Monday, March 12, 2012


Hephaestus (hɪˈfiːstəs/, /həˈfɛstəs/ or /hɨˈfɛstəs/; 8 spellings; Ancient Greek Ἥφαιστος Hēphaistos) was a Greek god whose Roman equivalent was Vulcan. He is 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. The center of his cult was in Lemnos.Hephaestus's symbols are a smith's hammer, an anvil and a pair of tongs, although sometimes he is portrayed as not known to all.

Hephaestus is given many epithets, some of which include:

* Åmphigúeis “the lame one” (ἀμφιγύεις)
* Kullopodíon “the halting” (κυλλοποδίων)
* Chalkeús “coppersmith” (χαλκεύς)
* Klutotéchnes “renowned artificer” (κλυτοτέχνης)
* Polúmetis “shrewd, crafty” or “of many devices” (πολύμητις)
* Aetnaeus, owing to his workshop supposedly being located below Mount Aetna.

Erichthonius, Cacus, and Caeculus

Hephaestus (Hêphaistos), the god of fire, was, according to the Homeric account, the son of Zeus and Hera. (Il. i. 578, xiv. 338, xviii. 396, xxi. 332, Od. viii. 312.) Later traditions state that he had no father, and that Hera gave birth to him independent of Zeus, as she was jealous of Zeus having given birth to Athena independent of her. (Apollod. i. 3. § 5; Hygin. Fab. Praef.) This, however, is opposed to the common story, that Hephaestus split the head of Zeus, and thus assisted him in giving birth to Athena, for Hephaestus is there represented as older than Athena. A further development of the later tradition is, that Hephaestus sprang from the thigh of Hera, and, being for a long time kept in ignorance of his parentage, he at length had recourse to a stratagem, for the purpose of finding it out. He constructed a chair, to which those who sat upon it were fastened, and having thus entrapped Hera, he refused allowing her to rise until she had told him who his parents were. (Serv. ad Aen. viii. 454, Eclog. iv. 62.) For other accounts respecting his origin, see Cicero (de Nat. Deor. iii. 22), Pausanias (viii. 53. § 2). and Eustathius (ad Hom. p. 987).

Hephaestus is the god of fire, especially in so far as it manifests itself as a power of physical nature in volcanic districts, and in so far as it is the indispensable means in arts and manufactures, whence fire is called the breath of Hephaestus, and the name of the god is used both by Greek and Roman poets as synonymous with fire. As a flame arises out of a little spark, so the god of fire was delicate and weakly from his birth, for which reason he was so much disliked by his mother, that she wished to get rid of him, and dropped him from Olympus. But the marine divinities, Thetis and Eurynome, received him, and he dwelt with them for nine years in a grotto, surrounded by Oceanus, making for them a variety of ornaments. (Hom. Il. xviii. 394, &c.) It was, according to some accounts, during this period that he made the golden chair by which he punished his mother for her want of affection, and from which he would not release her, till he was prevailed upon by Dionysus. (Paus. i. 20. § 2; Hygin. Fab. 166.)

Although Hephaestus afterwards remembered the cruelty of his mother, yet he was always kind and obedient towards her, nay once, while she was quarrelling with Zeus, he took her part, and thereby offended his father so much, that he seized him by the leg, and hulled him down from Olympus. Hephaestus was a whole day falling, but in the evening he came down in the island of Lemnos, where he was kindly received by the Sintians. (Hom. Il. i. 590, &c. Val. Flacc. ii. 8.5; Apollod. i. 3. § 5, who, however, confounds the two occasions on which Hephaestus was thrown from Olympus.) Later writers describe his lameness as the consequence of his second fall, while Homer makes him lame and weak from his birth.

After his second fall he returned to Olympus, and subsequently acted the part of mediator between his parents. (Il i. 585.) On that occasion he offered a cup of nectar to his mother and the other gods, who burst out into immoderate laughter on seeing him busily hobbling through Olympus from one god to another, for he was ugly and slow, and, owing to the weakness of his legs, he was held up, when he walked, by artificial supports, skillfully made of gold. (Il. xviii. 410, &c., Od. viii. 311, 330.) His neck and chest, however, were strong and muscular. (Il. xviii. 415, xx. 36.)

In Olympus, Hephaestus had his own palace, imperishable and shining like stars: it contained his workshop, with the anvil, and twenty bellows, which worked spontaneously at his bidding. (Il. xviii. 370, &c.) It was there that he made all his beautiful and marvellous works, utensils, and arms, both for gods and men. The ancient poets and mythographers abound in passages describing works of exquisite workmanship which had been manufactured by Hephaestus. In later accounts, the Cyclopes, Brontes, Steropes, Pyracmon, and others, are his workmen and servants, and his workshop is no longer represented as in Olympus, but in the interior of some volcanic isle. (Virg. Aen. viii. 416, &c.)

