Hephaestus – The Greek God of Crafts

Affiliate Disclosures

Hephaestus (Roman equivalent Vulcan), also known as Hephaistos, was the Greek god of blacksmiths, craftsmanship, fire, and metallurgy. He was the only god to ever be thrown out of Mt. Olympus and later return to his rightful place in the heavens. Depicted as ugly and deformed, Hephaestus was among the most resourceful and skilled of the Greek gods. Here’s his story.

Origins of the Myth of Hephaestus

Hephaestus was the son of Hera and Zeus. However, some sources say that he was Hera’s alone, borne without a father. The poet Hesiod writes of a jealous Hera, who conceived Hephaestus alone because Zeus had given birth to Athena alone, without her.

Unlike the other gods, Hephaestus was not a perfect figure. He is described as being ugly and lame. He was either born lame or he ended up lame after Hera threw him away.

Hephaestus is often depicted as a bearded middle-aged man, who wore a Greek workman’s hat called pilos, and a Greek workman’s tunic called eximos, but he’s also sometimes depicted as a younger man with no beard. He is also portrayed together with the tools of a smith: axes, chisels, saws, and mostly hammers and tongs, which are his foremost symbols.

Some scholars place the explanation of Hephaestus’ less-than-perfect appearance on the fact that blacksmiths such as him normally had injuries from their work with metal. The toxic fumes, the furnaces, and the dangerous tools normally scarred these workers.

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Exile from Mt. Olympus

After a quarrel between Zeus and Hera, Hera threw Hephaestus from Mount Olympus, disgusted by his ugliness. He landed on the island of Lemnos and was possibly crippled from the fall.  After falling to earth, Thetis looked after him until his ascent to heavens.

Hephaestus  built his house and workshop by the island’s volcano, where he would hone his skills of metallurgy and invent his groundbreaking crafts. He remained here until Dionysus arrived to fetch Hephaestus and return him to Mt. Olympus.

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Hephaestus and Aphrodite

When Hephaestus returned to Mt. Olympus, Zeus ordered him to marry Aphrodite, goddess of love. While he was known for his ugliness, she was known for her beauty, making the union an uneven match and causing an uproar.

There are two myths as to why Zeus ordered this marriage.

  • After Hera got stuck on a throne that Hephaestus built for her, Zeus offered Aphrodite, who was the most beautiful goddess, as the prize for freeing the queen goddess. Some Greek artists show Hera being held to the throne with invisible chains built by Hephaestus and portray the exchange as his scheme to wind up marrying Aphrodite, the goddess of love.
  • The other myth proposes that Aphrodite’s dashing beauty had caused uneasiness and conflict among the gods; to settle to dispute, Zeus ordered the marriage between Hephaestus and Aphrodite to keep the peace. Because Hephaestus was ugly, he hadn’t been viewed as a likely contender for Aphrodite’s hand, making him the best choice to end the competition peacefully.
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Hephaestus Myths

Hephaestus was a fine craftsman and a resourceful blacksmith who created marvelous pieces. Besides Hera’s golden throne, he crafted several masterpieces for the gods, as well as for human beings. Some of his best-known creations were the scepter and aegis of Zeus, the helmet of Hermes, and the locking doors on Hera’s chambers.

Many the myths with which he’s associated, incorporate his craftsmanship. Here are some:

