HEPHAESTUS

Hephaestus was the Greek god of fire, blacksmiths, and artisans*. Because he was lame and deformed, the other gods ridiculed him. Hephaestus was the son of Hera, the queen of the gods, but she thought that he was such an ugly baby that she threw him down from Mt. Olympus. (Some stories say he was the son of Zeus and Hera, and Zeus had Hephaestus thrown out because he had sided with Hera.) According to one myth, he landed on the volcanic island of Lemnos. In another myth, he fell into the ocean and was rescued by the sea goddesses Thetis and Eurynome, who raised him in their cave. There, Hephaestus learned his skills as a metal worker. The one-eyed giants, the Cyclopes, worked as helpers at his forge*. The Romans identified Hephaestus with their god Vulcan.

Hephaestus was an inventor and a trickster who was always creating new magical devices. To avenge himself against his mother for rejecting him, Hephaestus presented her with a golden throne that had a secret trap in it. When Hera sat on the throne, she became caught in the trap. Since none of the other gods could help her escape, they asked Hephaestus to come back to Olympus to release her. Although Hephaestus returned, he refused their request. Dionysus, the god of wine, made Hephaestus drunk, took the key to the trap from him, and set Hera free.

Hephaestus married Aphrodite, the goddess of love, but she had a love affair with Ares, the god of war, and bore him severed children. Hephaestus surprised Aphrodite and Ares in bed together and threw a large net over them. He then invited the other gods to witness Aphrodite’s shame. A classic account of the story is told in Book 14 of Homer’s Iliad. Poseidon convinced Hephaestus to release the couple and accept a fine from Ares as payment for stealing his wife.

Although the other gods laughed at him, Hephaestus was very useful to them. He built luxurious palaces for them and obliged their requests to make armor for certain human beings. He crafted armor for Achilles, the son of Thetis, and for Aeneas, the son of Aphrodite by the Trojan prince Anchises. (See also Cyclopes; Divinities; Iliad; Myths, Greek.)

* artisan skilled craftsperson

* forge special furnace or fireplace in which metal is heated before it is shaped

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