Hephaestus was the son of Zeus and Hera, the King and Queen of the Gods or else (according to some accounts) of Hera alone. He was the god of technology, blacksmiths, craftsmen, artisans, sculptors, metals, metallurgy, fire and volcanoes. Like other mythic smiths but unlike most other gods, Hephaestus was lame, which gave him a grotesque appearance in Greek eyes. He served as the blacksmith of the gods, and he was worshipped in the manufacturing and industrial centers of Greece, particularly in Athens. Hephaestus's symbols are a smith's hammer, an anvil and a pair of tongs, although sometimes he is portrayed holding an axe.
In one tradition clearly attested in Homer's Odyssey and perhaps also in the Iliad, Hephaestus was born of the union of Zeus and Hera. In another tradition, which was only unambiguously recorded in late texts, but which may be an archaic survival of an autonomous Hera, she bore Hephaestus parthenogenetically; she is given the motivation in Hesiod's Zeus-centered cosmology that she was engaged in a competitive quarrel with Zeus for his "birthing" of Athena, but Attic vase-painters illustrated the mainstream tradition that Hephaestus was already present at the birth of Athena, seen to be wielding the axe with which he had split Zeus' head to free her
Fall from Olympus
Hera threw Hephaestus out of heaven in disgust because he was lame (even though Hera was the goddess of family); alternatively, he was rendered lame by the fall. In the Homeric account, he then fell nine days and nights and landed in the ocean, where he was brought up by the Oceanids Thetis (mother of Achilles) and Eurynome.
Another explanation states that he was flung by Zeus, because he came to his mother’s rescue when Zeus had her in fetters for opposing him. Another account says that he fell for only a day and landed on the island of Lemnos, where he was cared for and taught to be a master craftsman by the Sintians, an ancient tribe native to that island. In every case, he remained forever lame as a result of the fall.
An Athenian founding myth tells that Athena refused a union with Hephaestus because of his unsightly appearance and crippled nature, and that when he became angry and forceful with her, she disappeared from the bed. His ejaculation landed on the earth, impregnating Gaia, who subsequently gave birth to Erichthonius of Athens; then the surrogate mother gave the child to Athena to foster, guarded by a serpent. Hyginus made an imaginative etymology for Erichthonius, of strife (Eris) between Athena and Hephaestus and the Earth-child (chthonios). There is a Temple of Hephaestus, the Hephaesteum miscalled the "Theseum", located near the Athenian agora, or marketplace.
On the island of Lemnos, his consort was the sea nymph Cabeiro, by whom he was the father of two metalworking gods named the Cabeiri. In Sicily, his consort was the nymph Aetna, and his sons two gods of Sicilian geysers called Palici.
Homer makes Charis the wife of Hephaestus. However, according to most myths, Hephaestus is a husband of Aphrodite, who commits adultery with Ares.
The craft of Hephaestus
Hephaestus crafted much of the other magnificent equipment of the gods, and almost any finely-wrought metalwork imbued with powers that appears in Greek myth is said to have been forged by Hephaestus: Hermes' winged helmet and sandals, the Aegis breastplate, Aphrodite's famed girdle, Agamemnon's staff of office, Achilles' armor, Heracles' bronze clappers, Helios' chariot as well as his own due to his lameness, the shoulder of Pelops, Eros' bow and arrows. Hephaestus worked with the help of the chthonic Cyclopes, his assistants in the forge. He also built automatons of metal to work for him. This included tripods that walked to and from the Mount Olympus. He gave to blinded Orion his apprentice Cedalion as a guide. In one version of the myth, Prometheus stole the fire that he gave to man from Hephaestus's forge. Hephaestus also created the gift that the gods gave to man, the woman Pandora and her pithos. Being a skilled blacksmith, Hephaestus created all the thrones in the Palace of Olympus.
Return of Hephaestus
Hephaestus was the only god said to have returned to Olympus after his or her exile.
