(ORDO NEWS) — Today, the red carpet is associated with VIPs, dignitaries, heads of state, celebrities, film festivals.
She conjures up flashes of camera lights and paparazzi, sparkly dresses and makeup, elaborate costumes and outfits, important dignitaries landing in large planes and waving to the crowd.
This is a very modern take on what the red carpet symbolizes. Less well known is that the first mention of the red carpet in popular culture dates back to Ancient Greece, over 2,000 years ago.
Agamemnon by Aeschylus – Mortality and Divinity
More specifically, this reference is first encountered 2,500 years ago in a Greek epic attributed to the father of tragedy, Aeschylus, and his story of Agamemnon, the first of three plays that together create the Oresteia.
In this epic of 458 BC. the vengeful queen of King Agamemnon Clytemnestra is preparing for the solemn return of her husband after the victory in the Trojan War. Clytemnestra says that “the floor of crimson brocade will spread / For the royal path.”
This is not only the first mention of a crimson carpet, but also the first hint at the difference between people who are considered “mortal” and those who should be put on a pedestal.
Even in the course of the story, the protagonist Aeschylus replies: “I am a mortal man; I cannot tread these toned splendors without fear thrown in my way.”
It is important to note that Clytemnestra sought revenge on her husband for two reasons: firstly, because he was returning with his new concubine Cassandra, and secondly, because of Agamemnon’s role in the death of their daughter Iphigenia a decade earlier.
“Agamemnon is leaving to fight (in the Trojan War) and leaving his wife Clytemnestra at home,” Amy Henderson, Distinguished Historian at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, explained in a 2019 CNN report.
“He leaves for a long time, and they both find others for themselves. When he returns, he is in love with Cassandra and brings the concubine home with him.”
Agamemnon was right to be cautious, but in the end he gave up and walked on the cinnabar carpet, although without sandals.
The carpet led him to the palace, where he was stabbed to death by Clytemnestra in the bath. Let’s talk about premonitions! “She rolls out a crimson carpet to convince him to go to his death,” Henderson added.
According to various sources, Clytemnestra either killed Agamemnon in the bathroom, or he was killed by her lover. She also kills Cassandra. “It’s not a very pretty story.”
Scholars such as Jeanne Gutierrez, senior fellow in women’s history at the New York Historical Society, say the association with the color red in ancient Greece was associated with divinity and gods.
“He was hesitant to step on her because red was considered divine in ancient Greece,” Gutiérrez told TIME in 2019. Perhaps the shade itself was more important than the red carpet.
Renaissance and Industrial Revolution
Oddly enough, there are very, very few recorded instances of red carpet use and use after this point in history, all the way to modern history.
There are several unverified and isolated instances of elite use of the red carpet during the Renaissance (between approximately the 14th and 16th centuries) in Western Europe.
At the same time, there is not enough supporting historiographical evidence to indicate the use of the carpet as a symbol of power or status.
In the art of the Renaissance itself, red carpets and rugs of oriental origin, with intricate patterns, were often used. As a rule, they appeared in the paintings of deities, saints and royalty, which, according to some historians, is explained by the high cost of scarlet dye.
This dye was the most difficult to manufacture and the most expensive – it was obtained from the kohinei insect that lives in North and South America. The Aztecs and Mayans often used this dye and textile dyeing technique.
By the 17th century, it had become a popular and highly valued commodity. The price of red dye began to decline in the 16th century after the Spanish conquest of Latin America.
As with coffee, tobacco, and some other commodities, the Spaniards took over this country and turned it into a lucrative trade. This prompted other western European colonial competitors to enter the market, who began producing female cochinei insects to sell the dye.
However, the Industrial Revolution made dye widely available, and by the late 1700s, synthetic dye was available. What was associated with the elite was now available in mass quantities to the poorer sections of Western society.
Modern Glitter and Glamor: A Red Carpet Tradition
In the period after the export of scarlet, cochin dye became popular, the symbolism of royalty and the elite continued to have a high status.
The next publicly recorded occurrence of the red carpet will occur in the early 19th century in the United States.
In 1821, a new association with the red carpet and transportation was born when James Monroe, the fifth President of the United States, stepped off a riverboat in South Carolina in a ceremony. A red carpet was laid out straight from Prospect Hill (today it is called Arcadia) to the river.
The modern association began just over a century ago, and it is also associated with transport and social status. It was the iconic 20th-century Limited Express on the New York Central Railroad that ran from 1902 to 1967 and got people from New York to Chicago much faster than ever before.
At the Central Station, a red carpet was laid out for people boarding the train, which marked the beginning of the so-called “red carpet”.
In 1922, the concept traveled west for the premiere of Robin Hood at the Egyptian Theater in California, marking the first (and now century-old) connection to Hollywood. The first king of Hollywood, Douglas Fairbanks, arrived at the premiere. In 1961, the Academy Awards took over this tradition and were televised.
However, the final piece of the puzzle was made in 1964, when both the ceremony and the tradition began to be broadcast on color television, becoming a mass phenomenon.
It wasn’t until the 1990s that the idea of Hollywood and fashion merging became synonymous. This era has produced celebrity designers and makeup artists, especially for women subjected to scrutiny by the unforgiving gaze of the public.
Body types, make-up styles, hairstyles, fabrics, right down to the shoes worn on the red carpet have become part of the mass public consciousness and taste.
“It’s interesting that the red carpet has become synonymous with movie stars who are, in a sense, the royalty of today,” Sonnet Stanfill, senior curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum, told BBC Culture in 2016.
“The evolution of picture houses in the second half of the 20th century has made them palaces of the people. There is a certain synergy in that the red carpet – which traditionally welcomed royalty – now welcomes film royalty,” he concluded.
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