Hephaestus, the Master Craftsman

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Hephaestus, the Greek god of fire, is most revered for his master craftsmanship. In works of art he is usually depicted as a middle-aged smith working in his forge, often making a thunderbolt for Zeus. Born of Hera alone, he was cast down as a baby from Olympus by his mother for his defective ugliness and fell for a whole day before he hit the ground. Nine years after he was thrown from the heavens, he returned to Olympus and became one of the twelve Olympian Gods. With Zeus’s favor, he was able to marry Aphrodite, the goddess of love, who sadly never returned the love he gave to her. Hephaestus was loved by the mortals for his kindness and he had an important role in Athens alongside Athena. Nearly every weapon, piece of armor, or building of any importance was crafted by Hephaestus. Hephaestus, rejected by his mother for his ugliness, helped countless mortals and gods, married Aphrodite, and rose to Olympus to become the master craftsman honored by all.

Hephaestus is the god of fire but only in its positive and useful aspect. This also includes everything that is accomplished by fire. Therefore, any fire that destroys or damages is not attributed to him (Berens 73). He, being a smith, is the protector of smiths, both goldsmiths and blacksmiths and jewelers. Also as a master builder he is the god of builders, masons, and carpenters (Graves 15). He is also considered to be the god of volcanoes because this is where it was believed his forges were located. Inside his forges, he uses Cyclopes as his helpers because they have a natural talent for forging (Bolton 178). Not only is Hephaestus a smith, he is also an architect, craftsman, and an artist (Bulfinch 13). In fact, he is known as the master craftsman (Hansen 185). He makes nearly everything that the gods want from their weapons and armor, to their homes, palaces and chariots (Hamilton 36).

Hephaestus is an ugly god. He is often illustrated with grotesque facial features and malformed legs but with massive upper body strength. Usually he is shown wielding a hammer and working on a weapon or object of some kind (Berens 76). In other depictions of art, items often associated with work, such as an axe, a mule, and a pilos, otherwise known as a workman’s hat, are used to represent him (Hansen 186). Hesphaestus is also represented by the quail. This bird’s strange dance in the springtime is seen as similar to how Hephaestus hobbles when he walks (Graves 15).

Several stories exist on how Hephaestus was born. While all stories agree that he was born to Hera, the goddess of marriage, they differ on when he was born and whether he had a father at all. Some say that he was born to Hera, alone, because she wanted to give birth to a child by herself after Zeus solely gave birth to Athena (Martin 88). However, this is contradicted by the story that it was Hephaestus that helped Zeus give birth to Athena by splitting Zeus’s head open to allow Athena to pop out. Therefore, Hera could not have been jealous of Athena’s single parent birth since Athena hadn’t been born yet (Berens 21). This leads to the rumor where Hera had Hephaestus long before being married to Zeus (Martin 88). But the easiest explanation is that Zeus was indeed his father, and he was born before Athena (Bulfinch 15).

After Hephaestus was born, Hera realized that he was ugly and crippled, and to rid herself of such an embarrassment, she threw him off Olympus (Graves 86). He plummeted into the sea, and immediately he was saved by the sea-goddess Thetis. Thetis took him to an underground cave where she and an oceanide Eurynome took turns caring for and raising the young god (Hansen 183). For nine years he remained hidden in his secret, underground home. By the end of the nine years he was already an expert craftsman. He made elaborate items of jewelry, much to the delight of his caretakers (Martin 89). He also made useful objects like clasps, pins, and cups (Hansen 184)....
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