Hephaestus, Greek God of the Fire and Forge
The Greek god Hephaestus was the only on of the Greek gods of
Mount Olympus who had a "regular" job and actually worked with his hands.
Hephaestus was also the only one of the Olympians who was born with a physical defect. It
is unclear exactly how Hephaestus came to be lame. Several different explanations are
given in different versions of his myths.
In one version, he was born with a clubfoot and then thrown out
of Mount Olympus because his parents could not accept his imperfection. In another
version, the infant Hephaestus was injured in the fall after he was thrown out by Zeus,
who was angry at his mother for having the nerve to conceive the baby without his help.
Hera, with the help of a magical herb, had managed to "get
herself pregnant" without the help of Zeus or any man, a process called parthenogenesis.
(Note: Many myths name Hephaestus as the son who was born as a result of this immaculate
conception, but in some versions the son was Ares.)
Hera had done this to even the score with her husband for having
given birth to Dionysus by himself. Here is short version of that story: Semele, one of
Zeus' many lovers, lay dying while pregnant with Zeus' son Dionysus. With the help of
Hermes, Zeus removed the unborn child and implanted him under the skin of his thigh where
he remained until he was ready to be born.
In an account written by Hesiod, Zeus cast Hephaestus out because
he had attempted to rescue his mother from Zeus anger. Zeus had strung Hera from the
stars for having caused the wreck of a sailing ship under Zeus protection during
the Trojan war. Hephaestus had tried to free her from her bonds, was caught, and punished
with expulsion from the heavens.
Some versions of the myths name Zeus as the one who cast him out,
others say it was Hera, and still others tell that both parents rejected him. The bottom
line . . . Hephaestus got off to a rocky start in life, unwanted son of rejecting parents
who saw no beauty in their little son. Not to mention ending up with a physical defect
that left him lame.
Whatever the reason, Hephaestus fell to earth, landing in the sea
near the Island of Lemnos. He had the good fortune to be rescued and nursed back to health
by a group of sea nymphs and Titan goddesses. They went to great lengths to keep him
hidden from his parents, hiding him in their underwater cave.
Living there, Hephaestus began his career of craftsmanship.
Collecting coral, pearls, and precious metals from the ocean floor, he began to fashion
exquisite jewelry. He even built little robots made of gold to help him get around. With
the help of the one-eyed Cyclopes who were master metal smiths themselves, Hephaestus
built a set of golden thrones for the Olympian gods and goddesses.
Soon his creations were all the rage. Hera, wanting some of the
marvelous jewelry that all the goddesses were wearing forced the goddess Thetis, who was
one of the goddesses who had cared for Hephaestus while he was in hiding, to tell her who
had made her gorgeous jewelry. Thetis told her that it was made by
Hera's own talented son.
Hera saw that they had been wrong to reject Hephaestus, that in
spite of his imperfections, he had the talent (not to mention good taste) of a god. She
persuaded Zeus to welcome him back. And so, Hephaestus was invited to return to Mount
Olympus and to take his place among the gods.
Hephaestus politely declined, saying he was quite happy where he
was. He set to work and fashioned a beautiful golden throne and sent it to Hera as a
thank you for the invitation. The instant she sat on it, golden ropes flew out
and entwined her, locking her into the chair. (We can safely assume that Hephaestus was
still rather miffed with Hera over his earlier rejection.)
Though everyone tried to free Hera from the fetters,
Hephaestus design was so clever that none could master the trick. So Zeus sent his
son Ares, god of war, to bring Hephaestus back to let Hera loose. Instead Hephaestus ran
him off by hurling firebrands at him, and Ares made a hasty retreat.
Zeus resorted to trickery next, sending Dionysus, the god of
wine, to get Hephaestus drunk. Never much of a drinker, it didnt take much wine for
Hephaestus to get intoxicated. Soon he was making his triumphant return to Mount Olympus,
passed out and slung over the back of a donkey.
