The Greek God, Hephaestus

copyright 1999  by Tracy Marks
continued from page one


Thetis' silver feet took her to Hephaestus' house,
A mansion the lame god had built himself...
She found him at his bellows, glazed with sweat
As he hurried to complete his latest project,
Twenty cauldrons on tripods to line his hall
With golden wheels at the base of each tripod.
....He was getting these ready,
Forging the rivets with inspired artistry.

Homer, Iliad, 18:398, Lombardo translation



Hephaestus as Artisan

Metalworker, blacksmith, and artisan, Hephaestus was the only Greek god that worked. In mythology, he is honored for having taught mankind that work is noble (Homeric Hymn to Hephaestus), and having imparted the desire not  not only to work, but to excel at one's craft. Understandably, he therefore became the patron god of artists and craftsmen of all kinds - metalworkers, blacksmiths, leatherworkers, weavers, potters, painters.

Much of the time, Hephaestus was at his volcanic forge, passionately engaged in solitary creative work, resulting in creations that spoke to the psychic depths of both gods and humans. He had the power to reach into the collective unconscious, and to create works (such as Achilles shield) which were extraordinarily beautiful, detailed, and lifelike. 

What Did Hephaestus Create?
his robotic helpers Hera's fettered throne
Zeus' thunderbolts Poseidon's trident
Olympians' homes 12 golden Olympian thrones
the bows of Artemis and Apollo Athena's spear
Aphrodite's golden girdle Apollo's chariot
Hades' cap of invisibility Demeter's sickle
Achilles' shield (Iliad 18:514-660) Agamemnon's scepter
Pandora's wreath Heracles' golden breastplate
Harmonia's necklace Oenopian's underground house
20 stools or tripods that move of their own accord to and from the feasts on Mount Olympus (Iliad, 18.372)
handmaidens of gold to help him with his work, and live inside volcanos (Iliad, 18.417)
jewelry, buckles, clasps etc. for Themis and Eurynome
unbreakable locks of the Olympian's homes
the gods armor in preparation for their war with the Titans
the invisible net that trapped Ares and Aphrodite making love
mechanical marvels and beautiful love art for Aphrodite
Zeus' scepter, passed on to Hermes, then Pelops, then Atreus, then Thyestes, then Agamemnon
the bronze golem Talos which guarded Argos until slain by Medea
brazen castanets, which Athena gave to Heracles for driving  the Stymphalian Birds from the wood
brazen-footed bulls which puffed fire from their mouths (for King Aeetes)
a bed of gold,  which carries Helius, the Sun god as he sleeps
the Aegis, the shield emblazoned with the head of Medusa, carried by Perseus


Hephaestus Starts Achilles' Shield
in Iliad XVIII: 508, Lombardo translation

Hephaestus...went to his bellows,
Turned them toward the fire, and ordered them to work.
And the bellows, all twenty, blew on the crucibles,
Blasting out waves of heat... 
He cast durable bronze onto the fire, and tin,
Precious gold and silver. Then he positioned
His enormous anvil up on its block
And grasped his mighty hammer
In one hand, and  in the other his tongs.
He made a shield first, heavy and huge,
Every inch of it intricately designed.
He threw a triple rim around it, glittering
Like lightning, and he made the strap silver.

The shield itself was five layers thick, and he
Crafted its surface with all of his genius.
On it he made the earth, the sky, the sea,
The unwearied sun, and the moon near full,
And all the signs that garland the sky,
Pleiades, Hyades, mighty Orion,
and the Gear they also call the Wagon....
On it it he made two cities, peopled
And beautiful. 


His Activities
What other stories in Greek and Roman mythology involve Hephaestus? 

--He helped with Athena's birth, splitting Zeus' head to let out Athena when he gave birth to Athena. 

--He dried up the streams of the River God who attempted to drown Achilles. 

--At Zeus' request, he created Pandora, the most beautiful of all women, to lure mankind to further destruction as a result of opening a box which would release evils into the world. 

--Against his will, he obeyed Zeus' commands to chain Prometheus to the rock in Mount Caucasus, because Prometheus had disobeyed Zeus, stolen fire from Hephaestus' forge, and given it to mankind: "Against my will, no less than yours, I must rivet you with brazen bonds...Such is the prize you have gained for your championship of man." 

--According to Pausanius, he and Prometheus were visited by Demeter, who brought them both her Mysteries. 

--He created numerous gifts for pleasure or assistance for both the Greek gods and for heroes faced with  difficult tasks and quests. 


The Worship of Hephaestus

The cult of Hephaestus is believed to have originated in Asia Minor, and to have traveled to Greece (particularly the isle of Lemnos, and Attica) and Rome. Originally viewed as an artisan god, he eventually became revered as a noble craftsman and mighty Olympian artist. Yet during the 4th century classical period, as work with the hands became denigrated and his worshippers (potters, bronze workers etc.) lost status, he also lost respect and was considered a lesser god.

