by Tracy Marks
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Sing, clear voiced Muse, of Hephaistos, renowned for his inventive skill, who with grey-eyed Athene, taught to men upon earth arts of great splendor, men who in former days lived like wild beasts in mountain caves. But having learned skills from Hephaestus, famed for his work and craftsmanship, they now, free from care, peacefully live year by year in their houses. Be gracious, Hephaestus, and grant me excellence and prosperity!
--Homeric Hymn to Hephaestus
Who was Hephaestus?
The Greek god of the forge and subterranean fire, the master craftsman, and the only god who worked or suffered from physical deformity, Hephaestus was ugly in appearance but a creator of beauty. A skilled blacksmith and artisan, he was most known for his devotion to his forge, where he crafted not only decorative jewelry, drinking vessels, furniture, but also weapons (including Zeus' thunderbolts) and armor for the gods and heroes. He was also known for his less than satisfying marriage to love goddess, the unfaithful Aphrodite, as well as his role in the stories of Pandora and Prometheus. Hephaestus was a kindly, peace-loving god of steady, stable temperament, popular both on earth and on Olympus.
In Roman mythology, Hephaestus was known as Vulcan (which means fire), and was the god of volcanic fire; he was also called Mulsiber. Because people feared the devastations of uncontrollable fires, temples to Vulcan were built outside of town. According to the Romans, his smoky, flaming workshop was inside Mount Etna, the Sicilian volcano. Hephaestus’s festival in Rome, known as Vulcanilia, was celebrated on August 23 (the first day of Virgo) to protect people from destructive fire.
Physically, Hephaestus was a muscular man with a thick neck and hairy chest who because of a shortened, lame leg and club foot (with feet facing backwards), supported himself with the aid of a crutch. Bearded, he most often dressed in a ragged sleeveless tunic and woolen hat. Most frequently, he was portrayed in art holding the tools of his trade, especially the blacksmith's hammer and tongs. Sometimes, he was surrounded by the Kabeiroi, the dwarflike blacksmith servants of the Mother Goddess who helped in his subterranean forge.
Temperamentally, Hephaestus was a peacemaker. Gentle and introverted, he was sensitive to conflict, and often took the role of peacemaker, seeking to reconcile his parents, Zeus and Hera, and facilitate the union between the masculine and the feminine.
Hephaestus, the master artisan, broke the silence,
Out of concern for his ivory-armed mother:
"This is terrible; it's going to ruin us all.
If you two quarrel like this over mortals
It's bound to affect us gods. There'll be no more
Pleasure in our feasts if we let things turn ugly.
Mother, please, I don't have to tell you,
You have to be pleasant to our father Zeus
So he won't be angry and ruin our feast.
If the Lord of Lightning wants to blast us from our seats,
He can - that's how much strong he is.
So apologize to him with silken-soft words,
And the Olympian in turn will be gracious to us...
I know it's hard, mother, but you have to endure it.
I don't want to see you getting beat up, and me
Unable to help you."
-- Iliad I: 603-21, Lombardo translation
His Birth: Two Versions
Hesiod, as well as Roman sources, claims that Hera gave birth to Hephaestus parthenogetically, without Zeus' participation, since she was angry at him for birthing Athena from his own head without first procreating with her: (ll. 929)" But Hera without union with Zeus -- for she was very angry and quarrelled with her mate -- bore famous Hephaestus, who was skilled in crafts more than all the sons of Heaven." For this reason, Zeus never liked Hephaestus.
Hera's motive in conceiving Hephaestus was power over her husband; she desired a son who would be more glorious than Zeus, and outshine him. But after a long and difficult labor, Hera gave birth from her thigh to a son who was deformed, with clubfeet, facing backwards. According to both the Homeric Hymn to Apollo and the Iliad, Hera was enraged that he did not meet her standards from the start; she considered him ugly and threw him out of Olympus. After a long fall he landed in the sea, breaking his legs in the process. Later, Hephaestus took revenge on his mother by building her a golden throne which bound her with invisible fetters when she sat on it, and would not release her.
