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Friday, 6 July 2012

Hephaestus ( Roman Vulcan)

Hephaestus ( Roman Vulcan) was the great Olympian god of fire, metalworking, stonemasonry and the art of sculpture. He was usually depicted as a bearded man holding hammer and tongs--the tools of a smith--and riding a donkey.

                                              Hephaestus, ca 430 - 420 BC

Hephaestus (Hêphaistos), the god of fire, was, according to the Homeric account, the son of Zeus and Hera. (Il. i. 578, xiv. 338, xviii. 396, xxi. 332, Od. viii. 312.) Later traditions state that he had no father, and that Hera gave birth to him independent of Zeus, as she was jealous of Zeus having given birth to Athena independent of her. (Apollod. i. 3. § 5; Hygin. Fab. Praef.) This, however, is opposed to the common story, that Hephaestus split the head of Zeus, and thus assisted him in giving birth to Athena, for Hephaestus is there represented as older than Athena.

Hesiod, Theogony 924 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or 7th B.C.) :
"[Theogony text version 1:] Zeus himself gave birth from his own head to bright-eyed Tritogeneia [Athene] . . . But Hera without union with Zeus--for she was very angry and quarrelled with her mate - bare famous Hephaistos, who is skilled in crafts more than all the sons of Heaven."

Classical literature offers only a few, brief descriptions of the physical characteristics of the gods.

Homer, Iliad 20. 37 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"Hephaistos ( Hephaestsu) went the way of these in the pride of his great strength limping, and yet his shrunken legs moved lightly beneath him."

Homer, Odyssey 8. 267 ff (trans. Shewring) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"[Hephaistos:] ‘I am a cripple from my birth.’"

Hephaistos was the god of fire, and often his name was used as a synonym for the element. 

Homer, Iliad 23. 33 ff :
"[Sacrificial animals were] stretched out across the flame of Hephaistos."
Homer, Odyssey 24. 71 ff (trans. Shewring) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"When the flame of Hephaistos had consumed you [the dead man on the funeral pyre]."

                                                   Andrea Mantegna

Some of the more famous myths featuring the god include:--

Homer, Iliad 18. 136 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"[Hephaistos addresses his wife Kharis:] ‘She [Thetis] saved me when I suffered much at the time of my great fall through the will of my own brazen-faced mother [Hera], who wanted to hide me for being lame. Then my soul would have taken much suffering had not Eurynome and Thetis caught me and held me, Eurynome, daughter of Oceanus, whose stream bends back in a circle. With them I worked nine years as a smith, and wrought many intricate things; pins that bend back, curved clasps, cups, necklaces, working there in the hollow of the cave, and the stream of Oceanus around us went on forever with its foam and its murmur. No other among the gods or among mortal men knew about us except Eurynome and Thetis. They knew since they saved me.’


Hera attempted to destroy Herakles with a storm after putting Zeus to sleep, but the god woke and was furious and hung the goddess in fetters from heaven. When Hephaistos attempted to free her from these bonds, Zeus threw him out of heaven. He fell to earth landing severely wounded on the island of Lemnos. The story was an alternate version of the story (above) in which Hera cast him from the threshold of heaven.

Homer, Iliad 1. 568 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"[Hephaistos addresses his mother Hera:] ‘There was a time once before now I was minded to help you, and he caught me by the foot and threw me from the magic threshold, and all day long I dropped helpless, and about sunset I landed in Lemnos, and there was not much life left in me. After that fall it was the Sintian men who took care of me.’"


Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 20. 3 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"[In the tempel of Dionysus at Athens:] There are paintings here--Dionysus bringing Hephaistos up to heaven. One of the Greek legends is that Hephaistos, when he was born, was thrown down by Hera. In revenge he sent as a gift a golden chair with invisible fetters. When Hera sat down she was held fast, and Hephaistos refused to listen to any other of the gods save Dionysus--in him he reposed the fullest trust--and after making him drunk Dionysus brought him to heaven."

Hephaistos rides back to Olympus on the back of a donkey in the company of the god Dionysus.

