Hephaestus or Hephaistos was the Greek deity of metalworking, smithing, sculpture, masonry, fire and volcanoes. He was the patron god of all artisans, blacksmiths, craftsmen, and sculptors. According to Homeric traditions, he was the son of Zeus and Hera, but 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. 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.
As a smithing god, Hephaestus made all the weapons of the gods in Olympus. He served as the blacksmith of the gods, and was worshipped in the manufacturing and industrial centres of Greece, particularly Athens. The cult of Hephaestus was based in Lemnos. Hephaestus's symbols are a smith's hammer, anvil, and a pair of tongs. His Roman equivalent was Vulcan.
Ephithets[edit | edit source]
Hephaestus is given many epithets. The meaning of each epithet is:
- Amphigúeis “the lame one” (Ἀμφιγύεις)
- Kullopodíōn “the halting” (Κυλλοποδίων)
- Khalkeús “coppersmith” (Χαλκεύς)
- Klutotékhnēs “renowned artificer” (Κλυτοτέχνης)
- Polúmētis “shrewd, crafty” or “of many devices” (Πολύμητις)
- Aitnaîos “Aetnaean” (Αἰτναῖος), owing to his workshop being supposedly located below Mount Aetna.
In mythology[edit | edit source]
Hephaestus was the manufacturer of art, arms, iron, jewellery and armour for various gods and heroes, including the thunderbolts of Zeus. He was the son of Zeus and Hera, and husband of Aglaea and Aphrodite. His smithy was believed to be situated underneath Mount Etna in Sicily.
He designed Hermes' winged helmet and sandals, the Aegis breastplate, Aphrodite's famed girdle, Agamemnon's staff of office, Achilles' armor, Heracles' bronze clappers, Helios' chariot, the shoulder of Pelops, and Eros' bow and arrows. In later accounts, Hephaestus worked with the help of the chthonic Cyclopes—among them his assistants in the forge, Brontes, Steropes and Pyracmon.
Hephaestus also built automatons of metal to work for him. This included tripods that walked to and from Mount Olympus. He gave to the blinded Orion his apprentice Cedalion as a guide. 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.
Birth and infancy[edit | edit source]
As the son of Zeus, the king of the gods, and Hera, the queen of the gods, Hephaestus should have been quite handsome, but, baby Hephaestus was small and ugly with a red, bawling face. Hera was so horrified that she hurled the tiny baby off the top of Mount Olympus.
Hephaestus fell down for a day and landing in the sea. Thetis, found him and took him to her underwater grotto, and raised him as her own son.
Childhood[edit | edit source]
Hephaestus had a happy childhood with dolphins as his playmates and pearls as his toys. Late in his childhood, he found the remains of a fisherman's fire on the beach and became fascinated with an unextinguished coal, still red-hot and glowing.Hephaestus carefully shut this precious coal in a clamshell and took it back to his underwater grotto and made a fire with it. On the first day after, Hephaestus stared at this fire for hours on end. On the second day, he discovered that when he made the fire hotter with bellows, certain stones sweated iron, silver or gold. On the third day he beat the cooled metal into shapes: bracelets, chains, swords and shields. Hephaestus made pearl-handled knives and spoons for his foster mother, he made a silver chariot for himself, and bridles so that seahorses could transport him quickly. He even made slave-girls of gold to wait on him and do his bidding.
Adulthood[edit | edit source]
One day, Thetis left her underwater grotto to attend a dinner party on Mount Olympus wearing a beautiful necklace of silver and sapphires, which Hephaestus had made for her. Hera admired the necklace and asked her where she could get one. Thetis became flustered causing Hera to become suspicious and, at last, the queen god discovered the truth: the baby she had once rejected had grown into a talented blacksmith.
Hera was furious and demanded Hephaestus return home, a demand that he refused. However he did send Hera a beautifully constructed chair made of silver and gold, inlaid with mother-of-pearl. Hera was delighted with this gift but, as soon as she sat in it her weight triggered hidden springs and metal bands sprung forth to hold her fast. The more she shrieked and struggled the more firmly the mechanical throne gripped her; the chair was a cleverly designed trap.
For three days Hera sat fuming, still trapped in Hephaestus's chair, she could not sleep, she could not stretch, she could not eat. Zeus pleaded with Hephaestus to dislodge Hera, but he steadfastly refused. Dionysus finally brought him back, by getting Hephaestus drunk, and carrying him to Olympus on a donkey. Then on the condition Aphrodite would be given to Hephaestus as his wife, Hera was freed.
Hephaestus and Aphrodite[edit | edit source]
Hephaestus, being the most unfaltering of the gods, was given Aphrodite’s hand in marriage by Zeus 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 the unsightly Hephaestus, began an affair with Ares, the god of war. Eventually, Hephaestus discovers Aphrodite’s promiscuity through Helios, the all-seeing Sun, and planned a trap 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
with 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.
The Thebans told that the union of Ares and Aphrodite produced Harmonia. However, of the union of Hephaestus with Aphrodite, there was no issue unless Virgil was serious when he said that Eros was their child. Later authors explain this statement by saying the love-god was sired by Ares but passed off to Hephaestus as his own son.
Hephaestus was somehow connected with the archaic, pre-Greek Phrygian and Thracian mystery cult of the Kabeiroi, who were also called the Hephaistoi, "the Hephaestus-men," in Lemnos. One of the three Lemnian tribes also called themselves Hephaestion and claimed direct descent from the god.
Hephaestus and Athena[edit | edit source]
Hephaestus is to the male gods as Athena is to the females, for he gives skill to mortal artists and was believed to have taught men the arts alongside Athena. He was nevertheless believed to be far inferior to the sublime character of Athena. At Athens they had temples and festivals in common. Both 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 priests of Hephaestus knew how to cure wounds inflicted by snakes.
He was represented in the temple of Athena Chalcioecus (Athena of the Bronze House)at Sparta, in the act of delivering his mother; on the chest of Kypselos, giving Achilles's armour to Thetis; and at Athens there was the famous statue of Hephaestus by Alcamenes, in which his lameness was only subtly portrayed. The Greeks frequently placed small dwarf-like statues of Hephaestus near their hearths, and these figures are the oldest of all his representations. 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 crafting tool, his oval cap, and the chiton.
Consorts and children[edit | edit source]
According to most versions, Hephaestus's consort is Aphrodite, who is unfaithful to Hephaestus with a number of gods and mortals, including Ares. However, in Homer's Iliad, the consort of Hephaestus is a lesser Aphrodite, Charis "the grace" or Aglaea "the glorious" — the youngest of the Graces, as Hesiod calls her.
In Athens, there is a Temple of Hephaestus, the Hephaesteum (miscalled the "Theseum") near the agora. An Athenian founding myth tells that the city's patron goddess, 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 ejaculate fell on the earth, impregnating Gaia, who subsequently gave birth to Erichthonius of Athens. A surrogate mother later gave the child to Athena to foster, guarded by a serpent.
On the island of Lemnos, Hephaestus' 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 were two gods of Sicilian geysers called Palici. With Thalia, Hephaestus was sometimes considered the father of the Palici.
Hephaestus fathered several children with mortals and immortals alike. One of those children was the robber Periphetes.
This is the full list of his consorts and children according to the various accounts:
- Cercyon (possibly)
- Palaemonius, Argonaut