Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Hephaestus (Vulcan)

Hephaestus was  the Greek god of blacksmiths, metalworking, carpenters, craftsmen, artisans, sculptors, metallurgy, fire, and volcanoes and associated with those crafts that required heat. His Roman counterpart was Vulcan.  He was the patron deity of jewelers, armorers and blacksmiths.

As a smithing god, Hephaestus crafted much of the magnificent equipment of the gods, and almost any finely wrought metalwork imbued with powers that appears in Greek myth is said to have been forged by Hephaestus. He designed Hermes' winged helmet and sandals, the Aegis breastplate, Aphrodite's famed girdle, Agamemnon's staff of office, Achilles' armor, Diomedes' cuirass, Heracles' bronze clappers, Helios' chariot, the shoulder of Pelops, and Eros's bow and arrows. In later accounts, Hephaestus worked with the help of the Cyclopes in his workshop with anvil and twenty bellows that worked at his bidding. 

In Greek myths and Homeric poems, Hephaestus had a special power to produce motion and built automatons including the golden and silver lions and dogs at the entrance of the palace of Alkinoos constructed in such a way that they could bite the invaders. This animistic belief that statues could come alive can be traced back to the Minoan period.

In one branch of Greek mythology, Hera ejected Hephaestus from the heavens because he was "shrivelled of foot". He fell into the ocean and was raised by Thetis, the mother of Achilles. In another account, Hephaestus, attempting to rescue his mother from Zeus' advances, was flung down from the heavens by Zeus. He fell for an entire day and landed on the island of Lemnos, where he was cared for and taught to be a master craftsman by the Sintians  -  an ancient tribe native to that island. Although later writers attribute Hephaestus' lameness to this second fall, Homer portrays him as lame from birth.

In an archaic story, Hephaestus gained revenge against Hera for rejecting him by making her a magical golden throne, which, when she sat on it, did not allow her to stand up. The other gods begged Hephaestus to return to Olympus to let her go, but he refused, saying "I have no mother." At last, Dionysus fetched him, intoxicated him with wine, and took the subdued smith back to Olympus on the back of a mule accompanied by revelers – a scene that sometimes appears on painted pottery of Attica and Corinth.  This pottery featuring the return of Hephaestus was highly favored among the Etruscans and is thought to have introduced this myth to Etruria.

Hephaestus was worshipped in the manufacturing and industrial centres of Greece, particularly Athens. The Hephaesteum (miscalled the "Theseum") is near the agora in Athens.The cult of Hephaestus, however, was based on the island of Lemnos. 

Roman fresco depicting Thetis at Hephaestos' forge waiting to receive Achilles' new weapons from triclinium e in Pompeii domus (IX 1, 7)
courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Marie-Lan Nguyen

Bronze figurine of Hephaestus, Bronze 1st- or 2nd-century C.E. copy or adaptation of a Greek original, at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri courtesy of the museum.  Note: The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City has now reopened.

Hephaestus hands the new Achilles' armor to Thetis (Iliad, XVIII, 617). Attic red-figure Kylix, 490–480 BCE at the Altes Museum in Berlin courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Bibi Saint-Pol

Hephaestus by Guillaume Coustou the Younger (1716-1777) at The Louvre, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Marie-Lan Nguyen.

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