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►Greek Mythology: “Hephaestus”  /

“Collaboration with Holly Rene Hunter”:

“The Fall Of Hephaestus” by C. Van Poelenburg. 17th century.

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Hephaestus (Roman equivalent: Vulcan)  was the Greek god of fire, metal work, blacksmiths and craftsmen.

According to Homer’s  “Iliad”, Hephaestus was born of the union of Zeus and Hera. In another tradition, attested by Hesiod, Hera bore Hephaestus alone.

Hephaestus. Attic Red Figure. 430 – 420 BC.

Hesiod tells us in “Theogony”, that in order to get even with Zeus for solely bringing about the birth of Athena, Hera produced the child Hephaestus all on her own.

Though Hesiod’s version seems to be the one that is most commonly accepted among readers, its content greatly alters our understanding of the birth of Athena. The ancient texts unequivocally state that it was Hephaestus who released the goddess from the head of Zeus by cracking the god’s skull open with an axe.

After Hephaestus was born, Hera was anything but pleased with his appearance, so she threw him off of Mount Olympus and down to earth.

Luckily, baby Hephaestus splashed down into the sea where he was rescued by two daughters of Oceanus; Thetis and Eurynome.

An interesting point is that he was lame. In vase paintings, Hephaestus is usually shown lame and bent over his anvil, hard at work on a metal creation, and sometimes with his feet back-to-front.

Hephaestus Thetis at Kylix, Attica vase figure

He walked with the aid of a stick. In some myths, Hephaestus built himself a “wheeled chair” or chariot with which to move around, thus helping him overcome his lameness while demonstrating his skill to the other gods. The “Iliad”, says that Hephaestus built some bronze human machines in order to move around.

There are two interpretations which describe how Hephaestus lost full use of his legs. The most basic of the two theories simply states that he was born that way and that was the reason why Hera rejected him and chose to toss him into the sea.

Another myth has it that he once tried to protect his mother from Zeus’ advances and as a result, the Ruler of the Gods flung him down from Olympus, which caused his physical disability; he fell on the island of Lemnos where he became a master craftsman.

Archetypal psychology uses mythical and poetic modes of discourse to deepen our understanding of lived experience and behavior. The stories associated with the Greek god Hephaestus are among the earliest representations of disability.

Vulcan. Roman archaic relief from Herculaneum.

Bitter Hephaestus does not intend to stay hidden away in an underground cave forever. Anger toward his mother inspires him to seek revenge.

These “negative” emotions engender the courage that is necessary for the disabled outcast to claim his rightful place in the world.

The archetypal psychologist Murray Stein suggests that loosening the bonds of his mother frees an introverted Hephaestus from his own psychic entrapment and moves him forward in the process of individuation and personal development. Hence, in Hephaestus we find a character who is motivated by his anger to confront a world that has discarded him.

In an archaic story, Hephaestus gained revenge against Hera for rejecting him by making her a magical golden throne, which, when she sat on it, did not allow her to stand up. In another story, Hephaestus sent sandals as gifts to all the gods, but those he sent to his mother were made of immovable and unyielding adamantine. When she tried to walk she fell flat on her face as though her shoes were riveted to the floor. 

Seeing how events were happening, the other gods begged Hephaestus to return to Olympus to let her go, but he refused, saying “I have no mother”. At last, Dionysus fetched him, intoxicated him with wine, and took the subdued smith back to Olympus on the back of a mule accompanied by revelers—a scene that sometimes appears on painted pottery of Attica and of Corinth.

Amphora depicting Hephaistos polishing the shield of Achilles. 480 B.C.

Hephaestus crafted much of the magnificent equipment of the gods. He designed Hermes´ winged helmet and sandals, the Aegis breastplate, Aphrodite‘s famed girdle, Agamemnons staff of office, Achilles‘ armor, Heracles‘ bronze clappers, Helios‘ chariot and Eros bow and arrows.

There is a still a very relevant intervention of Hephaestus in a  well-known cosmogonic myth. It tell us that Zeus was angry at Prometheus, the Rebel Titan, for three things: being tricked by the sacrifices, stealing fire for man, and refusing to tell Zeus which of Zeus’s children would dethrone him. 

