Hephaestus or Vulcan: Blacksmith God

Hephaestus was the Greek god of the forge, fire, and volcanoes. In fact, a lot of his forges were in volcanoes. His Roman name was Vulcan. His symbols were the donkey, hammer, tongs, crane, and fennel plant.

Hephaestus is commonly thought of as the son of Zeus (the king of the gods and god of storms and the sky) and Hera (the wife of Zeus and goddess of marriage), though in some myths he was the son of Hera alone. Hera was angry with Zeus for having Athena (the goddess of wisdom) without her, so she decided to have a child without him. However, as the goddess of marriage, Hera was especially loathe to break her marriage vows. So, she prayed to Gaia (Mother Earth) to let her have a child by herself. Gaia granted her wish and Hera had Hephaestus. When she found that he was ugly, especially in comparison to Athena, she threw him off Mount Olympus (the home of the gods and goddesses), which crippled his legs permanently. It took him a whole day to reach the ground! He was then found and raised by the people of Lemnos, which is where he landed.

The above story is inconsistent with another story where Hephaestus helped Zeus give birth to Athena. Zeus swallowed Metis (his first wife) while she was pregnant with Athena, because there was a prophecy that said if Metis bore him a son, that son would overthrow him. Metis was immortal, so she gave birth to Athena inside Zeus. Zeus started getting horrible headaches, so Hephaestus chopped his head open. Then, Athena popped out of Zeus's head wearing full battle armor.

Hephaestus's talent at the forge showed itself early. When he became and adult he was asked to make golden thrones for Hera and Zeus. Though he made Zeus's throne as he was told, he added invisible chains to Hera's throne in revenge for throwing him from Mount Olympus. These chains imprisoned her as soon as she sat down. Many deities tried to free her, but in vain. Aphrodite (the goddess of love) pledged herself to the first man to free Hera, thinking that her lover, Ares, would do so. However, he failed, as had the other gods. Nearly everyone was desperate, especially Hera. Ironically, only Dionysus (the god of wine), kept a level head. Since he was on speaking terms with Hephaestus, he was able to get him drunk. Then, with the help of Aphrodite's pledge, convinced Hephaestus to free Hera. When Hephaestus did this he was granted a place among the Olympians and the hand of Aphrodite.

Aphrodite had to marry Hephaestus, but she did not like him because he was ugly. She spent more time with Ares than Hephaestus, though Hephaestus was her husband. He saw this and created an invisible, yet strong, net which he draped over their bed in such a way so that it would trap anyone who got in the bed. Then, he pretended to go away. When Ares came to meet Aphrodite, they were trapped in the net. Hephaestus then invited all the gods and goddesses to come and laugh at them, which they did.

Angry at this, Aphrodite made Hephaestus fall in love with Athena. When Athena refused his love he tried to rape her, but she easily repulsed him, and designed her escape so that he had a child with Gaia instead. This child was called Erichthonius.

When Hephaestus regained his senses, he was furious at Aphrodite. So he designed a cursed necklace. He could not quite bring himself to give it to Aphrodite, so he gave it to Harmonia (Aphrodite and Aresí child) instead. It brought tragedy upon her and her descendants.

Once Gaia incited the giants to wage war on Olympus. The Olympians eventually won. During the war, Hephaestus killed the giant Mimas by burying him in molten iron and killed many others by burning them to death.

Aphrodite gave Paris (a Trojan prince) the love of the most beautiful mortal woman in the world in exchange for judging her the fairest in a contest. The most beautiful mortal woman in the world was a Greek queen named Helen. As soon as he got the chance, Paris abducted Helen and took her to Troy, which started the Trojan war. Hephaestus felt obliged to strongly support the Greeks because he felt sympathy with the man who happened to be married to Hellen, Menelaus. Hephaestus especially favored Achilles (a Greek warrior who was very good at fighting). He made Achilles armor and once prevented him from drowning by burning up the river that was trying to drown him.

As the god of the forge, Hephaestus made many objects for both gods and mortals. Among these were the crown of Ariadne (Dionysus's wife), Zeus's thunderbolt, which was like a huge bomb, the armor of Hercules, chariots, palaces, etc. He even made golden automatons to be his servants!

Hephaestus formed Pandora as the first woman on Zeus's orders. She had no vice except for curiosity. Zeus gave her a jar, also made by Hephaestus. It contained all the evil in the world. Zeus told her never to open it. However, he did not tell her what was inside, knowing that it would incite her curiosity so much that she would eventually open it. He did this because he was mad at mankind for getting fire. Sure enough, she opened the jar. This not only let out all of the evil into the world, but it let out hope as well.

In some really ancient Greek myths, Aglaia (one of the Graces) was the wife of Hephaestus instead of Aphrodite. Hephaestus was usually portrayed in Greek art as a bearded man riding a donkey and holding a hammer. Although most Greek accounts agree that he was crippled, they only show him as crippled around half the time in their art. His main place of worship was Athens.

Written by Kate Rayment

Destinations:

A History of the Hittite Empire

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