In an archaic story, Hephaestus gained revenge against Hera for rejecting him by making her a magical golden throne, which, when she sat on it, did not allow her to leave it. The other gods begged Hephaestus to return to Olympus to let her go, but he refused, saying "I have no mother."
At last Dionysus, sent to fetch him, shared his wine, intoxicating the smith, and took him back to Olympus on the back of a mule accompanied by revelers, a scene that sometimes appears on painted pottery of Attica and in Corinth, as well.
"There are paintings here – Dionysus bringing Hephaestus up to heaven. One of the Greek legends is that Hephaestus, when he was born, was thrown down by Hera. In revenge he sent as a gift a golden chair with invisible fetters. When Hera sat down she was held fast, and Hephaestus refused to listen to any other of the gods save Dionysus – in him he reposed the fullest trust – and after making him drunk Dionysus brought him to heaven."Hephaestus and Aphrodite
Hephaestus, being the most unfaltering of the gods, was given Aphrodite’s hand in marriage by Zeus in order to prevent conflict over her between the other gods.
Hephaestus and Aphrodite had an arranged marriage and Aphrodite, disliking the idea of being married to unsightly Hephaestus, began an affair with Ares, the god of war. Eventually, Hephaestus found out about Aphrodite’s promiscuity from Helios, the all-seeing Sun, and planned a trap for them during one of their trysts. While Aphrodite and Ares lay together in bed, Hephaestus ensnared them in an unbreakable chain-link net so small as to be invisible and dragged them to Mount Olympus to shame them in front of the other gods for retribution. However, the gods laughed at the sight of these naked lovers and Poseidon persuaded Hephaestus to free them in return for a guarantee that Ares would pay the adulterer's fine. Hephaestus states in the Odyssey that he would return Aphrodite to her father and demand back his bride price: this is the one episode that links them.
In Homer's Iliad the consort of Hephaestus is a lesser Aphrodite, Charis "the grace" or Aglaia "the glorious", the youngest of the Graces, as Hesiod calls her. Hephaestus fathered several children with mortals and immortals alike. The Thebans told that the union of Ares and Aphrodite produced Harmonia, as lovely as a second Aphrodite. But of her union with Hephaestus, there was no issue, unless Virgil was serious when he said that Eros was their child. Later authors might explain this statement when they say the love-god was sired by Ares but passed off to Hephaestus as his own son.
Hephaestus is given many epithets, some of which include:
* Åmphigúeis “the lame one”
* Kullopodíon “the halting”
* Chalkeús “coppersmith”
* Klutotéchnes “renowned artificer”
* Polúmetis “shrewd, crafty” or “of many devices"
Symbolism and possible inspiration
Hephaestus was reported in myth as cholōs, "lame", and depicted with crippled feet, said to be halting (ēpedanos) and misshapen, whether from birth or as a result of his fall; in the vase-paintings, Hephaestus is shown lame and bent over his anvil, hard at work on a metal creation, his feet sometimes back-to-front: Hephaistos amphigyēeis. He walked with the aid of a stick. The Argonaut Palaimonius, "son of Hephaestus"— which is to say a bronze-smith— was also lame. Other "sons of Hephaestus" were the Kabeiroi on the island of Samothrace; they were identified with the crab (karkinos) by the lexicographer Hesychius, and the adjective karkinopous, "crab-footed" signified "lame", Detienne and Vernant have observed: the Kabeiroi were seen as lame too. In some myths, Hephaestus built himself a "wheeled chair" or chariot with which to move around, thus helping him overcome his lameness while showing the other gods his skill. In Homer's Iliad it is said that Hephaestus built some bronze human machines to help him get around.
From Men, Myths & Mind
Hephaestus, Greek God of the Fire and Forge
The Greek god Hephaestus was the only on of the Greek gods of Mount Olympus who had a "regular" job and actually worked with his hands. Hephaestus was also the only one of the Olympians who was born with a physical defect. It is unclear exactly how Hephaestus came to be lame. Several different explanations are given in different versions of his myths.
