On The Hair Colouration Of Greek Gods

Recently, we had seen a comment that read the following:

“Even though the vast population of Greeks were brunettes, their gods were always blond.”

Now, this fine mosaic depicting Poseidon and Amphitrite is, in fact, a Roman one from the 300s AD – but one shall, perhaps, immediately observe Poseidon’s rather impressive blue hair.

Indeed, as I put it in my reply to said comment …

“That is not correct. There’s several Greek deific figures with rather prominently not blond hair. Poseidon, Hades, and Dionysus, for instance .. although then I repeat myself.

Kyanokhaitis, would be a succinct summation for these figures – ‘Dark Haired’; with the ‘Kyan’ being a blue-black.

The reasoning for this is quite simple. Poseidon’s dark hair is blue-black – because it’s correlate with the waves and the sea. Dionysus, it appears, is running a local reflexive of what in Sanskrit we would term ‘Vyomakesha’ [‘Heaven-Haired’]; and we should presume a similarly logical reason for the ‘Aides Kyanochaites’ we find in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter.

However, it must also be noted that many iconographic elements are not entirely uniform in this regard – and that contingent upon context, you might also encounter other renderings. Dionysus, for instance, is also described in Hesiod’s Theogony as being χρυσοκόμης (Chrysokomis – Golden Haired) – contrasting with the ἔθειραι κυάνεαι (etheirai kyaneai) Dionysus is ascribed in Homeric Hymnal VII.

As a point of interest, Zeus is described as having brows that are κυανέῃσιν (Kyaneisn – like ‘Cyan’, and meaning ‘dark’) in the First Homeric Hymn … resonating with the Kyanokhaitis style descriptors for Dionysus et co elsewhere in the corpus. The same description for Zeus is also given in Book I of the Iliad.

Although intriguingly, the next lines to the Hymnal also describe Zeus’ (rather agitated) hair as being ἀμβρόσιαι (‘Ambrosial’). A term that has been chosen not due to some colouration that might resonate with a human’s pigmentation nor hue of hair – but rather due to the other connotations to the specific term. Because there’s so much more – and so much more important – to what’s going on there than ‘just’ human-esque aesthetic reproductions.

All things considered … we are in rather difficult theological waters if we presume that Gods are going to have physical characteristics that are physical characteristics – at least in the human senses of the term.

Now it IS true to state that, significantly, the descriptions and depictions that we have of the Hellenic Indo-European pantheonic expression ARE informed and sculpted (occasionally quite literally) with ‘human senses’ in mind.

Except nobody ever said that just meant eyesight (and perhaps touch) or hearing.

Our sense of aesthetics is certainly something pertinent – and there is definitely, as there always has been, ample scope for Gods to appear in forms that are, effectively, rather ‘idealized’ iterations of mortal-familiar figures. Or something else in some or all dimensions contingent upon what we ourselves expect to see. We would be somewhat surprised to see Hephaestus in peak health in the leg department, for instance.

Yet the framing of Gods and Divine representational aesthetics as being, in essence, ‘just another kind of human’ fundamentally misses a great many points in earnest.

Even leaving aside the noted penchant within the Greek mythos for Gods to shift Their appearances as They see fit – there is the fact that God depictions and descriptions are also there for various further purposes.

In particular, various salient characteristics are there in order to correlate with something, represent something, conjure within our minds something as well.

They are, in a word, ‘symbolic’.

Although symbolic of what – well, that depends upon the God, and to a certain degree, upon the era and locale in question. Or the Aspect of the God, the ritual context, the specific phase of the myth in question … etc. etc. etc.

Assuming all Greek Gods are blond, even leaving aside the situation of this not being concordant with the scriptural canon, leaves unaddressed the most simple yet most important question – why.

Why is a given God spoken of as having dark (or, for that matter, golden) hair? Why does it matter?

Well, as applies Beings that are concordant (or even outright commensurate) with particular facets of our world, our reality … it can matter quite a great deal indeed.

That situation of Zeus being pointedly dark of brow and with whirling hair – to me, it suggests the gathering storm, given the surrounding context of the verses in question. As we should expect for the Sky Father deific and especially given all the ‘Thunder’ terminology being evoked conspicuously in the same passages.

Poseidon, as we had said – the dark-blue hair is there in resonancy with the roiling surface of the Sea.

Would blond hair serve such a purpose? I think not.

Which is, of course, to underscore that in some other instances, blond – or golden (potentially rather literally in terms of colouration) hair may in fact be much more appropriate for what’s being connoted.

But that is, perhaps, another suite of matters for another time.

One thought on “On The Hair Colouration Of Greek Gods

  1. Pingback: On The Hair Colouration Of Greek Gods – Glyn Hnutu-healh: History, Alchemy, and Me

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