from the Homeric Hymn to Apollo (ll. 309-330) by Hesiod
Once on a time Hera... was angry with father Zeus, when the Son of Cronos bare all-glorious Athena in his head. Thereupon queenly Hera was angry and spoke thus among the assembled gods:
Hear from me, all gods and goddesses, how cloud-gathering Zeus begins to dishonor me wantonly, when he has made me his true-hearted wife. See now, apart from me he has given birth to bright-eyed Athena who is foremost among all the blessed gods. But my son Hephaestus whom I bare was weakly among all the blessed gods and shriveled of foot, a shame and disgrace to me in heaven, whom I myself took in my hands and cast out so that he fell in the great sea. But silver-shod Thetis the daughter of Nereus took and cared for him with her sisters: would that she had done other service to the blessed gods! O wicked one and crafty! What else will you now devise? How dared you by yourself give birth to bright-eyed Athena? Would not I have borne you a child -- I, who was at least called your wife among the undying gods who hold wide heaven....
According to Homer, Hephaestus was the son of both Hera and Zeus. In both Homer (Iliad) and Apollodorus, when Zeus and Hera were in conflict, after Zeus chained Hera because of a storm she sent against Heracles, Hephaestus defended his mother and came to her rescue. This further enraged Zeus, who then threw him from Olympus. For an entire day he fell, eventually landing upon the island of Lemnos, and becoming crippled as a result of the fall. In the Iliad (I,620), Homer portrays Hephaestus telling his story: "Zeus flipped me by my foot off our balcony. I fell all day and came down when the sun did. On the island of Lemnos, scarcely alive. The Sintians had to nurse me back to health." The Sintians were the barbarian residents of Lemnos.
His Early Years
But most sources claim that Hephaestus landed in the sea near Lemnos, and was washed up on the shore, where he lay broken until rescued by the Nereids, Thetis and Eurynome (mother of the Graces). They then hid him from his mother who, ashamed of him, would have continued to harm him.
Secretly Hephaestus lived with these goddesses in their underwater caves for nine years. He lived in their "mukos", a Greek word meaning both innermost place and the women's apartments of a house, suggesting that his nine year hibernation there was a second womblike incubation, a parenting by two feminine forces, awakening his own creative energy.
There, he began to craft beautiful jewelry from the underwater coral reefs, and metals found underwater. Partially paralyzed, he built two golden robots to help him move around, and also the twelve thrones of Olympus. Helped by the Cyclops, he continued to develop his skills with decorative iron and other metals, creating beautiful gifts for his surrogate mothers.
And the renowned smith called back:
"Thetis...saved me when I lay suffering
From my long fall, after my shameless mother
Threw me out, wanting to hide my infirmity.
And I really would have suffered, had not Thetis
And Eurynome, a daughter of Ocean Stream,
Taken me into their bosom. I stayed with them
Nine years, forging all kinds of jewelry,
Brooches and bracelets and necklaces and pins,
In their hollow cave, while the Ocean's tides,
Murmuring with foam, flowed endlessly around.
No one knew I was there, neither god nor mortal,
Except my rescuers, Eurynome and Thetis.
Now the goddess has come to our house.
I owe her my life and would repay her in full..."
-- Iliad, 18:423-32, translated by Lombardo
Eventually, Hera saw some of the beautiful jewelry he had created and demanded to know the creator. When she learned it was her own son Hephaestus, and she recognized the beauty he did not possess physically but could indeed create from the physical world, she forgave him for not being what she had hoped for, and asked for Zeus to return him to Olympus. But Hephaestus, happy on Lemnos and angry at his mother, would not comply.
Finally, Zeus sent Dionysus, Hephaestus' brother, to intoxicate him and persuade him to return. Drunk on wine, which he had never previously experienced, Hephaestus then rode a donkey, accompanied by Dionysus, back to Olympus. There, where his mother reclaimed him (although he continued to insist that he had no mother), and he became one of the Olympians. Hephaestus' triumphant return to Olympus was a favorite subject for archaic Greek vase painters.
Once on Olympus, Hephaestus lived underground, where he could work as an artisan undisturbed. Hera gave him a massive workshop with many bellow, anvils, and helpers; there he continue to create beautiful ornaments, weapons, furniture and jewelry to the delight of gods and goddesses.
Love and Marriage
According to one myth, Hephaestus asked Zeus for Aphrodite in marriage as a reward for setting his mother free; according to another, he asked for Athena as his wife, as a reward for having assisted her birthing. But most stories indicate that Zeus, regretting his previous enmity and valuing Hephaestus' skills, gave Aphrodite to Hephaestus as his wife. Aphrodite did not refuse.
