither Chinese nor true. And blue - it's new!


CHARLOTTE, N.C., March 11, 2015 – It’s trivia time. Once again we make our weekly excursion into little known facts and interesting misconceptions about things we all thought we knew.

1. Singing the blues: – William Gladstone, a 19th-century British prime pinister, was fascinated with the works of Homer. While reading The Odyssey, Gladstone noticed that Homer described the sea as being “wine-dark” in color. He also discovered that oxen were described in the same manner and that sheep were said to be violet.

Intrigued by the strange references, Gladstone undertook extensive research to study every color mentioned in The Iliad and The Odyssey. Surprisingly, he learned there was no mention of the color blue in either manuscript.

The revelation fascinated Tim Howard, who, after spending many hours in the New York Public Library, learned that regardless of which words a particular culture uses for a color, blue is always the last to be mentioned. Howard’s findings further roused his curiosity because blue ranks as the most popular color among all people and is represented in 53 percent of all the flags in the world. It is also the most popular color in corporate logos.

Given that oceans and the sky are blue, someone posed the question: “if blue were removed from the world, what color would fill the void?”

Historically, ancient wall-painters had no method for creating the color blue. Cave paintings dating back in time approximately 20,000 years are notably deficient in the color blue.

According to Heinz Berke of the University of Zurich, “Early mankind had no access to blue, because blue is not what you call an earth color.” It was only later, with the development of mining, that blue pigments were extracted from the earth.

Read Also: Myth Trivia: A duck, a sheep, Napoleon and the Magna Carta

Thus blue did not become a consistently utilized color in the ancient world until lapis lazuli was mined in Afghanistan about 6,000 years ago.

Combined with gold, the Egyptians were enthralled with anything featuring lapis, which was then heavily used in the construction of the pyramids. In fact, the color became so popular that Cleopatra used it as make-up by powdering it into eye shadow.

Even so, blue pigments were rare and therefore expensive to obtain. One observer suggests this was the reason blue has long been associated with royalty and divinity. Mary, for example, was given a dark blue robe befitting of the queen of heaven.

As time passed, Mary blue evolved into navy blue to symbolize trust and authority. Hence bankers and police are frequently associated with blue.

Yes, there is more to learn about the world’s favorite color, which was once as rare as a blue moon.

2. Nero did not fiddle while Rome burned: During the Great Fire of Rome on July 18 and 19, 64 AD, legend says the Emperor Nero fiddled while the city burned. Some theorists also claim that Nero set the fire himself to obtain land for his grand new palace.

But, according to Tacitus, Nero was not even in Rome when the fire broke out, and, when the emperor heard the news, he quickly returned to the city to organize relief efforts. Tacitus writes that Nero was the FEMA of his day; he paid for relief out of his own toga and provided shelter for many Roman citizens in his palaces.

Nero did build a new palace complex following the fire; however, building codes were also established requiring houses to have greater space between them, to be built of brick or stone and to be faced by porticos on wide roads.

The key to this story, however, is that the violin, or fiddle, was not invented until 1,000 years after the fire in Rome. Therefore, if anything, Nero would have played a lyre and not a fiddle.

3. Fortune cookies are not Chinese: In fact, the cookies are rare in China and are believed to have originated in either Los Angeles or San Francisco.

The true home of the popular after-dinner treat is unknown. Some say the cookies were born in Japan and brought to America. Either way, they are not Chinese.

One legend is they were created by David Jung in 1918. Jung was founder of the Hong Kong Noodle Co. in L.A. and baked the cookies out of concern for the homeless people on the streets near his store.

Another version claims that a Japanese immigrant named Makoto Hagiwara was fired from his job at the turn of the 20th century by an anti-Japanese mayor. Later the new mayor rehired Hagiwara, who then designed his cookie in 1914 as a way to thank people for their support during his struggle. Each cookie contained a thank- you note inside.

And then there’s Chinese checkers, but that’s another story.

Have an interesting bit of trivia to share with our readers? Send it in and we may add it to our column.

Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.

Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (

Read more of What in the World and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News

Follow Bob on Twitter @MrPeabod

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