As punishment for these rebellious acts, Zeus ordered Hephaestus make a woman made of clay named Pandora. Zeus gave her a box and forbade her from opening it. Then he sent her down to earth, where her curiosity led her to open the lid. Out flew sorrow, mischief, and all other misfortunes that plagued humanity. In the famous story of Pandora’s box, we may learn how earthly hardship was born.

According to most versions, Hephaestus’s wife was Aphrodite, who was unfaithful to Hephaestus with a number of gods and mortals, including her brother Ares.

After he learned his wife had an affair with her brother, Ares, he devised a plan with which he humiliated both lovers.

Helios, the Sun God (later replaced by Apollo) was able to see most things during the day, as he drove his sun chariot across the sky. It was one of those days that Helios witnessed Aphrodite taking her lover in her bed, while Hephaestus was absent.

The Sun God easily recognised Ares. So, he told everything to Hephaestus.

Hephaestus decided to take revenge on the lovers. Thus using his wit and his crafting skills he fashioned an unbreakable net and trapped the two lovers while they were in bed. Hephaestus walked back to his bedchamber with a host of other gods to witness the disgraced pair. Only the male Olympians appeared, while the goddesses stayed in Olympus

Poseidon tried to persuade Hephaestus to release the adulterous pair. At first, Hephaestus refused the request, because he wanted to extract the most out of his revenge, but at the end he released his wife and her lover. Ares immediately fled to Thrace, while Aphrodite went to Paphos at the island of Cyprus.

In Renaissance literature, Hephaestus– as master of fire- is identified as the founder of the alchemical arts and its greatest practitioner. He is frequently portrayed as an evil and sinister figure because in turning base metals into gold he is imitating Nature and thus forging the Work of God. Alchemists believed that the story of the binding of Aphrodite and Ares in Hephaestus’ bed was an encoded recipe. Aphrodite represents copper, Ares represents iron and Hephaestus is the fire that is needed to facilitate an alchemical transformation. In the archetypal psychology literature, Aphrodite and Ares, Love and War, are always imagined as an inseparable “psychic conjunction”. As the alchemist-smith in our soul, it is Hephaestus who binds the two lovers together.

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“Vulcan” by Bertel Thorvaldsen,1861. Thorvaldsens Museum.

►Poem: “Hephaestus”, by Holly Rene Hunter:

Hera, you have cast me from the mount.

Shattering the sphere, salt lime stings my 

skin where I am abandoned to the sea as

less than weeds. 

My cries are the waves  that

flow from  seashell eyes into the

arms of Oceanus.

Aphrodite plucks me up,  a heron

biting my body  and harpooned legs

that break against the sea wall.

I have loosed the crown of  Athena,

split with my ax the fearsome bird of prey.

Impaled, his eyes are those of a  startled deer.

Seized by  fate  I have gathered my medium and

with my broken hands and feet I mold precious metals

into  creations for Gods.

Goblets for Dionysus,

for Aphrodite, the unfaithful,   a copper belt.

A chariot of human form for broken Hephaestus

that I might roam the world unfettered.

For Hera, a golden throne,

where she is bound to dwell forever.

©Holly Rene Hunter. 2017 .-

Holly Rene Hunter.

About Holly Rene Hunter. 

Holly Dixit: “I am Holly Rene Hunter writing at WordPress under the pseudonym Heartafire. I make my home in Florida.  I began writing as a child, an outlet for a wild imagination, my first poem  published was written at age eight and  included in  the Dade County Public Schools Book of Songs.  I am currently assisting with editing for authors whose first language is other than English.  On a personal note, I am a motorcycle enthusiast who loves to paint and write poetry.  If you are so inclined, you can find a sampling of my poetry at Bookrix.com free of charge or visit  my blog here.

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Book by Holly Rene Hunter. You can find a sampling of her poetry at Bookrix.com free of charge here: https://aheartafire.wordpress.com/.

Check out Holly´s Blog. https://aheartafire.wordpress.com/.

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