Some view this union of inner and outer beauty as appropriate, but the differences between their temperaments are dramatic ones -- her sensual beauty and his ugliness, her flightiness and playful spirit contrasting with his steady serious temperament; her unfaithfulness and irresponsibility, and his conscientious workmanship ethics. Hephaestus loved Aphrodite, but she rarely reciprocated; instead, she had frequent affairs with her handsome war god brother, Ares. Some scenes in myth, however, such as in book eight of Ovid's Metamorphoses, do reveal an affectionate and passionate bond between them. In this scene, Venus seductively approaches Vulcan, in an attempt to gain his cooperation and making armor for her son Aeneas. He is more than willing to oblige - after they make love!
In the Odyssey (8:269), and in Ovid's Metamorphoses, when Helios tells Hephaestus of Aphrodite's and Ares' coupling, Hephaestus devises a trap to capture them and display them in the act of lovemaking. He entangles them in an invisible net, and then exposes them to the laughter of the gods. Unfortunately, although he reveals his cleverness in the process, he also exposes himself as the cuckold, attempting unsuccessfully to retain the love and devotion of his wife. All too frequently, Hephaestus is the target of the gods' laughter.
Mars and Venus Caught in the Net by Heemskerk
Several stories tell that Hephaestus, unhappy in marriage, turned his attention to Athena, who also spurned him. In fact, he fell in love with her the moment he released her from Zeus' head, and again when she came to his forge, seeking for him to make for her a spear. When he tried to initiate intercourse, Athena rejected him, and he spilled his seed upon her leg. As she fled, his sperm fell on the earth, and resulted in the birth of Erichtonius, who was initially carried in Gaia's womb.
Athena Scorning the Advances of Hephaestus by Paris Bordone
Ancient Athenians celebrated a yearly fertility festival called the Chalkeia, honoring the attempted union between Hephaestus and Athena, and their offspring.
Apart from Aphrodite as his wife and Athena as an object of his desire, Hephaestus has also been associated in other myths with other goddesses. In Hesiod, he is considered husband to Aglaia (Splendor), one of the Graces (Homeric Hymns, II, 945) as well as Charis, another Grace (Iliad 18:362). Other wives associated with him include Kabeiro of Lemnos, Ocresia and Anticleo. Little is known about these marriages; most myths portray Hephaestus as the jilted lover, continually rejected by women and redirecting his frustrated love and passion into his work.
Thetis' silver feet took her to Hephaestus' house,
A mansion the lame god had built himself...
She found him at his bellows, glazed with sweat
As he hurried to complete his latest project,
Twenty cauldrons on tripods to line his hall
With golden wheels at the base of each tripod.
....He was getting these ready,
Forging the rivets with inspired artistry.
-- Homer, Iliad, 18:398, Lombardo translation
Hephaestus as Artisan
Metalworker, blacksmith, and artisan, Hephaestus was the only Greek god that worked. In mythology, he is honored for having taught mankind that work is noble (Homeric Hymn to Hephaestus), and having imparted the desire not not only to work, but to excel at one's craft. Understandably, he therefore became the patron god of artists and craftsmen of all kinds - metalworkers, blacksmiths, leatherworkers, weavers, potters, painters.
Much of the time, Hephaestus was at his volcanic forge, passionately engaged in solitary creative work, resulting in creations that spoke to the psychic depths of both gods and humans. He had the power to reach into the collective unconscious, and to create works (such as Achilles shield) which were extraordinarily beautiful, detailed, and lifelike.
What Did Hephaestus Create?
