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Obviously there are tons of statues of various gods, but these can usually be summed up as "muscular men and beautiful women." There's not a ton of detail in terms of facial appearance, compared with busts of historical figures (e.g. Augustus, Caracalla, and Nero, who each have very distinct and recognizable appearances). Which makes sense, of course, since the gods are fictional and weren't posing for sculptors.

Still, I'm trying to discern if there were any particulars of Olympian appearance that were described in ancient sources, things like hair color, eye color, height relative to other gods, notable facial features, especially pale or dark skin, etc. The only ones I can think of so far are...

  1. Hephaestus's lame leg(s).
  2. Beards for Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, and Hephaestus, but usually not for Ares, Apollo, Dionysus, or Hermes.
  3. Athena's blue/gray eyes.
  4. Aphrodite is often described as "golden," though I'm not certain that refers to blonde hair. My impression is that Apollo was blonde too, though maybe that's more modern tradition than ancient description?
  5. Some authors describe Dionysus as coming from India or Egypt, so he would likely have slightly darker skin in those depictions.

A few other details come to mind as common-sense, like Hades having pale skin and black hair or Hermes being shorter as a boyish young man, but I'm trying to stick to explicit descriptions from ancient sources. Similarly, there are some modern traditions (e.g. Artemis being a redhead to fit the "wild woman" archetype) that I'm trying to strip away.

I'm not looking for descriptions of clothing or equipment (e.g. Athena's helmet and shield), nor sources from later eras (e.g. Renaissance paintings). I'm just trying to find sourced details for how the ancients imagined each Olympian God's appearance, and what they left vague.

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  • Add the dark or even blue hair on Poseidon, signified by his epithet κυανοχαίτης, which goes back to Homer (Od. 3.6, 9.528, & 9.536). – Brian Donovan Jul 6 at 20:02
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Statues were colored in Ancient Greece, and it's indicated by pigment traces that, for example, the statue of a deity did not get a new hair color every (insert interval here) like a modern-day celebrity.

The LiebigHaus collection currently has a great exhibition reconstructing the color of Olympian statues.

This is probably as close as you can possibly get to a consensus (or at least a common impression) among a localized population with regards to skin & hair color, etc. It would be an impression more widespread than literature, since research indicates only 10-15 percent of the Ancient Greeks could read & write.

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  • Very clever! I knew statues were painted, but I didn’t know we knew the colors! – Nerrolken May 29 at 14:17

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