When man discovered fire, everything changed in human life. This discovery paved a new way full of amazing possibilities; if only he knew how to use this miraculous element in his favor; if only there was someone to teach him.
It seems that this was the time when Hephaestus was born, Zeus’ and Hera’s youngest child. According to another tradition, Hera bore the child alone, but this is not of high importance. The important part is that Hephaestus was such an ugly infant that the moment Hera saw him she threw him without a second thought from Mount Olympus and the baby ended up at the bottom of the ocean. Luckily, Thetis (daughter of Titan Nereas and mother of Achilles) and Eurynome (daughter of Titan Ocean) took him in and raised him. At the age of 9, Hephaestus built his first workshop at the bottom of the Aegean Sea and started out crafting magnificent jewelry for the goddesses who raised him. When Hera saw Thetis’ jewelry and found out that the craftsman was the son she had rejected, she invited him back to Mount Olympus. She even had a fully equipped workshop prepared for him and made arrangements for him to marry Aphrodite.
Others say that Hephaestus sent his mother a glorious golden throne he had crafted himself. When she sat in it, she got entrapped in invisible chains and had to summon Hephaestus to release her. And so he did, and stayed in Olympus since. No matter which version of the myth we like most, Hephaestus definitely earned his place among the Olympians Gods rightfully.
However, hardship wasn’t yet over for the god. A little while later Zeus and Hera had yet another terrible fight, as they used to. Hera sent a violent storm trying to get rid of notorious Hercules, Zeus’ illegitimate son, and Zeus got so mad that he hung her from the vault of heaven. Hephaestus rushed to her rescue, but Zeus wouldn’t tolerate defiance. So, once again, Hephaestus was thrown from Mount Olympus and landed in the Aegean Sea on the island of Lemnos. Except now, he wasn’t just ugly anymore; he was lame, too! Falling down he had broken both his legs, but fortunately, the poor islanders nursed him and offered their hospitality happily. And so, Hephaestus didn’t want to leave the island anymore.
He built his new workshop on Mount Mosychlon and crafted there his most famous works, both for gods and humans. Among them we find Zeus’ and Athena’s Aegis (breastplate), Hermes’ winged helmet and sandals, Aphrodite’s girdle, Helios’ chariot (the chariot of the Sun), Achilles’ armor, Agamemnon’s royal scepter, Eros’ bow and arrows, and much more.
Hephaestus was a true workaholic and most myths about him tell about his craftsmanship. Even when Aphrodite, his wife at the time, cheated on him with Ares, he forged a golden, almost invisible, unbreakable net to entrap them. Then he dragged them to Olympus to disgrace them in front of the other gods and that was it! It was obvious that his wife didn’t appreciate him much, so it’s not to wonder that he later on fell in love with another goddess, Athena.
We don’t know if he had loved her all along or if it was a momentary desire, in any case, one day when she went to his workshop to commission some weapons, he couldn’t control his desire. But Athena was a virgin goddess determined to maintain her virginity and she resisted strongly. There was a big struggle, but this didn’t discourage him either and some of his semen fell on her thigh. Athena, all disgusted, wiped it away with a piece of woolen cloth and threw it onto the earth. From Hephaestus’ semen on the earth, Erechtheus or Erichthonius was born. On the north side of the Acropolis, stands a temple dedicated to Hephaestus. On Acropolis, a few meters from the Parthenon, stands a temple dedicated to the son of Hephaestus who was born without a mother.
Homer and Hesiod report that Hephaestus’ wife is Aglaea, the youngest of the three Charites (Graces). She bore him four divine daughters who were, too, worshipped as Charites. At some point he had also asked Persephone in marriage, but with no luck. But in Lemnos things turned out better for him. He met Kabeiro (daughter of the sea-god Proteus) and they had the Kabeiroi, chthonian gods worshipped in mysteries in Lemnos, Samothrace and Thebes.