In one version, he was born with a clubfoot and then thrown out of Mount Olympus because his parents could not accept his imperfection. In another version, the infant Hephaestus was injured in the fall after he was thrown out by Zeus, who was angry at his mother for having the nerve to conceive the baby without his help.
Hera, with the help of a magical herb, had managed to "get herself pregnant" with the help of Zeus or any man, a process called parthenogenesis. (Note: Many myths name Hephaestus as the son who was born as a result of this immaculate conception, but in some versions the son was Ares.)
Hera had done this to even the score with her husband for having given birth to Dionysus by himself. Here is short version of that story: Semele, one of Zeus' many lovers, lay dying while pregnant with Zeus' son Dionysus. With the help of Hermes, Zeus removed the unborn child and implanted him under the skin of his thigh where he remained until he was ready to be born.
In an account written by Hesiod, Zeus cast Hephaestus out because he had attempted to rescue his mother from Zeus’ anger. Zeus had strung Hera from the starts for having caused the wreck of a sailing ship under Zeus’ protection during the Trojan war. Hephaestus had tried to free her from her bonds, was caught, and punished with expulsion from the heavens.
Some versions of the myths name Zeus as the one who cast him out, others say it was Hera, and still others tell that both parents rejected him. The bottom line . . . Hephaestus got off to a rocky start in life, unwanted son of rejecting parents who saw no beauty in their little son. Not to mention ending up with a physical defect that left him lame.
Whatever the reason, Hephaestus fell to earth, landing in the sea near the Island of Lemnos. He had the good fortune to be rescued and nursed back to health by a group of sea nymphs and Titan goddesses. They went to great lengths to keep him hidden from his parents, hiding him in their underwater cave.
Living there, Hephaestus began his career of craftsmanship. Collecting coral, pearls, and precious metals from the ocean floor, he began to fashion exquisite jewelry. He even built little robots made of gold to help him get around. With the help of the one-eyed Cyclopes who were master metal smiths themselves, Hephaestus built a set of golden thrones for the Olympian gods and goddesses.
Soon his creations were all the rage. Hera, wanting some of the marvelous jewelry that all the goddesses were wearing forced the goddess Thetis, who was one of the goddesses who had cared for Hephaestus while he was in hiding, to tell her who had made her gorgeous jewelry. Thetis told her that it was made by her own talented son.
Hera saw that they had been wrong to reject Hephaestus, that in spite of his imperfections, he had the talent (not to mention good taste) of a god. She persuaded Zeus to welcome him back. And so, Hephaestus was invited to return to Mount Olympus and to take his place among the gods.
Hephaestus politely declined, saying he was quite happy where he was. He set to work and fashioned a beautiful golden throne and sent it to Hera as a “thank you” for the invitation. The instant she sat on it, golden ropes flew out and entwined her, locking her into the chair. (We can safely assume that Hephaestus was still rather miffed with Hera over his earlier rejection.)
Though everyone tried to free Hera from the fetters, Hephaestus’ design was so clever that none could master the trick. So Zeus sent his son Ares, god of war, to bring Hephaestus back to let Hera loose. Instead Hephaestus ran him off by hurling firebrands at him, and Ares made a hasty retreat.
Zeus resorted to trickery next, sending Dionysus, the god of wine, to get Hephaestus drunk. Never much of a drinker, it didn’t take much wine for Hephaestus to get intoxicated. Soon he was making his triumphant return to Mount Olympus, passed out and slung over the back of a donkey.
Not one to enjoy the pomp or the hustle and bustle of the royal palace, Hephaestus built an underground workshop and spent much of this time there working undisturbed. He initially refused to forgive Hera, saying only that he “had no mother”. Feeling very guilty about having abandoned him, Hera showered him with tools, materials, and helpers for his workshop. There he continued to invent and craft beautiful furniture, jewelry, armor, and weaponry of the highest quality. Eventually he and his mother were reconciled.
