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by Ron Leadbetter

Hephaestus, the god of fire, especially the blacksmith's fire, was the patron of all craftsmen, principally those working with metals. He was worshiped predominantly in Athens, but also in other manufacturing centres. He was the god of volcanoes. Later, the fire within them represented the smith's furnace. Hephaestus was associated with Mount Etna, which is on the island of Sicily. Known as the lame god, Hephaestus was born weak and crippled. Displeased by the sight of her son, Hera threw Hephaestus from Mount Olympus, and he fell for a whole day before landing in the sea. Nymphs rescued him and took him to Lemnos, where the people of the island cared for him. But other versions say Zeus threw him from Mount Olympus after Hephaestus had sided with his mother in a quarrel. This legend says that Hephaestus fell for nine days and nine nights, and he landed on the island of Lemnos. It was on Lemnos where he built his palace and his forges under a volcano.

To gain revenge for his rejection by Hera, Hephaestus fashioned a magic throne, which was presented to her on Mount Olympus. When Hera sat on the throne, it entrapped her, making her a prisoner. The gods on Mount Olympus pleaded with Hephaestus to return to their heavenly domain, as to release Hera, but he refused. Dionysus gave the smith god wine, and when Hephaestus was intoxicated, Dionysus took him back to Mount Olympus slumped over the back of a mule. This scene was a favorite in Greek art. Hephaestus released Hera after being given the beautiful Aphrodite as his bride. Dionysus was rewarded by being made one of the Olympian Pantheon.

Hephaestus is known as the son of Hera and Zeus, although Zeus had nothing to do with the conception. Hephaestus was parthenogenetic, meaning he was conceived without male fertilisation. Hera was jealous of Zeus after he had an affair with Metis, from which the goddess of prudence was pregnant with Athena. However, Gaia had warned Zeus that Metis would bear a daughter, whose son would overthrow him. To prevent this, Zeus swallowed Metis, so he could carry the child through to the birth himself, although Zeus could not give birth naturally. For retribution Hera produced (parthenogeny) Hephaestus, and legend says, that Hephaestus split the head of Zeus with an axe, from which Athena appeared fully armed.

One particular legend says that Hephaestus wished to marry Athena, who was also a patron of smiths, but she refused because she found him ugly. Another legend says that Athena disappeared from their bridal bed but Hephaestus did not see her vanish, and spilt his seed on the floor. In a similar version the semen fell from Athena's thigh and from it was produced Erechtheus, who became a king of Athens. (This relates to Erechtheus being the son of Gaia, Earth.)

Aphrodite, in some versions, was the wife of Hephaestus, and he was suspicious that Aphrodite had been committing adultery. To catch her being unfaithful he fashioned an extraordinary chain-link net, so fine and strong no one could escape from it. Then one day he surprised Aphrodite and the war god Ares as they lay together in bed. He threw his magic net over them and hauled them before the Olympian gods and exhibited them as they were, naked and wrapped in each others arms. Hephaestus asked the assembled gods for just retribution, but they did the total opposite. The gods roared with laughter at the sight of the naked lovers, after which they allowed the couple to go free. According to Homer's Iliad Hephaestus had a wife called Aglaea, who was one of the Charites (Graces).

Being a great craftsman Hephaestus manufactured wonderful articles from various materials, primarily from metal. With help from the Cyclopes, who were his workmen and assistants, he fashioned the thunderbolts for Zeus and his sceptre. He made weapons and armour for the other gods and heroes. For Athena, he made her shield or aegis and for the god of love, Eros, he made the arrows. The wonderful chariot which the sun god Helios rode across the sky was made by Hephaestus and in some versions it was a golden cup or goblet. He also fashioned the invincible armour of Achilles. Hephaestus helped to create the first woman, with the assistance of other gods, after Zeus had ordered that there be a new kind of human. Zeus plotted against Prometheus because he and his race of mortals had only included one gender, which was male, and so Hephaestus formed the first woman from clay. Her name was Pandora (all gifts) and from a supernatural jar, she released the evils of the world on mankind.

Hephaestus is usually shown as an animated cripple bent over his anvil. He wears a beard and is normally depicted as being ugly, and in some art forms he walks with the aid of a stick. Homer describes Hephaestus as lame and walking with the aid of a stick. Hepheastus was worshiped mainly in Athens, where the Temple of Hephaestus and Athena (the Hephaesteum, also known as the Theseum) still stands. It is the most complete example of a "Doric" temple (one of the three orders in Greek architecture). It was built in 449 BCE and stands on a hill close to the Agora at the foot of the Acropolis. Hephaestus and Athena Ergane (protectress of craftsman and artisans) were honoured with the festival "Chalceia" on the 30th day of the month Pyanopsion. The Romans took Hephaestus as one of their own gods attaching the myth and cult to their god of fire and calling him Vulcan (Volcanus).

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