• his robotic helpers
• Hera's fettered throne
• Zeus' thunderbolts
• Poseidon's trident
• Olympians' homes
• 12 golden Olympian thrones
• the bows of Artemis and Apollo
• Athena's spear
• Aphrodite's golden girdle
• Apollo's chariot
• Hades' cap of invisibility
• Demeter's sickle
• Achilles' shield (Iliad 18:514-660)
• Agamemnon's scepter
• Pandora's wreath
• Heracles' golden breastplate
• Harmonia's necklace
• Oenopian's underground house
• 20 stools or tripods that move of their own accord to and from the feasts on Mount Olympus (Iliad, 18.372)
• handmaidens of gold to help him with his work, and live inside volcanos (Iliad, 18.417)
• jewelry, buckles, clasps etc. for Themis and Eurynome
• unbreakable locks of the Olympian's homes
• the gods armor in preparation for their war with the Titans
• the invisible net that trapped Ares and Aphrodite making love
• mechanical marvels and beautiful love art for Aphrodite
• Zeus' scepter, passed on to Hermes, then Pelops, then Atreus, then Thyestes, then Agamemnon
• the bronze golem Talos which guarded Argos until slain by Medea
• brazen castanets, which Athena gave to Heracles for driving the Stymphalian Birds from the wood
• brazen-footed bulls which puffed fire from their mouths (for King Aeetes)
• a bed of gold, which carries Helius, the Sun god as he sleeps
• the Aegis, the shield emblazoned with the head of Medusa, carried by Perseus
Hephaestus Starts Achilles' Shield
Hephaestus...went to his bellows,
Turned them toward the fire, and ordered them to work.
And the bellows, all twenty, blew on the crucibles,
Blasting out waves of heat...
He cast durable bronze onto the fire, and tin,
Precious gold and silver. Then he positioned
His enormous anvil up on its block
And grasped his mighty hammer
In one hand, and in the other his tongs.
He made a shield first, heavy and huge,
Every inch of it intricately designed.
He threw a triple rim around it, glittering
Like lightning, and he made the strap silver.
The shield itself was five layers thick, and he
Crafted its surface with all of his genius.
On it he made the earth, the sky, the sea,
The unwearied sun, and the moon near full,
And all the signs that garland the sky,
Pleiades, Hyades, mighty Orion,
and the Gear they also call the Wagon....
On it it he made two cities, peopled
-- Iliad XVIII: 508, Lombardo translation
What other stories in Greek and Roman mythology involve Hephaestus?
• He helped with Athena's birth, splitting Zeus' head to let out Athena when he gave birth to Athena.
• He dried up the streams of the River God who attempted to drown Achilles.
• At Zeus' request, he created Pandora, the most beautiful of all women, to lure mankind to further destruction as a result of opening a box which would release evils into the world.
• Against his will, he obeyed Zeus' commands to chain Prometheus to the rock in Mount Caucasus, because Prometheus had disobeyed Zeus, stolen fire from Hephaestus' forge, and given it to mankind: "Against my will, no less than yours, I must rivet you with brazen bonds...Such is the prize you have gained for your championship of man."
• According to Pausanius, he and Prometheus were visited by Demeter, who brought them both her Mysteries.
• He created numerous gifts for pleasure or assistance for both the Greek gods and for heroes faced with difficult tasks and quests.
The Worship of Hephaestus
The cult of Hephaestus is believed to have originated in Asia Minor, and to have traveled to Greece (particularly the isle of Lemnos, and Attica) and Rome. Originally viewed as an artisan god, he eventually became revered as a noble craftsman and mighty Olympian artist. Yet during the 4th century classical period, as work with the hands became denigrated and his worshippers (potters, bronze workers etc.) lost status, he also lost respect and was considered a lesser god.
Hephaestus' city, Hephistu, the capital of Lemnos was populated until the sixth century A.S. with people known as the Tyrenoi. Hephaestus cults continued there for centuries, as well as in Athens, where, after 450 A.D, a temple to Hephaestus was erected on a hill above the Agora, facing the Acropolis; it still stands today. A Frieze on Athena's Parthenon which contains all the elements of Plato's Atlantis texts also suggests that the Parthenon was built to commemorate both Athena and Hephaestus, since they both championed the Athenians in the epic War between Athens and Atlantis. Athena and Hephaestus together always maintained some importance in Athens throughout history, partly due to the fact that their son, Erichthenius, was the first king of Athens.
Hephaestus as Psychological Archetype
One reason for Hephaestus' appeal to many men and women throughout the ages is that he personifies the psychological archetype of the wounded creator or artist - rejected initially by both mother and father. Indeed his mother Hera viewed him as a failure from the start, as she was narcissistically invested in him as an extension of her own ego and her desire to feel superior over her husband. Based on her attitude, we can easily assume that Hephaestus felt valued only for his achievement, for his work and creative accomplishments.
Unlike most gods who appeal to our lower natures, Hephaestus inspires our higher selves. He was the smith of the soul, whose forge birthed not only beautiful creations, but also represented the triumph of the human spirit, and its capacity to redirect unmet needs toward productive aims. Burning with an inner creative fire, perhaps due to sublimated rage and passion, he transformed raw and often material into exquisite objects.
