Ancient Greece Reloaded




God of Blacksmiths, Sculptors, Metallurgy, Fire and Volcanoes

Ancient Greek god of fire, metallurgy, and crafts, Hephaistos was the brilliant blacksmith of the Olympian gods, for whom he fashioned magnificent houses, armour, and ingenious devices.

Born from Hera and without a father, Hephaistos was, unlike the other gods, a less than beautiful figure. So much so, that in Greek mythology he is said to have been thrown from the heavens by his mother (or in other accounts by Zeus) because of his ugliness and on landing on the island of Lemnos, the god was crippled. Cared for by Thetis (and possibly also by Eurynome, the daughter of Ocean) he would construct his workshop on the island's volcano (or in other accounts on Mt. Etna in Sicily) where he lived in an imperishable bright bronze house, where he created his masterpieces of metallurgy.

Hephaistos married the goddess Aphrodite. The unlikely union occurred as a result of Hephaistos capturing her mother Hera in the invisible chains of a throne he had built, and the wedding was the price of release. The scene is a popular one in Greek art and usually depicts Dionysos leading Hephaistos, under the influence of wine, back to Olympus to free the entrapped Hera. However, the marriage was not to last as Aphrodite had numerous affairs, most notably with the god Ares.

Hephaistos, informed by Helios, spied the lovers and captured them in an invisible net. Hephaistos' most notable offspring in Greek mythology were Erichthonios, the king of Athens, and Periphetes, who lived near Epidaurus and famously killed passing strangers with an iron club.

As an ingenious craftsman, Hephaistos is credited with making the sceptre and aegis of Zeus, the helmet of Hermes, secret locking doors for Hera’s chambers, and even the lovely first woman, Pandora, who he sculpted out of clay. He also manufactured automatons - gold maids who could speak and were intelligent - for himself and bronze Talos as a gift for King Minos of Crete.

Both Homer and Hesiod describe Hephaistos as "the cripple-foot god" and "the lame one". Supporting the Achaeans in the Trojan War, he memorably fights and defeats the river god Xanthos with fire and produces magnificent armour and a shield of bronze, gold, silver, and tin for Achilles, the latter being decorated with a multitude of scenes and described at great length by Homer.

In ancient Greek art, Hephaistos is often depicted wearing a pilos or workman's hat and an exomis or workman's tunic. He also often holds tongs, an axe, hammer, saw, or chisel and is frequently seen riding a mule side saddle (in reference to his lameness which is rarely explicitly portrayed). He is a prominent figure on the frieze and east pediment of the Parthenon where the scene of Athena's birth is shown.

This mythological scene was also popular on Attic pottery where Hephaistos, with his axe, splits the head of Zeus from where Athena is born.

Often linked with Athena in their mutual capacity as patrons of craftsmen, the two are most famously connected in the Hephaisteion temple of Athens (449 BCE) within which stood two bronze statues of the divinities.


Abandoned at birth and the return to Olympus

According to Hesiod`s Theogony, Hephaestus was the son of Hera alone. Several sources confirm this story, while others claim that he was the offspring of the kingly marriage of Zeus and Hera. Anyway, he is often described as lame, imperfect and not appreciated by parent or parents and dropped in the ocean, where Thetis and Eurynome received him.

He dwelt with them for nine years in a grotto, surrounded by Oceanus. He improved his skills over those years and in a myth of his return, he built a golden chair with invisible fetters and sent it to Olympus as a gift for his mother. When Hera sat on the chair, she had triggered a trap which bounded her to the chair. The gods were unable to release her and therefore asked Hephaestus to free his mother.

But he refused the request stating that he had been treated like a boy without mother. He wouldn`t listen to any of them except Dionysus who had full trust from Hephaestus. However, Dionysus was only going to talk to him on the condition that they would let him back to Olympus. Thereafter, he went to Hephaestus and offered him wine during the debate.

When Hephaestus was drunk enough, he brought him before the council at Olympus. Zeus offered him anything, if he was to release Hera. Hephaestus, who was drunk enough, asked for Aphrodite to be married with him. Zeus had no choice, but to grant his wish and Hera was finally released.

Marriage with Aphrodite

But this marriage couldn`t work out in any way, as Aphrodite had her eyes already on Ares and the love was mutual. They had an affair and were taking action right there in the palace of Hephaestus.

However, this affair has not gone unnoticed, because Helios, the Titan god of sun, randomly spied one day on the couple and immediately reported to Hephaestus, when found out of their affair. Hephaestus in fury went to his workshop brooding revenge. He made a magical net in his plan to trap the couple in action.

He placed the invisible net on the bed and all around it, even on the roof wall. Then, after he departed, Ares came to make love with Aphrodite. When they had lain in bed, the net of magical chains enveloped them and they could not escape. In the meantime, Helios was reporting everything to Hephaestus and the god of craftsmanship was already on his way home, frustrated and angered. He also called all the gods to come and see this infidelity. Because of this adultery, Ares was banished from Olympus.

Pursuing Athena

Shortly after Ares was banished from Olympus, Aphrodite took revenge on Hephaestus by casting a spell on him. Clouded by the love spell, Hephaestus fell in love with Athena, when she came to him with desire for fashioning her arms. He began to pursue her in order to embrace her, but she didn't submit to him.

When he got close, he tried to enter her by force, but Athena was able to prevent him and therefore he dripped his seed on her leg. Disgusted by his act, she wiped the seed with wool and threw it on the ground. And from the earth Erikhthonios, the giant serpent, was born. Some sources claim that it was Gaea who made this birth possible and make her the mother of the serpent, while others simply say that Athena is the mother.

Hephaestus in other myths

Hephaestus, yet with another of his crafty inventions, chained Prometheus to Mount Caucasus, when he was punished by Zeus for stealing back fire for mankind.

And the most famous of his creation is Pandora who he created by order of Zeus to punish mankind. He made her out of earth and clay, filled with water, and infused her with human voice and vigor and make her face like immortal goddess. Other gods were instructed to fill her with their gifts. Athena also clothed her with silvery raiment and embroidered veil. They gave her name Pandora and married her to Epimetheus.

At the time of the Trojan war, Hephaestus fought against the river-god Scamander who was trying to drown Achilles in his stream. Hera in fear of losing Achilles, called for her son to come to rescue with fire, a true opposite from watery Scamander. He first torched the bodies on the river stream to clear the way for Achilles and then boiled the stream until the river stream stopped and evaporated. Scamander was left no choice, but to flee away.



[1] "Ancient History Encyclopedia"

[2] "Greek Gods"

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