 Hephaistos is led back to heaven by the god Dionysus. The drunken Hephaistos, holding a pair of tongs, is supported a Satyr. Beside him walks Dionysus, holding a thyrsos (pine-cone tipped staff) and drinking cup. A tambourine playing Mainas Nymph and dancing Satyr lead the procession. ca 430 BC


Pindar, Olympian Ode 7. 33 ff (trans. Conway) (Greek lyric C5th B.C.) :
"The land circled by the sea [Rhodes], where once the great king of the gods [Zeus] showered upon the city snowflakes of gold; in the day when the skilled hand of Hephaistos wrought with his craft the axe, bronze-bladed, whence from the cleft summit of her father's brow Athene sprang aloft, and pealed the broad sky her clarion cry of war."

 The Birth of Athena ca 570 - 565 BC


Hesiod, Theogony 560 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or 7th B.C.) :
"[Prometheus] outwitted him [Zeus] and stole the far-seen gleam of unwearying fire in a hollow fennel stalk. And Zeus who thunders on high was stung in spirit . . . and he made an evil thing for men as the price of fire; for the very famous (periklytos) Amphigueeis (Limping God) [Hephaistos] formed of earth the likeness of a shy maiden as the son of Kronos willed. And the goddess bright-eyed Athene girded and clothed her with silvery raiment, and down from her head she spread with her hands an embroidered veil."
Hesiod, Works and Days 60 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or 7th B.C.) :
"He [Zeus] told glorious (klytos) Hephaistos to make haste, and plaster earth with water, and to infuse it with a human voice and vigour, and make the face like the immortal goddesses, the bewitching features of a young girl . . . [and other gods were instructed to bestow their gifts upon her.]
And all obeyed Lord Zeus, the son of Kronos. The renowned strong smith modelled her figure of earth, in the likeness of a decorous young girl, as the son of Kronos had wished . . . and [Hermes] put a voice inside her, and gave her the name of woman, Pandora, because all the gods who have their homes on Olympos had given her each a gift, to be a sorrow to men who eat bread."
Creation of Pandora by Hephaestus, with Hermes & Zeus | Greek vase, Athenian red figure volute krater

 The Creation of Pandora


Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 45 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"He [Zeus] ordered Hephaistos to rivet the body of Prometheus to Mount Kaukasos, a Skythian mountain, where he was kept fastened and bound for many years."

Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses 28 (trans. Celoria) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Typhon . . . felt an urge to usurp the rule of Zeus and not one of the gods could withstand him as he attacked. In panic they fled to Aigyptos (Egypt), all except Athena and Zeus, who alone were left. Typhon hunted after them, on their track. When they fled they had changed themselves in anticipation into animal forms . . . Hephaistos [became] an ox [Ptah] . . . When Zeus struck Typhon with a thunderbolt, Typhon, aflame hid himself and quenched the blaze in the sea.
Zeus did not desist but piled the highest mountain, Aitna, on Typon and set Hephaistos on the peak as a guard. Having set up his anvils, he works his red hot blooms on Typhon's neck."

 Apotheosis of Washington


Homer, Iliad 1. 605 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"When the light of the flaming sun went under they [the Olympian gods] went away each one to sleep in his home where for each one the far-renowned strong-handed (periklytos amphigueeis) Hephaistos had built a house by means of his craftsmanship and cunning."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 20. 3 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"Hephaistos, when he was born, was thrown down by Hera. In revenge he sent as a gift a golden chair with invisible fetters. When Hera sat down she was held fast."

Homer, Iliad 18. 136 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"[Hephaistos] was working on twenty tripods which were to stand against the wall of his strong-founded dwelling. And he had set golden wheels underneath the base of each one so that of their own motion they could wheel into the immortal gathering, and return to his house: a wonder to look at. These were so far finished, but the elaborate ear handles were not yet on. He was forging these, and beating the chains out."

Ovid, Metamorphoses 2. 104 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"The high chariot [of Helios the Sun], Vulcanus' [Hephaistos'] masterwork. Gold was the axle, gold the shaft, and gold the rolling circles of the tyres; the spokes in silver order stood, and on the harness patterns of gorgeous gems and chrysolites shone gleaming in the glory of Sol [Helios]."

