Who is Hephaestus?

Hephaestus (Ἥφαιστος, Hḗphaistos) was one of the gods of Olympus, son of Zeus and Hera, god of blacksmithing, metallurgy, carpentry, stonework, fire and volcanoes. Famous for forging the weapons of the gods, banished by his mother Hera for his infirmity, and according to another version banished by Zeus for his intentions towards Hera. His wife is the unfaithful goddess of love Aphrodite. Finding out from the sun god Helios that she is cheating on him with the god of war Ares, he binds them with a special chain and drags them to Mount Olympus for edification and shame in front of all the gods.

The blacksmith god is sometimes depicted as a vigorous bearded man wearing an oval hat and a hammer or other tool symbolizing the crafts he has mastered. Often described as crippled, this is how he is portrayed – stooped, bow-legged, walking with the aid of a stick. It is mentioned in some myths how you made a “chair on wheels”, moving and working on your creations as a show of dexterity. According to some interpreters of myths, Hephaestus’ physical damage was similar to that suffered by blacksmiths in the past from the release of arsenic during metalworking – peripheral neuropathy and skin cancer.

Hephaestus had his own palace on Olympus, privilege to few gods, but also a place for the blacksmith’s work. In the palace there was a forge, twenty bellows and an anvil, so that he could make his wonderful works, which the immortal gods rejoiced at. In later myths, with the help of the cyclopean giants Brontes, Steropus, and Arges, he forged incredible wares.

Some of the smith god’s creations are: the sandals and helmet of Hermes, the armor of Achilles, the girdle of Aphrodite, the breastplate of Aegis, the staff of Agamemnon, the bronze tongs of Heracles/Hercules, the bow and arrows of Eros, and the chariot of Helios.

The fall and exile of Hephaestus from Olympus is related to several myths that tell different versions, but all end with the return of the blacksmith god. According to one version, Hera banished Hephaestus because of his disability, in another – in an attempt to save his mother from the attacks of Zeus, he was banished by the Thunderer. Corresponding to the version of how Hera banished Hephaestus, one myth tells how he, in revenge, fashioned a superb golden throne that would not allow the goddess to stand up again.

Blacksmith god equivalents in other mythologies: Vulcan (Roman), Kotar-ua-Khasis (Ugaritic lame craftsman god), Ptah (Egyptian god), Weyland the Blacksmith (Norse mythology, physically disabled blacksmith), Master Tvastr (Hindu god ), Kurdalagon (Ossetian god), Azazel (book of Enoch, leader of the egregors-watchers, a master who taught people to forge swords, knives, shields and armor).

Epithets for Hephaestus: “The Cripple” (Ἀμφιγυήεις) ; “He who drags his feet” (Κυλλοποδίων) ; “Coppersmith” (Χαλκεύς); “The Famous Master” (Κλυτοτέχνης) ; “Shining, cunning” or “of many means” (Πολύμητις) ; “The Etnaetian” (because his workshop is supposed to be under Mount Etna) (Αἰτναῖος) ; “The inventive, the innovator” (Πολύφρων) ; “The Very Famous/Majestic” (Ἀγακλυτός) ; “Sat god; god of soot’ (Αἰθαλόεις θεός).

Temples and cults: Hephaestia (a city dedicated to Hephaestus by the Lycians), the island of Lemnos (the whole was sacred to the god), Patara (according to myths, the temple of Apollo was built by Hephaestus), the village of Olympia (altar), the island of Termesa (called “Hiera of Hephaestus”/”Sacred place of Hephaestus”, ἱερὰ Ἡφαίστου).

Myth of Hephaestus

Hephaestus, son of Zeus and Hera, god of fire, blacksmith god, with whom no one can compete in blacksmithing, was born on the bright Olympus. He was born a weak and cripple child. Hera was angry when she was shown the god, the ugly, emaciated son. She grabbed him and dragged him from Olympus down to the distant land.