Temples and Worship
The most famous of Hephaestus temples is the one standing well-preserved in the Ancient Agora (forum) of Athens, called Theseion or Temple of Hephaestus. Built in Doric mode with marble from Mount Penteli, the temple is hexastyle (having 6 columns at the front), said to have been designed by Ictinus (co-architect of Parthenon). It was dedicated to Hephaestus and Athena Ergane and was officially inaugurated in 415 BCE, three decades after the construction started. During this period, ca. 450-415, three great temples were in construction simultaneously: Parthenon, temple of Poseidon in Sounion and temple of Hephaestus (Theseion). The inner part housed the bronze statues of Athena and Hephaestus, a work attributed to sculptor Alcamenes. The surrounding area was mistakenly named, and is still called, Theseion under the wrong assumption that the temple was dedicated to hero Theseus. As in ancient times, there are still many metal-working businesses in that area.
Without a doubt, Hephaestus’ favorite place is the island of Lemnos. The island is a landmark for the sea route to the Black Sea, where the ore deposits would be looked for. You can visit the city Hephaistia ( i.e. Palaiopolis), which was once the capital of the island and named after…guess who… god Hephaestus. You can visit the ancient amphitheatre and take a look at the city ruins. The excavations revealed a treasure of archaeological findings of various eras. The prehistoric necropolis revealed many objects, like pots, axes, knives, and various gold or bronze funeral ornaments. The findings are exhibited in the Archeological Museum of Lemnos. You can also visit the archeological site of Kabeiria and the sanctuary of Kaberioi. (you can read more about Lemnos here Lemnos Museum and here LimnosGreece )
All craftsmen of Lemnos, metallurgists, Ceramists, carpenters, would prepare a variety of goods for the great celebration, called Hephaestia, in honor of Hephaestus and his wife, Aphrodite.
Another important religious festival, called Chalkeia, was held annually in Athens in honor of Hephaestus and Athena Ergane on the last day of month Pyanopsion (late October). It mostly was the festival of handicrafts, and mainly Bronze-workers, honoring their patron deities.
Additionally, Hephaestus was honored and worshipped all over Greece around the year, mostly in private rites with torch bearings and offerings in his sanctuaries.
Join Hephaestus’ world
His symbol is obviously his hammer. You’d find small statuettes depicting the god near the fireplaces of ancient houses and it seems that this custom dates back to eras lost in time. In Classical Greece he is depicted as a strong man with big bushy beard holding a hammer or an axe or some other heavy tool.
Hephaestus is called Polyfron (Ingenius), Chalkeus (Bronze- smith), Polytechnis (of many crafts), Klytomitis (famed for skill) and Agaklytos (Very Glorius). He enjoys nothing more than the work of his own hands.
Orphic Hymn 66 is dedicated to Hephaestus.
Show trust in his cosmic force; focus on his gigantic and experienced shape and personality; feel safe as he is controlling the force of fire. Enjoy the momentum of his creations as he is forging weapons and tools to protect the well-being of mankind. Let this force take you over; absorb it to strengthen your inner fire and purify your mind to make room for inspiration. It doesn’t matter if you feel inadequate or discredited or even unimportant, nor whether you have imperfections or disabilities. Hephaestus will help you overcome any hurdles in your life. Being close to him, you will learn how to ignore or deal with anyone who is trying to weaken you with their hostility or indifference. Don’t forget that Hephaestus was ugly and lame, yet, he didn’t give in to the sorrow caused by the rejection of his own mother. He came out stronger, full of creative strength, earning his place in Mount Olympus rightfully!
Meditate in grey or silver colored surroundings with bronze touches. Use metallic oil lamps and enjoy the comforting warmth of real fire. Ornamental effigies of horses and dolphins will be suitable for your place and you can also have hammers, axes and pincers to get inspired for original and creative constructions. Have vases and pots with colorful daisies.
Read the play “Philoctetes” by Sophocles, a story set on Hephaestus’ favorite island.
Familiarize yourself with Heraclitus’ philosophy and point of view. His was called the “Dark Philosopher” and believed the world to be an everlasting fire.
Learn everything you can about volcanoes and the power of fire. Don’t forget that the Greek word for volcano (hephestio) descends from the name of god Hephaestus, as the Latin word “volcano” from his Latin name, Vulcanus.
Stamp depicting Hephaestus, Hellenic Republic, 1986
The Forge of Vulcan – Velazquez
Mars and Venus caught by Vulcan, Luca Giordano
Temple of Hephaestus, Theseion
Vulcan, Coustou – Louvre