Apuleius, The Golden Ass 6. 6 ff (trans. Walsh) (Roman novel C2nd A.D.) :
"Venus [Aphrodite] now despaired of a successful search for her by earthly means, and she made for heaven. She ordered her carriage to be prepared; Vulcanus [Hephaistos] had lovingly applied the finishing touches to it with elaborate workmanship, and had given it to her as a wedding-present before her initiation into marriage. The thinning motion of his file had made the metal gleam; the coach's value was measured by the gold it had lost. Four white doves . . . submitted to the jewelled yoke."

Virgil, Aeneid 8. 372 ff (trans. Day-Lewis) (Roman epic C1st B.C.) :
"A job was being hurried on [by the Cyclopes in the service of Hephaistos] for Mars [Ares]--a chariot with swift wheels, such as he rides in to rouse up men and nations.


Homer, Odyssey 8. 267 ff (trans. Shewring) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"[Hephaistos learnt of his wife Aphrodite's adultery:] He laid the great anvil on its base and set himself to forge chains that could not be broken or torn asunder, being fashioned to bind lovers fast. Such was the device that he made in his indignation against Ares, and having made it he went to the room where his bed lay; all round the bed-posts he dropped the chains, while others in plenty hung from the roof-beams, gossamer-light and invisible to the blessed gods themselves, so cunning had been the workmanship . . . Once he had seen Hephaistos go, he himself approached the great craftman’s dwelling, pining for love of Kytherea [Aphrodite] . . . So they went to the bed and there lay down, but the cunning chains of crafty Hephaistos enveloped them, and they could neither raise their limbs nor shift them at all; so they saw the truth when there was no escaping."

Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 148 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"When Volcan [Hephaistos] knew that Venus [Aphrodite] was secretly lying with Mars [Ares], and that he could not oppose his strength, he made a chain of adamant and put it around the bed to catch Mars by cleverness. When Mars came to the rendezvous, the together with Venus fell into the snare so that he could not extricate himself."

 Vulcan forging the armor of Achilles (fresco) Julio Romano


Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 140 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Latona [Leto], clinging to an olive tree, bore Apollo and Diana [Artemis], to whom Vulcanus [Hephaistos] gave arrows as gifts [i.e. on the day of their birth].  Four days after they were born, Apollo exacted vengeance for his mother. For he went to Parnassus and slew Python with his arrows."

Seneca, Phaedra 189 ff (trans. Miller) (Roman tragedy C1st A.D.) :
"That god [Hephaistos] . . . who fashions the three-forked thunderbolts, yea, he who tends the hot furnaces ever raging 'neath Aetna's peaks."

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 187 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Athene went to Hephaistos because she wanted to make some weapons. But he, deserted by Aphrodite, let himself become aroused by Athene, and started chasing her as she ran from him."

 Luca Giordano, The Forge of Vulcan


Homer, Iliad 15. 310 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"In front of him went Phoibos Apollo wearing a mist about his shoulders, and held the tempestuous terrible aegis, shaggy, conspicuous, that the bronze-smith (khalkeus) Hephaistos had given Zeus to wear to the terror of mortals."


Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 12 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"He [Perseus] is said to have received from Volcun [Hephaistos] a knife made out of adamant, with which he killed Medusa the Gorgon."

 Carle van Loo - Venus requesting Vulcan to make arms for Aeneas


Hesiod, Shield of Heracles 122 - 327 (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or 7th B.C.) :