Although physically deformed, Hephaestus did not reject the physical world; rather, he learned how to use it, to craft ugliness into beauty. Rejected continually by women, he nonetheless held internally the inner image of the love he sought, so that he could mold objects of his craftsmanship in its vision. He was driven by his own deeper self, was attuned to the collective unconscious, and capable of creating from the depths of his soul. As a result, his art reached deeply into the souls of his audience, who recognized its brilliance.
Yet sublimation and redirection of needs and drives is not the same as healing. Hera may have reclaimed her son, but her early rejection burned within Hephaestus, and her eventual acceptance was never for who he was in his own right - only for the products of his craft. We can therefore hypothesize then that Hephaestus was longing for his mother's love, which he never fully received. As Jungian author Murray Stein pointed out, Hephaestus was female-identified; his libido was directed toward toward his mother, toward the female as nurturer, and he had difficulty relating to women as partners. Indeed, when he attempted to seduce Athena, his semen instead fertilized Mother Earth, as Athena turned away from him.
Hephaestus was born with his feet facing the wrong direction. A female in a male body, raised without a mother's love, he nonetheless was nourished deeply by the feminine energies of Themis and Eurynome, in their womblike underwater cave, which nurtured his anima and enabled him to direct it toward creative work. But from the start, he created jewelry for his surrogate mothers, and later for the gods and goddesses whose appreciation he craved.
Sensitive to rejection and conflict, Hephaestus was the peacemaker who attempted to create harmony between his mother and his father, in the hope of experiencing in his interpersonal environment the atmosphere of love and union that he desired. But because love and harmony was unreliable at best, Hephaestus retreated underground to his forge. There, he could redirect his passion and experience the fire of creative union, over which he did have control, and for which he was indeed appreciated and honored.
SPECIFIC HEPHAESTUS SITES
Hephaestus: Greek Mythology Link
Hephaestus in Classical Texts: Links
http://web.uvic.ca/grs/bowman/myth/gods ... tos_t.html
Hephaestus/Vulcan in Ovid's Metamorphoses
http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/te ... ilter=none
Hephaestus/Vulcan in the Aeneid
http://www.windweaver.com/as/index.htm~ ... vulcan.htm
The Homeric Hymns
Limnos, Home of Hephaestus
http://www.areianet.gr/infoxenios/engli ... eople.html
MORE HEPHAESTUS PAGES
http://www.cushing.org/academic/text/fa ... haephe.htm
http://www.fgsd.winnipeg.mb.ca/vmc/swaw ... myth15.htm
Hephaistos Images: Classical Art
http://web.uvic.ca/grs/bowman/myth/gods ... tos_i.html
Hephaestus in Western Art: Classical Art (Alone; Return)
http://www-lib.haifa.ac.il/www/art/myth ... istos.html
Boucher: Visit of Venus to Vulcan
Tintoretto: Venus and Mars Surprised by Vulcan
http://www-lib.haifa.ac.il/www/art/re/t ... _venus.gif
Heemskerk: Mars and Venus Caught in the Net
http://www-lib.haifa.ac.il/www/art/re/h ... k_mars.gif
Mantegna: Hephaestus, Mars and Venus: Parnassus
http://www-lib.haifa.ac.il/www/art/re/M ... nassus.gif
Caeretan Vase: Dionysus and Hephaestus
http://www-lib.haifa.ac.il/www/art/gr/c ... aestus.GIF
Return of Hephaestus: Caeretan Hydria, 530 BC (above image)
Polion: Return of Hephaestus
http://www-lib.haifa.ac.il/www/art/gr/p ... hestus.GIF
Hephaestus: Ambrosius Painter
Athena Scorning Hephaestus' Advances
Temple of Hephaestus
http://www.greatbuildings.com/gbc/build ... estus.html
SOURCES (in addition to above links)
Bolen, Jean, Gods in Everyman, Harper and Row, San Francisco, 1989.
Burkert, Walter, Greek Religion, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1985.
Downing, Christine, Gods in Our Midst, Crossroads, New York, 1993.
Kerenyi, Carl, The Gods of the Greeks, Thames and Hudson, London, 1951.
Stein, Murray, "Hephaistos: A Pattern of Introversion," in Facing the Gods, Spring Publications, Dallas, 1980.