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(So there is this controversy about a black guy playing Achilles in some new show. Which made me wonder...)

What did Achilles look like?

Can we say how Achilles really looked? (From what I remember there is a description of his hair in Iliad)

What clues can his parents give us?

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With the preface that I think it's silly upset about mythological accuracy in a TV show: since the Olympic gods neglected to photograph their human pets, we can't really know what Achilles looks like. Nor do the ancient epics give much in the way of physical descriptions. That said, literary sources do describe Achilles as having blonde or reddish-blonde hair.

From the Iliad, 1.197:

The goddess standing behind Peleus' son caught him by the fair hair

Statius in his Achilleid 1.158-162 likewise describe the hero as:

lo! he was come, made larger by much dust and sweat, and yet for all his weapons and hastened labours still pleasant to the sight; a radiant glow shimmers on his snow-white countenance, and his locks shine more comely than tawny gold.

Note that according to Hyginus in his Fabulae, Achilles was called Pyrhha when he was disguised as a woman, because the Greeks called redheads pyrrhos.

Hyginus added that, while Achilles was disguised, he was called Pyrrha (Red) because of his reddish yellow hair.

Brewer, Wilmon. Ovid's Metamorphoses in European Culture: Books VI-X. Cornhill Publishing Company, 1941.

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  • "snow-white countenance" does that refer to his skin? Or his clothes? Jan 8 '18 at 21:59
  • @NuloenTheSeeker His face.
    – Semaphore
    Jan 8 '18 at 22:04
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According to Homeros' Iliad, Achilles is the most handsome young man in the Greek camp. And he has shiny (reddish) blond hair.

Homer, Iliad. 2.673–674

“Nireus who was the most beautiful man who came to Troy Of the rest of the Danaans, after Peleus’ blameless son. But he was weak and a small army followed him.”

Νιρεύς, ὃς κάλλιστος ἀνὴρ ὑπὸ ῎Ιλιον ἦλθε τῶν ἄλλων Δαναῶν μετ’ ἀμύμονα Πηλεΐωνα· ἀλλ’ ἀλαπαδνὸς ἔην, παῦρος δέ οἱ εἵπετο λαός.

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Much can be deduced from the story of Odysseus and Diomedes going to Skyros to find Achilles. A man as smart as Odysseus would surely have looked for male characteristics such as an Adam's apple or a deeper voice but such characteristics must have been absent in the apparent females he needed to check out. Odysseus therefore had to resort to the trick of including a sword and shield among the various wares he had on offer. Being tall and blonde did not serve to distinguish Achilles from the girls so clearly they must all have been tall and blonde. However, only Achilles had warlike inclinations and this is what gave him away. It would not be beyond the bounds of possibility to suggest that he had Klinefelter's Syndrome. This would fit all the known facts and give us a pretty good idea of what he really looked like. It would also explain the generalized absence of facial hair in pictorial representations.

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