In Sidon, there is a mound of ancient debris high as a fifteen-story building, chiefly comprised of broken shells belonging to the family Muricidae.
Long ago and far beyond the realm of fact, a dog, possibly even the dog of Hercules himself, was walking along the Mediterranean coast when it happened upon a cluster of these shellfish or shellworms, as they have also been called in earlier times. Whether for hunger or play we shall never know, but the dog bit into this peaceably beached assembly, crackling the creatures’ coverings between its teeth and thereby dying all the pale fur ‘round its muzzle the most sublime and wondrous shade of purple. And so it was that the color later reserved for royalty and priests was first worn by a dog.
To make one gram of this precious dye, over ten thousand of these modestly-sized, unambitious sea dwellers had to be sacrificed, which makes of the mound in Sidon a great tomb and memorial to those beings whose color blends so minutely with the fleece that not even all great Neptune’s waves, not even his entire sea, could e’er part them. A true wonder of nature, and an inspiration for human industry.
Ernest Renan viewed the mound during his sojourn excavating in the Levant at the behest of Napoleon III. One can imagine him wearing a purple cravate, if not precisely murex-purple, since it was a time of great freedom and equality, with the color available to master and servant alike.