The unfortunate child floated in the air for a long time and finally fell in the waves of the boundless sea. The sea goddesses Evrinoma, the daughter of the great Ocean, and Thetis, the daughter of the sea sage prophet Nereus, took pity on him. There, in an azure cave, they raised Hephaestus. The god Hephaestus grew up ugly, but with strong arms, broad breasts, and a muscular neck. What a wonderful artist he was in his blacksmithing! To Eurynome and Thetis, who raised him, he forged many and magnificent ornaments of gold and silver.

Hephaestus hid anger in his heart for a long time towards his mother, the goddess Hera. He finally decided to take revenge on her for throwing him off Olympus. He forged an unusually beautiful golden armchair and sent it to Olympus, a gift from his mother. The wife of the thunderer Zeus was delighted to see the wonderful gift. Indeed, only the queen of gods and men could sit in such an extraordinarily beautiful chair. But – oh, horror! – She barely sat down on the chair, and she was wrapped in strong chains. Hera found herself chained to the chair. The gods came to her aid. In vain – none of them was able to release Queen Hera. They realized that only Hephaestus, who had forged the chair, could free his great mother.

Thetis Receiving the Weapons of Achilles from Hephaestus by Anthony van Dyck (1630-1632)

They immediately sent the god Hermes, the messenger of the gods, to bring the God Blacksmith. Hermes swept like a whirlwind towards the end of the world, towards the shores of the Ocean. In an instant, Hermes soared over land and sea and found himself in the cave where Hephaestus worked. He begged Hephaestus for a long time to go with him to the high Olympus and free Queen Hera, but the Blacksmith God abruptly refused; he could not forget the evil she had done to his mother. Hermes begged, and begged – nothing helped. Then Dionysus, the merry god of wine, came to the rescue. With a loud laugh, he presented Hephaestus with a glass of fragrant wine, then a second, and then a third, a fourth. The god of wine Dionysus defeated Hephaestus. Hermes and Dionysus mounted Hephaestus on a donkey and led him to Olympus. Hephaestus rode, swaying. Around him, ivy-wrapped menads with sawdust in their hands danced in a merry dance. Drunk satyrs jumped clumsily. Smoking torches, loud tympani ringing, laughter, beating of tambourines. And at the head was the great god Dionysus with a wreath on his head and a sawdust in his hand. The procession proceeded merrily. They finally arrived on Olympus. Hephaestus released his mother in an instant – he no longer remembered the insult.

Hephaestus stayed on Olympus, built majestic golden palaces for the gods there, and built a palace of gold, silver and bronze for himself. He lives in it with his wife, the beautiful friendly Harita, goddess of grace and beauty.

Hephaestus’ smithy is located in the same palace. Hephaestus spends most of his time in his miraculous smithy. In the middle is a huge anvil, in the corner – a fireplace with a blazing fire and a blower. This blower is wonderful – you don’t have to move your hands; it obeys the words of Hephaestus. As soon as he says, the bellows begins to work, blowing the fire of the hearth into a brightly blowing flame. Drenched in sweat, black with dust and soot, the blacksmith god works in his smithy. What wonderful works Hephaestus forges in it: solid weapons, gold and silver ornaments, cups and cups, tripods that move on golden wheels as if alive.

Athens rejects the caresses of Hephaestus, Paris Bordone (1555 -1560)

After finishing his work and bathing in a fragrant bath of sweat and soot, Hephaestus goes, limping and swaying on his weak legs, at the feast of the gods, to his father, the thunderer Zeus. Friendly and good-natured, he often prevents a quarrel between Zeus and Hera that is about to flare up. The gods cannot watch without laughter as the lame Hephaestus walks around the table, pouring the aromatic nectar on the gods. Laughter makes the gods forget their quarrels.

But the god Hephaestus can also be scary. Many have experienced the force of his fire and the terrible, strong blows of his huge hammer. Even the waves of the raging rivers Xanthus and Simois tamed Hephaestus at Troy with his fire. Terrible, he knocked down the mighty giants with his hammer.

Great is the god of fire, the most skilful, divine blacksmith Hephaestus; he gives warmth and joy, he is kind and friendly, but he also punishes terribly.