Hephaistos is the Greek god of the forge and fire. He is also known as Hephaestus and in Rome he is equated with Vulcan. He created many of the legendary pieces of armor that gods and heroes carried, and many other fine pieces of smithing that appear in myths or history–Agamemnon’s staff of office, Achilles’ armor, Eros’ bow and arrows, the Aegis, and Aphrodite’s girdle, among others.
Like many of the Olympian gods, Hephaistos tends to be pictured as a muscular middle-aged man with a beard. He holds a hammer and tongs, the tools of a smith, and sometimes is riding a donkey. In later artwork he is shown actually working the forge or scenes from his numerous myths are displayed.
Hephaistos is a highly unusual figure in Greek mythology. Not only is he fatherless in a culture that defines lineage by the paternal line, but he is also lame in a culture that deifies the perfection of the human form. Also unusual is that this god is a major deity instead of a minor one.
This god was the son of Hera but was without a father. Hera was said to have been jealous that Zeus bore Athena (as well as numerous other children) with other women, so she decided to bear her own child without Zeus. How she did so has never been described, but she bore Hephaistos. However, he was born lame, and Hera was so displeased with her son that she threw him from Olympus. He fell for an entire day and when he finally landed he was found on the island of Lemnos, which was then sacred to him. Other versions say he fell for nine days and landed in the ocean, where he was raised by Eurynome and Thetis. Yet another version says that he quarreled with Zeus and Zeus was the one to throw him from Olympus, and this is how he gained his lameness. Either way, the god was lame and thrown from heaven.
He found a way to regain his place on Olympus, however. He crafted a magical throne fit for the Queen of the Gods and sent it to Hera. She sat on this throne and was immediately stuck to it. Unable to free herself, she called on her siblings. They also were unable to free their queen and their pleas to Hephaistos landed on deaf ears as he said in reply that he had no mother. Finally, Dionysus was sent to fetch Hephaistos and eventually got him drunk. Dionysus brought Hephaistos back to Olympus on the back of a mule and surrounded by revelers. Thus Hera was freed and Hephaistos was returned to Olympus.
The lame god gained a wife. Aphrodite married Hephaistos by Zeus’ order, in order to prevent fighting over her by the other gods. But Aphrodite didn’t want to be married to a lame god–she had the hots for Ares. Eventually she cheated on Hephaistos with Ares. But Helios the all-seeing sun knew about the affair and told Hephaistos. The god planned a trap for his wife. Hephaistos planted an unbreakable net in the bed so small and fine that the lovers wouldn’t see it. During their tryst the net snapped shut and caught Ares and Aphrodite in the act. Hephaistos dragged them from the bed and up to Olympus for the other gods to see their shame as revenge.
Other myths include: the story of Pandora, in which Hephaistos crafted Pandora’s form; the birth of Athena, in which he cracked open Zeus’ skull; the crafting of the cursed necklace of Harmonia; the making of Achilles’ armor; the Trojan War; and the story of Erikhthonios. See the previous Weekly Deity: Athena post for more info on the Athena-linked myths here.
Hephaistos is generally seen as fairly easy-going and steadfast. The fire he is associated with only seems to rise with righteous fury, as when he caught his wife betraying him. He is also associated somewhat with earth, as the myth of Erikhthonios suggests (Erikhthonios was born from the Earth by Hephaistos’ seed in his attempt to rape Athena), lending reinforcement to his steadfastness. He has strength as well. Overall, his Light side consists of loyalty, strength, intelligence, an easy-going nature, and righteous anger or fire.
That same easy-going nature could potentially be considered a negative as well as a positive. It would be possible for others to use him to his disadvantage–he could become a doormat. And the righteous anger and revenge could be turned to ill if he were to take everything personally. He also seems to gain his revenge on those who have injured him in very public and somewhat cruel ways. Under that nice-guy simmering surface he is capable of meanness and burning others (it’s always the quiet ones).