"[Herakles] put upon his legs greaves of shining bronze, the splendid gift of Hephaistos. Next he fastened about his breast a fine golden breast-plate, curiously wrought, which Pallas Athene the daughter of Zeus had given him when first he was about to set out upon his grievous labours.
"Over his shoulders the fierce warrior put the steel that saves men from doom, and across his breast he slung behind him a hollow quiver. Within it were many chilling arrows, dealers of death which makes speech forgotten: in front they had death, and trickled with tears; their shafts were smooth and very long; and their butts were covered with feathers of a brown eagle.
"And he took his strong spear, pointed with shining bronze, and on his valiant head set a well-made helm of adamant, cunningly wrought, which fitted closely on the temples; and that guarded the head of god-like Herakles.
"In his hands he took his shield, all glittering: no one ever broke it with a blow or crushed it. And a wonder it was to see; for its whole orb was a-shimmer with enamel and white ivory and electrum, and it glowed with shining gold; and there were zones of cyanus [i.e. a glass paste of deep-blue color] drawn upon it. In the center was Phobos (Fear) worked in adamant, unspeakable, staring backwards with eyes that glowed with fire. His mouth was full of teeth in a white row, fearful and daunting,

 Paulo Veronese, Vulcan's Forge

The story of the Marriage of Hephaistos and Aphrodite can be reconstructed from text fragments and ancient Greek vase paintings, such as the Francois Vase:-
Hephaistos was cast from heaven by his mother Hera at birth, for she was ashamed to bear a crippled son. He was rescued by the goddesses Thetis and Eurynome who cared for him in a cave on the shores of the River Oceanus where he grew up to become a skilled smith. Angry at his mother's treatment, Hephaistos sent gifts to to the gods of Olympus including a Golden Throne for Hera. When the goddess sat upon this cursed seat she was bound fast.
Zeus petitioned the gods to help free Hera from her predicament, offering the goddess Aphrodite in marriage to whomsoever could bring Hephaistos to Olympus. Aphrodite agreed to this arrangement in the belief that her beloved Ares, the god of war, would prevail.
Ares attempted to storm the forge of Hephaistos, bearing arms, but was driven back by the Divine Smith with a shower of flaming metal (Libanius Narration 7, not currently quoted here).
Dionysos was the next to approach Hephaistos, but instead of force, he suggested that Hephaistos might himself lay claim to Aphrodite if he were to return volantarily to Olympus and release Hera. The godwas pleased with the plan and ascended to Heaven with Dionysos, released his mother and wed the reluctant Goddess of Love.

Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 3. 36 ff (trans. Rieu) (Greek epic C3rd B.C.) :
"The palace of Aphrodite, which her lame consort Hephaistos had built for her when he took her as his bride from the hands of Zeus. They [Hera and Athene] entered the courtyard and pause

Giorgio Vasari Vulcan's Forge of Venus

 Venus At Vulcan's Forge Frans Floris De Vriendt

Paulo Veronese, Vulcan and Venus 

 Giovanni Battista Tiepolo - Venus and Vulcan

Homer, Odyssey 8. 267 ff (trans. Shewring) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"Cut to the heart, he [Hephaistos] neared his house and halted inside the porch [and saw his wife Aphrodite trapped in the embrace of Ares]; savage anger had hold of him, and he roared out hideously, crying to all the gods: ‘Come, Father Zeus; come, all you blessed immortals with him; see what has happened here . . . You will see the pair of lovers now as they lie embracing in my bed; the sight of them makes me sick at heart. Yet I doubt their desire to rest there longer, fond as they are. They will soon unwish their posture there; but my cunning chains shall hold them both fast till her father Zeus has given me back all the betrothal gifts I bestowed on him for his wanton daughter; beauty she has, but no sense of shame.’ " [N.B. Homer seems to suggest that the couple were afterwards divorced. In the Iliad, Aglaia is Hephaistos' wife, and Aphrodite consorts freely with Ares.]

 Joachim Wtewael, Mars and Venus Surprised by Vulcan,


Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 187 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Erikhthonios [king of Athens], according to some, was the son of Hephaistos and Kranaus’ daughter Atthis, while others say his parents were Hephaistos and Athene, in the following manner. Athene went to Hephaistos because she wanted to make some weapons. But he, deserted by Aphrodite, let himself become aroused by Athene, and started chasing her as she ran from him. When he caught up with her with much effort (for he was lame), he tried to enter her, but she, being the model of virginal self-control, would not let him; so as he ejaculated, his semen fell on her leg. In revulsion Athene wiped it off with some wool, which she threw on the ground. And as she was fleeing and the semen fell to the earth, Erikhthonios came into being."