Hephaestus, the First Craftsman

Hephaestus, Greek God of Fire

Hephaestus created heavenly and earthly fire, including the fire of thunder and the flames of the volcanoes.

It is obvious that the ancient Greeks sought to interpret the volcanic origins of the Aegean islands and volcanic activity in general, by creating a god of fire.

This is in line with their conviction that volcanic eruptions were caused by something that had fallen from the sky. This also explains the fact that all versions of the myths surrounding Hephaestus's birth and subsequent life, contain the incident of the god being tossed or hurled from Mount Olympus by his mother Hera or his father Zeus.

In addition,to account for the fact that volcanoes are not always active, in their myths about the god of fire, they conceived the idea that Hephaestus did not always live in exile, but occasionaly returned to Mount Olympus.

Click on the following links to go directly to the relevant chapter:

The god's birth

The god's relationships with other Olympians

The god's children

The god's Cult

The god's birth

Homer informs us that Hephaestus was the legal son of Zeus and Hera. According to Hesiod, however, Hera gave birth to him by herself because she had quarelled with Zeus.

According to one version, the fire god was born a cripple;unable to cope with his handicap, his mother tossed the infant into the sea, where Thetis and Eurynome raised him.

Thus hidden, the lame god secretly practiced the art of metalworking and made Achille's shield at the request of his mother, Thetis.

There is another account, to explain the god's deformity: Zeus became angered when Hephaetus took his mother's side during one of the many quarrels of the divine couple, so he grabbed poor Hephaetus by the foot and hurled him into the Aegean. As a result of the severe fall, he became a cripple.

The god landed on the island of Lemnos, whose inhabitants took care of him and later worshipped him, by building a large temple on the island, dedicated to him.


The god's relationships with other Olympians

Hephaestus brought back to Olympus
Hephaestus brought back to Olympus

  • Hera: As highlighted in the various mythic accounts, the god's relationship with this mother can be characterized as "love and hate".

    He is sometimes seen as consoling her or rushing to her aid (as in the case of her quarrel with Zeus or when she asked him to help Achilles in his fight with the river Xanthus), while other times he is seen as taking revenge on her for some reason.

    According to a myth, Hephaestus built Hera a wonderful throne, but when she sat on it, she realized with great horror that she was immobilzed by invisible bonds that no one could untie. Despite her mother's pleas, the god of fire left for Lemnos.

    Dionysus finally succeeded in bringing him back to Olympus, by getting him drunk on sweet wine. He, however, would not be finally convinced to free his mother from her chains that held her down, until he was promised by Zeus that he would be given, in return, Aphrodite's hand in marriage.

  • Athena:In a different version of the myth described above, Hephaestus is said to have demanded from his father to marry Athena, rather than Aphrodite.

    But, to his disappointment, when he tried to approach the goddess of wisdom, she fought him off. Some myths also go as far to suggest that the angered god, attempted to rape Athena at several instances. One time, when sperm of the god dribbled on the goddess's leg, she tossed it off disgusted to the ground. As a result, Ericthonius was born on the fertilized spot that the semen fell.

  • Zeus:On several occasions, Hephaestus showed his respect to his heavenly father. The most notable example is the help he offered to him, in the battle against the Giants, where the lame god threw lit brands at the rebels.

    He is also said to have made Zeus's shield, or aegis. Also, the fire god helped his father give birth to Athena, by splitting his head open with an axe. On another occasion and on Zeus's orders, Hephaestus created Pandora, bride of Epimetheus.

  • Aphrodite:As promised by Zeus, in exchange for releasing Hera from her invisible bonds, Hephaestus married Aphrodite, the goddess of love.

    Their marriage was not very smooth, since Aphrodite, being true to her identity as goddess of love, was not the ideal model of a faithful wife. As a matter of fact, she stirred quite an incident when, acting in a very provocative manner, she lay in her marital bed with Ares, the war god.

    When Helius informed Hephaestus about his wife's infidelities, he became angered and made invisible bonds, which immobilized the two lovers, when they lay in the bed together. TO make them completely ridiculed, he then invited all the other Olympians to watch the embarassing sight. When he was completely satisfied that his revenge was enough, he set them free.


The god's children

Unlike the rest of his Olympian counterparts, Hephaestus did not father may children, due to his lack of romantic adventures.

According to some ancient writers, Eros was the son of Hephaestus and Aphrodite, although other texts claim that he was the son of Zeus or Hermes or Ares.

The Cabeiri of Samothrace, are believed to be the god's children or grandchildren from the nymph Cabeiro.

The following are believed to be other children:

  • Periphetes, a fierce outlaw who ravaged and killed travelers in the Epidaurus region, with his club.He was killed by Theseus.
  • Pylius, who healed Philoctetes's wound on Lemnos.
  • Ardalus of Troezen.
  • Palaemon or Palaemonius, who was also lame like his father.


The god's Cult

Shrine of Hephaestus on Lemnos
Shrine of Hephaestus on Lemnos

As fire god, Hephaestus was also considered to be the great metalworker who built grand and impressive objects, like Helius's chariot, Hercules's golden breastplate, Diomedes's breastplate, Achilles's armor and shield, Zeus's scepter and throne, the arrows of Apollo and Artemis and finally the gold chalices of Helius, Dionysus and other gods.

He built a bronze palace on Mount Olympus for the gods, while for himself he made gold robot-statues that could speak and think to serve him.

He also built Talus, a giant robot that he gave Minos, the legendary king of Crete, to patrol the shores of his island kingdom.

Various myths claim that the god's workshop was on the island of Lemnos, which was his primary place of worship. The temple on the island was believed to have been built on the exact spot where a lightning bolt struck the earth.

The Hephaestia were rituals which were dedicated to the god and took place each year on the island: for nine days, all the fires on the island were lit with the new flame that was brought by boat from the sanctuary on the island of Delos.

As the frontiers of the Greek world were expanded in colonies, myths tell that the god established a second workshop at Mount Aetna, in Sicily.

Besides Lemnos and Sicily, the god was said to be also worshipped in Athens. In his temple, known as the Hephaestion, there were statues of both him and Athena. Athenians held torch races known as Hephaestia, in honor of the two gods.

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