My London Color Adventure, Part I — the Lycurgus Cup in the British Museum.

Lycurgus Cup, British Museum

I’m in London to promote my book The Four Tendencies, and to make my explorations of London even more fun, I decided to have some color-related adventures while I’m here.

Now, why color?

I spend most of my time reflecting and writing on human nature — happiness, habits, the Four Tendencies, and so on. But I’ve also developed an obsession with the subject of color. My interest in color has become so strong that I’m even going to try to write a little book about color, My Color Pilgrimage.

Yesterday, I went to the British Museum for the first time — how had I never been before? And I was able to see for myself the astonishing Lycurgus Cup.

Most likely, this Roman cup dates from 4th century A.D., and it shows King Lycurgus of Thrace entangled in grapevines, for crimes against Dionysus.

The cup is extraordinary because it has very unusual color properties: it’s the only complete example of “dichroic” glass, which changes color when held up to light.

When the light is seen in normal light, it looks opaque green. But when light shines through it, it turns red.

The cup is exhibited with a light that slowly turns on and off, so I could watch the cup turn from brownish-green to red and back again. It’s breath-taking.

Apparently, even though the museum acquired the cup in the 1950s, scientists couldn’t figure out how the color change occurred until the 1990s.

It made me very happy to see the cup itself, and it also made me happy to have a little mission to give shape to my visit. I wasn’t just walking around the museum, I was in search of Gallery 41 and the cup. It was also fun to see with my own eyes an object that I’d read about.



Like what you see? Explore more about this topic.

Interested in happiness, habits, and human nature?

From renowned happiness expert and New York Times bestselling author Gretchen Rubin, the “Five Things Making Me Happy” newsletter is one of today’s most popular newsletters. You’ll get a weekly round-up of what’s making Gretchen happy, as well as practical tips, research, and resources about how we can make our lives happier, healthier, more productive, and more creative.

Subscribe to Gretchen’s newsletter.

Every Friday, Gretchen Rubin shares 5 things that are making her happier, asks readers and listeners questions, and includes exclusive updates and behind-the-scenes material.