Throughout the Metamorphoses Ovid draws special attention to the colors red and white. Red (rubor, rutilus, rubesco, puniceus, purpureus, ‘red’ or ‘purple’) is, of course, the color of blood, of a blush, of ripening fruit, Tyrean dye, and the sky at dawn. White is the color of marble, ivory, lilies, and the sky at noon. If we examine this pair in erotic contexts, however, we will find that white is associated with innocence and chastity, with the frigid absence of sexual feeling and with emotional and physical death. Red is associated with pudor, that sense of shame that afflicts the innocent whose eyes have just been opened to erotic reality, and with the heat of violence, both the violence of feeling (furor) and the violence of rape.
Perhaps one of the most familiar examples of this color contrast and its erotic associations occurs in the story of Pygmalion and his ivory maiden, in Book X. Ovid is emphatic that the statue is ivory (X.247-48: niveum … ebur, ‘snowy ivory’; 255: ebur, twice) and that the ivory is white. Her ivory flesh, however, is so lifelike that the sculptor fears she will bruise. He dresses her like a real woman, adorns her with countless gifts, and makes her recline on a couch covered with red-dyed spreads (X.267: conlocat hanc stratis concha Sidonide tinctis).