Did the ancient Greeks higher value lighter skin and hair, as do modern Indians?

  • Excellent question. I suggest someone who has read Greek classics would be able to answer swiftly. Myself eagerly waiting for the answer.
    – Apoorv
    Jun 3 '12 at 12:52
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    Do modern Indians value lighter skin and hair? I know there's a lot of melanin variance in the subcontinent, but the question kinda implies they like Blondes. If that's true, it sure didn't seem to help the British much...
    – T.E.D.
    Jun 4 '12 at 21:21
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    @T.E.D. North Indians do value light skin - there have been several commercials for instance in which a lighter skin is portrayed as more beautiful than the darker skin. Everyone's hair is black so there's little emphasis on hair color though. Also I don't know if this applies to southern India.
    – Opt
    Jun 5 '12 at 0:01
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    Substances that make skin color lighter are very widely sold in India.
    – Anixx
    Jun 5 '12 at 4:53
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    @T.E.D. Sid and Anixx are both correct. But I am not sure if light coloured hair is valued more. In popular movies today, there are songs that admire the "light skin" colour. I am aware of at least one old Indian movie where a man had to face social stigma because of his darker colour (played I think by Ashok Kumar). Furthermore, this extends to classical times --Kalidasa's Abhigyanshakutlam describes (and I quote) --thin waist, fair colour, and dark hair.
    – Apoorv
    Jun 6 '12 at 12:51

In ancient Greece blonde hair was associated with beauty. For example in Homer's Iliad we learn of the unmatched beauty of Helen of Troy, who was depicted as having blonde hair. Likewise the beautiful Aphrodite was known for her golden hair, which is confirmed in Hesiod's writings, as well as many ancient artworks. There are numerous other cases of light hair being associated with beauty and / or superiority, but these are two of the best known examples.

Now in light of the beauty / superiority associated with the characters in these ancient writings and artworks, and given the fact that most Greeks had dark skin and hair due to the Mediterranean climate, it is plausible that the less common blonde hair was seen as favourable.

I say plausible because I struggled to find concrete evidence that suggests this to be the case. However the poet Bacchylides wrote of how Spartan women used saffron to lighten their hair, so perhaps this answers your question.

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    Did this apply only to women? For example in modern Russia blonde women usually more attractive to men, but dark-haired men are usually more attractive to women. Could not this be the same case in ancient Greece?
    – Anixx
    Jun 8 '12 at 6:12


“Those who are too Black are cowards, like for instance, the Egyptians and Ethiopians. But those who are excessively White (like the Scythians) are also cowards as we can see from the example of women, the complexion of courage is between the two.”

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    From which work of Aristotle is this? Can you give the exact reference? Dec 16 '12 at 12:21
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    @FelixGoldberg The quote is from the pseudo Aristotelian Physiognomonica. Kyriakus I'm afraid I'll have to downvote this, this is a very minor work, of an unknown author, and doesn't really reflect the prevalent opinion of the era.
    – yannis
    Jun 19 '13 at 3:58

When studying Ancient Greek History, I must say that I do not remember any major works on Race. This is not to say that Ancient Greeks were unaware of the concept of race, however, it is to suggest that in the long history of Ancient Greek arts and letters, race, as we understand it today, was rarely addressed as a major or central academic topic.

One may be able to find extraneous and peripheral references to race by Homer, Herodotus or Aristotle. However, the centuries old interactions that the Ancient Greeks had with several ethnic groups, were more intercultural in nature and not necessarily interracial in nature.

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