Q: Why is the red carpet red? How long has it been the fashion for celebrities arriving at a publicity event to walk a red carpet?

Jacki Lippman, Boston

A: I was shocked to discover, with my own eyes, that the red carpet at the Academy Awards is really more pink. That's because the pink somehow shows up as red in all those flash pictures and on television, whereas true red tends to look black. (Also, Charlize Theron, who appeared this year looking like she'd been dipped in Cheeto dust, seemed more tan in the press photos.)

But enough Charlize, let's dish Clytemnestra: According to the Times of London, which also tried to pinpoint the origin of the red carpet, it was the character of Clytemnestra who first "rolled out the red carpet" (some sources think it was purple) in the 458 B.C. play "Agamemnon" by Aeschylus. It's Greek tragedy, so it's a messy story: Clytemnestra wanted to kill Agamemnon because he sacrificed their daughter to the gods, who then supplied him with wind to sail to Troy.

Now here comes the moral of the tale: Clytemnestra tried to trick Agamemnon into arrogance by laying out a red carpet on his return -- for if a mere mortal walked on something so gorgeous, it would surely invite the anger of the gods. Which is how Agamemnon wound up at Betty Ford and saw box-office receipts for his next three movies progressively plummet. When you walk on the best threads, you're coming dangerously close to the pitfalls of fame.

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