The wife of Hephaestus also lived in his palace: in the Iliad she is called a Charis, in the Odyssey Aphrodite (Il. xviii. 382, Od. viii. 270), and in Hesiod's Theogony (945) she is named Aglaia. the youngest of the Charites. The story of Aphrodite's faithlessness to her husband, and of the manner in which he surprised her, is exquisitely described in Od. viii. 266-358. The Homeric poems do not mention any descendants of Hephaestus, but in later writers the number of his children is considerable. In the Trojan war he was on the side of the Greeks, but he was also worshipped by the Trojans, and on one occasion he saved a Trojan from being killed by Diomedes. (Il. v. 9, &c.)

His favourite place on earth was the island of Lemnos, where he liked to dwell among the Sintians (Od. viii. 283, &c., Il. i. 593; Ov Fast. viii. 82); but other volcanic islands also, such as Lipara, Hiera, Imbros. and Sicily, are called his abodes or workshops. (Apollon. Rhod iii. 41; Callim. Hymn. in Dian. 47; Serv. ad Aen. viii. 416; Strab. p. 275; Plin. H. N. iii. 9; Val. Flacc. ii. 96.)

Hephaestus is among the male what Athena is among the female deities, for, like her, he give skill to mortal artists, and, conjointly with her, he was believed to have taught men the arts which embellish and adorn life. (Od. vi. 233, xxiii. 160. Hymn. in Vaulc. 2. &c.) But he was. nevertheless, conceived as far inferior to the sublime character of Athena. At Athens they had temples and festivals in common. (See Dict of Ant. s. v. Hêphaisteia, Chalkeia.) Both also were believed to have great healing powers, and Lemnian earth (terra Lemnia) from the spot on which Hephaestus had fallen was believed to cure madness, the bites of snakes, and haemorrhage, and the priests of the god knew how to cure wounds inflicted by snakes. (Philostr. Heroic. v. 2; Eustath. ad Hom. p. 330; Dict. Cret. ii. 14.)

The epithets and surnames by which Hephaestus is designated by the poets generally allude to his skill in the plastic arts or to his figure and his lameness.

He was represented in the temple of Athena Chalcioecus at Sparta, in the act of delivering his mother (Paus. iii. 17. § 3); on the chest of Cypselus, giving to Thetis the armour for Achilles (v. 19. § 2); and at Athens there was the famous statue of Hephaestus by Alcamenes, in which his lameness was slightly indicated. (Cic. de Nat. Deor. i. 30; Val. Max. viii. 11. § 3.) The Greeks frequently placed small dwarf-like statues of the god near the hearth, and these dwarfish figures seem to have been the most ancient. (Herod. iii. 37; Aristoph. Av. 436; Callim. Hymnn. in Dian. 60.) During the best period of Grecian art, he was represented as a vigorous man with a beard, and is characterised by his hammer or some other instrument, his oval cap, and the chiton, which leaves the right shoulder and arm uncovered.

The Romans, when speaking of the Greek Hephaestus, call him Vulcanus, although Vulcanus was an original Italian divinity.

Hephaestus crafted much of the 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 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.

According to one version, Hera, threw Hephaestus down from the heavens because he was "shrivelled of foot". He fell into the ocean and was brought up by Thetis (mother of Achilles) and the Oceanid Eurynome.

In another account, Hephaestus attempting to rescue his mother from Zeus, was flung down by Zeus. He fell for an entire 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.

Hephaestus was the only Olympian said to have returned to Olympus after being exiled.

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".
The western face of the Doric temple of Hephaestus, Agora of Athens

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. In the painted scenes the padded dancers and phallic figures of the Dionysan throng leading the mule show that the procession was a part of the dithyrambic celebrations that were the forerunners, in Athens, of the satyr plays of the fifth century.

The theme of the return of Hephaestus, popular among the Attic vase-painters whose wares were favored among the Etruscans, may have carried this theme to Etruria. As vase-painters portrayed the procession, Hephaestus was mounted on a mule or a horse, accompanied by Dionysus, who held the bridle and carried Hephaestus' tools, which include a double-headed axe.

The traveller Pausanias reported seeing a painting in the temple of Dionysus in Athens, which had been built in the 5th century but may have been decorated at any time before the 2nd century CE, when Pausanias saw it:

"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."

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