  • Pandora: Zeus commanded Hephaestus to sculpt the perfect woman out of clay. He gave instructions of the voice and the features the maiden was to have, which were meant to resemble the goddesses. Hephaestus sculpted Pandora and Athena brought her to life. After she was created, she was named Pandora and received a gift from each god.
  • Prometheus’ Chains: Following Zeus’ orders, Prometheus was chained to a mountain in the Caucasus as vengeance for having given fire to mankind. It was Hephaestus who fabricated Prometheus’ chains. In addition, an eagle was sent every day to eat Prometheus’ liver. The eagle was created by Hephaestus and brought to life by Zeus. In Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound Io asks Prometheus who chained him, and he answers, “Zeus by his will, Hephaistos by his hand”.
Prometheus chains eagle hephaestus
Prometheus’ chains and the eagle that tormented him were shaped by Hephaestus
  • Hephaestus against the Giants and Typhon: In Gaia’s attempts to dethrone Zeus, the gods fought two important wars against the Giants and the monster Typhon. When the war against the giants began, Zeus summoned all the gods to fight. Hephaestus, who was nearby, was one of the first ones to arrive. Hephaestus killed one of the giants by throwing melted iron on his face. In the war against Typhon, after Zeus managed to defeat Typhon, he threw a mountain on the monster and commanded Hephaestus to remain on the top as a guard.
  • Hephaestus and Achilles’ Armor:  In Homer’s Iliad, Hephaestus forged Achillesarmor for the Trojan war at the request of Thetis, Achilles’ mother. When Thetis knew her son would go into war, she visited Hephaestus to ask him to create a shining armor and a shield to protect him in battle. The god obliged and forged a masterpiece using bronze, gold, tin, and silver, which offered Achilles immense protection.
Achilles armor hephaestus
Achilles’ Armor was Crafted by Hephaestus
  • Hephaestus and the River-God: Hephaestus fought the River-god, known as Xanthos or Scamander, with his fire. His flames burned the streams of the river causing great pain. According to Homer, the fight went on until Hera intervened and eased both immortal beings.
  • The Birth of Athens’ First King: In a failed attempt to rape Athena, Hephaestus’ semen fell on the thigh of the goddess. She cleaned her thigh with wool and threw it on the ground. And so, Erichthonius, an early king of Athens, was born. Because it was the ground that bore Erichthonius, he’s mother is supposed to be Gaia, who then gave the boy to Athena who hid him and raised him.
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Symbols of Hephaestus

Symbols of hephaestus

Like Athena, Hephaestus helped mortals by teaching them the arts. He was the patron of craftsmen, sculptors, masons and metalworkers to name a few. Hephaestus is associated with several symbols, which represent him:

  • Volcanos – Volcanos are associated with Hephaestus since he learned his craft among the volcanos and their fumes and fires.
  • Hammer – A tool of his craft which symbolizes his strength and the ability to shape things
  • Anvil – An important tool when forging, it’s also a symbol of bravery and strength.
  • Tongs – Required for grasping objects, especially hot objects, the tongs signify Hephaestus’ position as god of fire.

In Lemnos, where he reportedly fell, the island became known as Hephaestus. The soil was considered sacred and powerful since they thought the ground where the mighty Hephaestus had fallen had special properties.

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Hephaestus Facts

1- Who are Hephaestus’ parents?

Zeus and Hera, or Hera alone.

2- Who is Hephaestus’ consort?

Hephaestus married Aphrodite. Aglaea is also one of his consorts.

3- Did Hephaestus have children?

Yes, he had 6 children called Thalia, Eucleia, Eupheme, Philophrosyne, Cabeiri and Euthenia.

4- What is Hephaestus the god of?

Hephaestus is the god of fire, metallurgy, and blacksmith.

5- What was Hephaestus’ role on Olympus?

Hephaestus crafted all the weapons for the gods and was the blacksmith to the gods.

6- Who worshipped Hephaestus?

Hephaestus crafted all the weapons for the gods and was the blacksmith to the gods.

7- How did Hephaestus get crippled?

There are two stories related to this. One states that he was born lame, while the other states that Hera threw him out of Olympus when still an infant because of his ugliness, which caused him to become lame.

8- Why did Aphrodite cheat on Hephaestus?

It’s likely that she didn’t love him and was only married to him because she had been forced into it by Zeus.

9- Who saved Hephaestus?

Thetis saved Hephaestus when he fell on the island of Lemnos.

10- Who is Hephaestus’ Roman equivalent?

Vulcan

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In Brief

Although Hephaestus’ story began with setbacks, he manages to win back his deserved place in Mt. Olympus with his hard work. His journey takes him from being cast out to being the blacksmith of gods. He remains among the most resourceful and skilled of the Greek gods.