Hephaestus' city, Hephistu, the capital of Lemnos was populated until the sixth century A.S. with people known as the Tyrenoi. Hephaestus cults continued there for centuries, as well as in Athens, where, after 450 A.D, a temple to Hephaestus was erected on a hill above the Agora, facing the Acropolis; it still stands today. A Frieze on Athena's Parthenon which contains all the elements of Plato's Atlantis texts also suggests that the Parthenon was built to commemorate both Athena and Hephaestus, since they both championed the Athenians in the epic War between Athens and Atlantis. Athena and Hephaestus together always maintained some importance in Athens throughout history, partly due to the fact that their son, Erichthenius, was the first king of Athens.


Hephaestus as Psychological Archetype

One reason for Hephaestus' appeal to many men and women throughout the ages is that he personifies the psychological archetype of the wounded creator or artist - rejected initially by both mother and father. Indeed his mother Hera viewed him as a failure from the start, as she was narcissistically invested in him as an extension of her own ego and her desire to feel superior over her husband. Based on her attitude, we can easily assume that Hephaestus felt valued only for his achievement, for his work and creative accomplishments.

Unlike most gods who appeal to our lower natures, Hephaestus inspires our higher selves. He was the smith of the soul, whose forge birthed not only beautiful creations, but also represented the triumph of the human spirit, and its capacity to redirect unmet needs toward productive aims. Burning with an inner creative fire, perhaps due to sublimated rage and passion, he transformed raw and often material into exquisite objects. 

Although physically deformed, Hephaestus did not reject the physical world; rather, he learned how to use it, to craft ugliness into beauty. Rejected continually by women, he nonetheless held internally the inner image of the love he sought, so that he could mold objects of his craftsmanship in its vision. He was driven by his own deeper self, was attuned to the collective unconscious, and capable of creating from the depths of his soul. As a result, his art reached deeply into the souls of his audience, who recognized its brilliance.

Yet sublimation and redirection of needs and drives is not the same as healing. Hera may have reclaimed her son, but her early rejection burned within Hephaestus, and her eventual acceptance was never for who he was in his own right - only for the products of his craft. We can therefore hypothesize then that Hephaestus was longing for his mother's love, which he never fully received. As Jungian author Murray Stein pointed out, Hephaestus was female-identified; his libido was directed toward toward his mother, toward the female as nurturer, and he had difficulty relating to women as partners. Indeed, when he attempted to seduce Athena, his semen instead fertilized Mother Earth, as Athena turned away from him.

Hephaestus was born with his feet facing the wrong direction. A female in a male body, raised without a mother's love, he nonetheless was nourished deeply by the feminine energies of Themis and Eurynome, in their womblike underwater cave, which nurtured his anima and enabled him to direct it toward creative work. But from the start, he created jewelry for his surrogate mothers, and later for the gods and goddesses whose appreciation he craved.

Sensitive to rejection and conflict, Hephaestus was the peacemaker who attempted to create harmony between his mother and his father, in the hope of experiencing in his interpersonal environment the atmosphere of love and union that he desired. But because love and harmony was unreliable at best, Hephaestus retreated underground to his forge. There, he could redirect his passion and experience the fire of creative union, over which he did have control, and for which he was indeed appreciated and honored.



Hephaestus: Greek Mythology Link
Hephaestus in Classical Texts: Links
Hephaestus/Vulcan in Ovid's Metamorphoses;more&filter=none
Hephaestus/Vulcan in the Aeneid
The Homeric Hymns
Limnos, Home of Hephaestus



caerh67.jpg (11600 bytes)

Hephaistos Images: Classical Art
Hephaestus in Western Art: Classical Art (Alone; Return)
Vulcan Images

Boucher: Visit of Venus to Vulcan
Tintoretto: Venus and Mars Surprised by Vulcan
Heemskerk: Mars and Venus Caught in the Net
Mantegna: Hephaestus, Mars and Venus: Parnassus

Caeretan Vase: Dionysus and Hephaestus
Return of Hephaestus: Caeretan Hydria, 530 BC (above image)
Polion: Return of Hephaestus

Hephaestus: Ambrosius Painter
Athena Scorning Hephaestus' Advances
Temple of Hephaestus

SOURCES (in addition to above links)
Bolen, Jean, Gods in Everyman, Harper and Row, San Francisco, 1989. 
Burkert, Walter, Greek Religion, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1985.
Downing, Christine, Gods in Our Midst, Crossroads, New York, 1993. 
Kerenyi, Carl, The Gods of the Greeks, Thames and Hudson, London, 1951. 
Stein, Murray, "Hephaistos: A Pattern of Introversion," in Facing the Gods, Spring Publications, Dallas, 1980. 


This article is copyright 1999 by Tracy Marks and may not be reproduced. 

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