Not one to enjoy the pomp or the hustle and bustle of the royal
palace, Hephaestus built an underground workshop and spent much of this time there working
undisturbed. He initially refused to forgive Hera, saying only that he had no
mother. Feeling very guilty about having abandoned him, Hera showered him with
tools, materials, and helpers for his workshop. There he continued to invent and craft
beautiful furniture, jewelry, armor, and weaponry of the highest quality. Eventually he
and his mother were reconciled.
|His creations were truly marvels of function and beauty and are
feature in many of the stories in Greek mythology.
included: the silver bows and arrows of Apollo and Artemis, the golden chariot of Apollo
that pulled the sun across the sky, the Shield of Achilles, Athenas spear,
Hercules breastplate, the Aegis and Scepter of Zeus, and the battle armor of the
Olympian armies, and the palaces of all the deities, complete with unbreakable locks.
- In addition to all this, Hephaestus is credited with the invention
of the three-legged stool and the worlds first robots (his helpers, including a
complete set of life-size golden handmaidens who helped around the house).
Not all of Hephaestus powers were invested in the tools he
created. As god of fire, he had immense powers like the other gods. When the river god
Scamander attempted to drown Achilles, Hephaestus used his fire to dry up the river,
saving the heros life.
Although he was a recluse, happy to spend long hours in his
workshop alone, Hephaestus was sometimes lonely and missed having a woman in his life.
Attracted to the golden Athena, the goddess of wisdom, he sought to impregnate and marry
her. Though Athena was fond of the gentle and talented Hephaestus, she had no interest in
romance or marriage and turned him down. When she cast him aside, his semen fell to the
ground and fertilized the earth, producing a son, who later became the first ruler of the
city of Athens. Athena graciously reared the child.
When the drop-dead-gorgeous Aphrodite arrived in their midst,
Zeus, fearful that all the gods would be warring over her, arranged for her to marry
Hephaestus. Zeus felt that the solid, dependable Hephaestus would make a good mate for
Aphrodite, and perhaps even "settle her down" a bit. Aphrodite didn't refuse the
ceremony but felt she was married "in name only" and had several love affairs,
often leaving the miserable Hephaestus the unfortunate butt of everyone's jokes.
Faithful, loving, and generous, Hephaestus showered his wife with
his best creations. . . the finest furnishings, stunning jewelry, and even a magic girdle
(bodice) that would make her irresistible to men (as if she needed any help in that
department!) Aphrodite treasured all these gifts, but they did nothing to halt her amorous
But at some point, Hephaestus could bear her affairs no longer
and decided to shame her into putting a stop to them . . . or so he hoped. He fashioned an
invisible, unbreakable net made of the finest silver threads. Pretending that he was going
to his workshop for the day, he loudly called out his good-byes, and hid in the bushes
near the front of the house. Soon he saw her current lover, Ares, the god of war, sneaking
into the house. A few minutes later, Hephaestus burst into the bedroom and dropped the net
over the lovers.
While they lay trapped, nude and shivering, beneath the net,
Hephaestus summoned all the gods and goddesses to come and see what he had caught in his
net. It was quite a show, and they all were immensely amused.
Hephaestus insisted the pair be called into court, charged with
adultery, and ordered to stop their affair. He literally got laughed out of
court when Ares pointed out that it was Hephaestus himself who had fashioned the
magic girdle that made Aphrodite irresistible - whatever could he have been thinking?
After the court fined Hephaestus for bringing such a frivolous suit. Poseidon paid the
fines, saying that having the chance to look at Aphrodite in the nude was worth every
penny of the cost!
Talented, kind, and generous, Hephaestus was well-liked by all
the Olympians even though he was not very involved in their plots. Simply put, he was, by
nature, not very gregarious and generally preferred to spend his time being creative in
As the patron of all crafts, Hephaestus was beloved by the
citizens of Greece who depended largely upon agriculture and handicrafts for their
livelihood. More importantly, the average Greek held the Greek god Hephaestus in high
regard because he was a "working man", proof that those who labor are also
Hephaestus reminds us of the value, and dangers, of losing
ourselves in our work. Focusing intently on production, creativity, he was able to garner
respect from others and build a genuine self-respect, and (almost) keep all his problems
The Symbols of the Greek God Hephaestus
- Precious metals