His creations were truly marvels of function and beauty and are feature in many of the stories in Greek mythology.
They included: the silver bows and arrows of Apollo and Artemis, the golden chariot of Apollo that pulled the sun across the sky, the Shield of Achilles, Athena’s spear, Hercules’ breastplate, the Aegis and Scepter of Zeus, and the battle armor of the Olympian armies, and the palaces of all the deities, complete with unbreakable locks.
In addition to all this, Hephaestus is credited with the invention of the three-legged stool and the world’s first robots (his helpers, including a complete set of life-size golden handmaidens who helped around the house).
Not all of Hephaestus’ powers were invested in the tools he created. As god of fire, he had immense powers like the other gods. When the river god Scamander attempted to drown Achilles, Hephaestus used his fire to dry up the river, saving the hero’s life.
Although he was a recluse, happy to spend long hours in his workshop alone, Hephaestus was sometimes lonely and missed having a woman in his life. Attracted to the golden Athena, the goddess of wisdom, he sought to impregnate and marry her. Though Athena was fond of the gentle and talented Hephaestus, she had no interest in romance or marriage and turned him down. When she cast him aside, his semen fell to the ground and fertilized the earth, producing a son, who later became the first ruler of the city of Athens. Athena graciously reared the child.
When the drop-dead-gorgeous Aphrodite arrived in their midst, Zeus, fearful that all the gods would be warring over her, arranged for her to marry Hephaestus. Zeus felt that the solid, dependable Hephaestus would make a good mate for Aphrodite, and perhaps even "settle her down" a bit. Aphrodite didn't refuse the ceremony but felt she was married "in name only" and had several love affairs, often leaving the miserable Hephaestus the unfortunate butt of everyone's jokes.
Faithful, loving, and generous, Hephaestus showered his wife with his best creations. . . the finest furnishings, stunning jewelry, and even a magic girdle (bodice) that would make her irresistible to men (as if she needed any help in that department!) Aphrodite treasured all these gifts, but they did nothing to halt her amorous escapades.
But at some point, Hephaestus could bear her affairs no longer and decided to shame her into putting a stop to them . . . or so he hoped. He fashioned an invisible, unbreakable net made of the finest silver threads. Pretending that he was going to his workshop for the day, he loudly called out his good-byes, and hid in the bushes near the front of the house. Soon he saw her current lover, Ares, the god of war, sneaking into the house. A few minutes later, Hephaestus burst into the bedroom and dropped the net over the lovers.
While they lay trapped, nude and shivering, beneath the net, Hephaestus summoned all the gods and goddesses to come and see what he had caught in his net. It was quite a show, and they all were immensely amused.
Hephaestus insisted the pair be called into court, charged with adultery, and ordered to stop their affair. He literally got “laughed out of court” when Ares pointed out that it was Hephaestus himself who had fashioned the magic girdle that made Aphrodite irresistible - whatever could he have been thinking? After the court fined Hephaestus for bringing such a frivolous suit. Poseidon paid the fines, saying that having the chance to look at Aphrodite in the nude was worth every penny of the cost!
Talented, kind, and generous, Hephaestus was well-liked by all the Olympians even though he was not very involved in their plots. Simply put, he was, by nature, not very gregarious and generally preferred to spend his time being creative in his workshop.
As the patron of all crafts, Hephaestus was beloved by the citizens of Greece who depended largely upon agriculture and handicrafts for their livelihood. More importantly, the average Greek held the Greek god Hephaestus in high regard because he was a "working man", proof that those who labor are also noble.
Hephaestus reminds us of the value, and dangers, of losing ourselves in our work. Focusing intently on production, creativity, he was able to garner respect from others and build a genuine self-respect, and (almost) keep all his problems at bay.
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