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Who is Hephaestus in Greek Mythology?
HEPHAESTUS (Hephaistos) was the son of Zeus and Hera and was the Greek god of fire, smith, forges, and the art of sculpture. His Roman equivalent was VULCAN, whose smithy lay beneath the crater of Mount Aetna in Sicily.
Hephaestus was lame as a result of having interfered in the quarrel between his parents. So angry did Zeus become that he flung his son from the top of Mount Olympus and let him fall heavily on the volcanic island of Lemnos, in the northern part of the Aegean Sea.
In another version, Hera tried to down her imperfect son, only to be thwarted by sea nymphs who took him to a beach. A sequel to this tale has the smith god gain his revenge as a fully grown man by making a golden throne for his mother, which was actually a trap.
None of the gods could release Hera, so Hephaestus was invited to return permanently to Mount Olympus. Under the influence of drink, he was persuaded by his friend Dionysus to unlock the cunning device and let his mother escape.
The Birth of Hephaestus
When we think of gods in Greek mythology, we think of these chiseled, aesthetically pleasing figures, and the same can be said for the goddesses—they always seemed to have this air of beauty desirableness about them. But when we think of the god Hephaestus, beauty is one of the last things that comes to mind and the circumstances surrounding his birth; it is a bit strange.
Hephaestus is considered to be the child of Zeus and the goddess Hera, but in some stories, Hera was jealous that Zeus had given birth to Athena without her assistance. Seeking revenge, Hera then gave birth to Hephaestus without the aid of Zeus.
Because of this solo birth, Hephaestus was not like the Greek pantheon’s other Greek gods and goddesses. They were known for their beauty, and Hephaestus was born ugly and deformed—had he been a mortal man, then this wouldn’t be an issue, but as Hephaestus was a god, his mother Hera was ashamed of what she had created. She rejected her child, throwing him off Mount Olympus.
Despite the long and dangerous fall, Hephaestus eventually landed in the sea near the island of Lemnos. He would finally be rescued by a sea goddess named Thetis, who took him to the island of Lemnos, where he grew up, never really knowing where he was from.
In the stories where Hephaestus had a more conventional birth, it wasn’t until he was older than he was thrown off Mount Olympus by Zeus that he attempted to protect his mother from Zeus’s rage.
The fall from Mount Olympus did not kill Hephaestus; instead, he was crippled by the fall, causing the limp that he was often depicted as having. Growing up on the island of Lemnos, Hephaestus was raised by the local Thracian tribe, where they taught him to become a great craftsman. He would eventually construct his first-ever forge on the island, where he began making trinkets and jewelry.
Hephaestus Journey back to Mount Olympus
Naturally, as he grew older, he became more curious about his parents’ identity, and when he had found out about his origins and what had happened to him, he began to plot his revenge.
Hephaestus’ skills with his Forge became so renowned that word even travelled to Mount Olympus, and he crafted a tremendous golden throne that will be transported to the gods as a gift. When his mother Hera sat upon the throne, she became engulfed by the throne, and she was unable to move. With Hera’s powers being valued so highly, this did cause some concern amongst the gods.
Hephaestus was summoned several times to Mount Olympus by Zeus to release his mother, but he remained on the island of Lemnos, ignoring all communication with his father. The god Dionysus would eventually bring him to Mount Olympus, but this wasn’t by choice or persuasion. Dionysus succeeded and making Hephaestus awfully intoxicated and bringing him to Mount Olympus on the back of a mule.
When Hephaestus sobered up, Zeus essentially bribed him; if he released his mother, then he would be given a prominent role on Mount Olympus. From then on, Hephaestus would be regarded as the god of the forge, sculpture, metalwork, fire, and volcanoes. He would also now be seen as the blacksmith of the gods, where he would craft all their weapons and accessories.
Hephaestus and Aphrodite
Hephaestus also provided Zeus with a solution to his problem regarding the goddess Aphrodite, who was considered the most desirable goddess in Olympus. Zeus was facing a possible war between gods for her hand in marriage.
