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I have been wondering recently why it’s essential for politicians or diplomats at high-profile meetings and film stars in Hollywood or Cannes to stroll along a red carpet. I assume that the red carpet is supposed to highlight the esteem the public holds towards these famous individuals (or, in the case of hotels, managers want their guests to feel famous — maybe more so than they are in real life). Once the red carpet is brought out, it becomes part of peculiar ritual, and the people and scene around it take on a different meaning.  “Red-carpet outfits” become necessary. Obviously a carpet of superior quality is not enough to be the epitome of fame, power and glamor – it has to have this particular, vibrant color. Why, of all things, does it have to be red?

If we believe the historical record, a red carpet first made its appearance some 2,500 years ago, in the play Agamemnon by Aeschylus. On his return from Troy, Agamemnon – the leader of the Greeks and king of Mycenae — was offered a red path to walk upon rather than touching the Earth with his feet directly. At first, he resisted treading upon it because he believed that it was reserved for the gods: “I cannot trample upon these tinted splendors without fear thrown in my path.” Eventually he gives in, and the red carpet wickedly leads him to the door that will open to his death: his wife takes revenge on him for killing their daughter by murdering him with an axe.

More… “Seeing Red”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His most recent book is Birdmania: A Particular Passion for Birds. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, and Best American Travel Writing. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.
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