Who was Hephaestus?
Hephaestus was the Greek God of fire, volcanoes, blacksmiths, metalworking, carpenters, craftsmen, artisans, sculptors and sculpture. With his expertise in smithing, Hephaestus was said to have made all the weapons possessed by the Gods of Olympus, serving as their own blacksmith. This led to him becoming the central God of worship in the industrial or manufacturing cities and towns of Greece, with this cult particularly strong in the capital city of Athens.
Hephaestus was in most traditions said to have been the son of Zeus and his sister-Goddess Hera, although he is also sometimes held to be Hera’s child born of no relationship in revenge for one of Zeus’s adulterous liaisons. Hephaestus was cast out from Mount Olympus. The reason for this differs depending on the traditions but is usually said to be because of a birth defect related to his lower limbs or more occasionally a rejection by Zeus to protect Hera from the advances of Hephaestus.
Hephaestus had numerous siblings as a result of his parentage, including Aeacus, Angelos, Aphrodite, Apollo, Ares, Artemis, Athena, Dionysus, Eileithyia, Enyo, Eris, Ersa, the Graces, Hebe, Helen of Troy, Heracles, Hermes, the Horae, the Litae, Minos, the Muses, the Moirai, Pandia, Persephone, Perseus and Rhadamanthus. Hephaestus is also said to have had two consorts, his sister Goddess Aphrodite and another sister, one of the three Graces, Aglaea. With these two consorts he is known to have had at least six children – Thalia, Eucleia, Eupheme, Philophrosyne, Cabeiri and Euthenia.
Hephaestus had his own palace on Mount Olympus which containing his own personal workshop complete with anvil and bellows working as he dictated. As well as crafting the weaponry used by the Gods he was said to have crafted Hermes’ winged helmet and sandals, Aphrodite’s girdle, Agamemnon’s staff of office, Achilles’ armor, Helios’ chariot, Eros’s bow and arrows as well as many other famed items such as the thrones in the Palace of Olympus. Hephaestus forged metal automatons to work for him, including tripods which walked to Mount Olympus.
When portrayed in art Hephaestus is usually shown as a strong, bearded man and many artists also choose to portray him as having some birth defect or injury, usually related to his feet or legs. He is often shown bent over his anvil at work as if lame, with his feet back to front or walking with the aid of a stick in order to reflect this disability. His images are also characterised by the presence of other tools, such as hammers, and he often wears an oval cap. Epithets associated with Hephaestus have included ‘the lame one’, ‘the halting’, ‘renowned artificer’, ‘shrewd’, ‘crafty’ and ‘of many devices’.
As a result of these attributes Hephaestus has become associated with a whole range of practical occupations, such as Biochemistry, Blacksmithing, Carpentry, Chemistry, Computer technology, Construction, Genetics, Engineering, Forging, Inventing, Jewelry, Lab technicians, Machinists, Manufacturing, Mechanics, Metallurgy, Miner, Nanotechnology, -Pottery, Printing, Robotics, Sculpting, Surgery, Vulcanology and Welding.
Similar deities to Hephaestus which are found in other cultures include the Roman God Vulcan, Egyptian God Ptah, the Hindu Gods Agni and Twashtri, the Celtic God Culhwch, Norse God Thor and the Siberian God Boshintoi.
The Hephaestus Archetype
Hephaestus was thrown out of Olympus by his fellow Gods including his own father Zeus, or in other descriptions was born of only one parent (his mother Hera) who subsequently rejected him. As a result of this the Hephaestus archetype has come to be known as the orphan, one rejected and undervalued by others in society unable to see their true worth, as well as one forced to make a life for themselves based around their own skill and creativity. In a culture where intellect and power are valued the more practical, creative and everyday capabilities of the Hephaestus archetype have a tendency to be overlooked by the rest of us.
The archetypal Hephaestus often appears to possess a maturity beyond their age, having been forced by circumstance to grow up quickly without the opportunity to enjoy a full and traditional childhood that most would. This can often lead them to become introverted and intense personalities, difficult to get to know on any meaningful level as they learn to hold in their emotions, smoldering underneath until they may one day explode.
The archetypal Hephaestus can feel abandoned and as a result develop a deep anxiety about their place in the world and relationships with those around them, worrying about how others perceive them or about the potential for experiencing further rejection by society. Conversely their anxiety and the introverted nature they develop to protect them from rejection only alienates them further from society, making them seem unsociable, withdrawn, intense or perhaps touchy and thus unlikely to make friends easily. They have a tendency towards cynicism and pessimism, and can be perceived as using their ‘victimhood’ in life as an excuse for any of their failings.
Despite this, for those who do make it through the barriers that the archetypal Hephaestus puts up they can prove a loyal companion or partner, capable of great empathy and sensitivity. When successful in a group they can offer a realist approach to life and work as well as great skill and creativity. The archetypal Hephaestus is likely to be tremendously skilled at the more practical, hands on aspects of life and flourish in a more practical occupation such as engineering or metalworking. They also possess an intelligence, acumen, pragmatism and steely determination towards life which equips them well to succeed in many areas of modern life should they be able to control the less positive aspects of their personality.
Characteristics of the Hephaestus archetype
“To Hephaistos (Hephaestus), Fumigation from Frankincense and Manna. Strong, mighty Hephaistos, bearing splendid light, unwearied fire, with flaming torrents bright: strong-handed, deathless, and of art divine, pure element, a portion of the world is thine: all-taming artist, all-diffusive power, ’tis thine, supreme, all substance to devour: aither, sun, moon, and stars, light pure and clear, for these thy lucid parts [of fire] to men appear. To thee all dwellings, cities, tribes belong, diffused through mortal bodies, rich and strong. Hear, blessed power, to holy rites incline, and all propitious on the incense shine: suppress the rage of fire’s unwearied frame, and still preserve our nature’s vital flame.”
– Orphic Hymn 66 to Hephaestus (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.)
“It isn’t easy being a brilliant inventor, always alone. Always misunderstood. Easy to turn bitter, make horrible mistakes. People are more difficult to work with than machines. And when you break a person, he can’t be fixed. – Hephaestus”
— Rick Riordan
“Sing, clear-voiced Muse, of Hephaestus famed for inventions. With bright-eyed Athene he taught men glorious crafts throughout the world, men who before used to dwell caves in the mountains like wild beasts. But now that they have learned crafts through Hephaistos the famed worker, easily they live a peaceful life in their own houses the whole year round. Be gracious, Hephaistos, and grant me success and prosperity!”
– Homeric Hymn 20 to Hephaestus (Greek epic C7th to 4th B.C.)