As part of their agreement, Zeus promised Aphrodite to Hephaestus, who accepted in disbelief that a goddess as beautiful as Aphrodite would ever be his wife. Needless to say, the prospect of being married to Hephaestus did not appeal to Aphrodite, and it wasn’t long before her affections were focused elsewhere.
Aphrodite soon took a liking to the God of War, Ares, but their relationship did not go unnoticed. The Titan of the Sun, Helios, witnessed the two several times. He then informed Hephaestus of his wife’s actions. Hephaestus, now infuriated by his wife’s actions, began creating a gadget that would catch her in Ares in the act.
The next time the two lovers would meet, they triggered the trap set by Hephaestus mid-lovemaking, and they were entangled by an unbreakable golden net. Hephaestus dragged both Aphrodite and Ares back to the other gods, assuming that they would be punished, but instead, the other gods were more amused in the way that Aphrodite and Ares had been caught by Hephaestus.
The two lovers were eventually released, unpunished, and not long after, Aphrodite felt pregnant with the goddess Harmonia. The father was indeed Ares, and Aphrodite and Hephaestus soon went their separate ways.
But like many divorces, it wasn’t exactly a civil process. Hephaestus exacted some revenge on Aphrodite when he crafted a cursed necklace—the necklace of Harmonia, which brought pain and suffering to all those who possess the necklace.
The Children of Hephaestus
Hephaestus and Aphrodite bore no children, but it said the god was believed to have many more two lovers, one located near each of his numerous forges. This led to him having several children of notes, including King Alenius, Audelous the inventor, and Palaimonius, one of the Argonauts.
But perhaps, his most well-known son was Erichthonius, the man who would one day become the king of Athens. The circumstances surrounding his birth are also quite strange.
Hephaestus attempted to court the goddess Athena, but he tried to force himself upon the goddess when she rejected his advances. In the process, he discharged on her thigh. Athena brushed the sperm away, but when the sperm fell onto the earth, Gaia became pregnant, and born from the earth was Erichthonius, the future king of Athens.
He crafted many things at the other gods’ requests, but one of Hephaestus’s most popular own creations was that of the first female human, Pandora, which he created at the behest of Zeus.
It’s believed that Hephaestus’s main Forge was located in Mount Olympus, with his secondary Forge back on Lemnos. These subsequent forges were built beneath each one of the ancient world’s volcanoes. Volcanic activity was often explained as Hephaestus at work—this does somewhat explain him being referred to as Vulcan in Roman mythology.
Hephaestus’s prized creation was undoubtedly his automatons; they allowed living objects and creations to be brought to life. He used them to even make his own handmaidens.
Even the furniture in the palaces of Mount Olympus was able to pack itself away because of the automatons of Hephaestus. Hephaestus was one of the most creative gods in Greek mythology, creating nearly everything you associated with the Olympians, from Hermes‘s helmet and sandals to the arrows of Artemis and Eros.
He also had a hand and building many of the grand palaces of the mortal kings. He was closely linked to the story of Prometheus when he stole fire from Mount Olympus to give to man. The fire was taken from the forge of Hephaestus. Hephaestus then took part in the punishment of man and Prometheus when he crafted Pandora and bound Prometheus to Chains’ caucus mountains he had forged.
Before looking into Hephaestus in any detail, I always considered him to be a minor deity. What caught me by surprise was how many stories he was involved in and how reliant the other gods were on Hephaestus. Anything needed by the gods was crafted by Hephaestus, and so many of the iconic weapons and trinkets used by gods and Greek heroes were made by the god of the forge.
Hephaestus’s story has everything you could want and expect—hardship, tragedy, lust, and revenge. If there’s one thing we’ve learned today, it’s that you should not anger Hephaestus because he will exact revenge. He’s a resourceful and too clever god, but like most Greek creators, he can also be bizarre at times.
Image Sources: DrawingForMonkeys, Grafik, Chris Rallis, Luisa Giliberti.