Hephaestus is the Greek god of fire. He is the lame smith god, the god of the forge, of blacksmiths, craftsmen, and artisans. The god of technology as the Greeks knew it, he was also the god of volcanoes. He was born to Hera and Zeus in Olympus, and is husband to Aphrodite, the goddess of love.
The attributes of Hephaestus are those of a smith. He is lame and bent, but strong and muscular. His walk is halting, and he uses a stick. Interestingly, the blacksmiths of the late Bronze Age may have used arsenic to harden their copper, the way modern copper is hardened with tin. This may have given the smiths of the time arsenicosis, low level arsenic poisoning, which could have lamed and deformed them, leaving them to look the way Hephaestus does.
But the myth says that Zeus threw him out of heaven. This was because he released his mother Hera from the chains her angry husband had hung her in, suspended between heaven and earth. When Zeus threw him, Hephaestus fell for nine days and nights, until he landed on the isle of Lemnos. There he trained himself and honed his skills, until he was called back to Olympus for his knowledge. This is the version of the story found in the Iliad, but there is another.
In the other version of the myth, Hera threw him out of heaven at his birth, in disgust that she should bear so grotesque a child. Again he fell for many days, but he landed in the ocean. There the ocean nymphs Thetis and Eurynome fostered him. Later Hephaestus would make armor for Achilles, son of Thetis and hero of the Trojan War.
His skills as an artificer were beyond belief. He made Hermes a winged helmet and sandals, so that he could speed on the errands of the gods. He made the Aegis, the breastplate of Zeus, and the girdle of Venus. He constructed the chariot of Helios. For mortals, he made Agamemnon’s staff and Pelops’ ivory shoulder. He made the bow and arrows of Eros, and in some stories he constructed curious Pandora, as well as her box.
He made himself metal automatons as assistants, and also had the chthonic Cyclops to do his work. Prometheus, who defied the gods and brought fire to mortals, stole it from Hephaestus’ forge.
The ugliest of the gods was married to the most beautiful. Hephaestus received Aphrodite for releasing Hera from an enchanted chair he had trapped her in. Or Zeus gave the goddess of love to him because he seemed the most apt to hold her. But she was not happy in this arranged marriage. She immediately took up with Ares, the god of war.
Hephaestus knew it, the all-seeing sun god Helios told him. The jealous smith-god constructed an invisible unbreakable net, and trapped the lovers as they lay in pleasure. Then he dragged them to Olympus for all to see. The gods laughed, the stories say.
Ares and Aphrodite had a daughter, Harmonia, said to be as beautiful as her mother. Hephaestus and Aphrodite may have bred Eros, but the Greeks thought it likely that the god of love was really Ares’ son.
In the Iliad, though, the consort of Hephaestus is named Charis, the personification of grace. Hephaestus had many children, too, though he may not have had one with faithless Aphrodite.
Bullfinch’s Greek and Roman Mythology by Thomas Bullfinch ISBN 9780486411071
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