12 Myths about the Ancient Greek God Hephaestus
As the ancient Greek god of forges and fire, Hephaestus is believed to have been the deity who forged the spectacular palaces, thrones, weapons, and armor of Olympian gods and goddesses. He also famously forged the Greek hero Achilles’ armor during the siege of Troy in the Trojan War. Born crippled and hideous looking, Hephaestus is best known for the creation of Pandora, the first woman, who went on to unleash untold pain, illness, and misery on the race of men.
Learn 12 fascinating myths about the origin story, meaning and symbols of Hephaestus, the ancient Greek god of fire, volcanoes, blacksmiths, and craftsmen.
Quick Facts about Hephaestus
Who was Hephaestus?
Hephaestus was a cripple and the god of fire, forges, sculpting and other metal crafts. Basically, he was the blacksmith of the Olympian gods and goddesses. He was an extremely hardworking and a powerfully built god. The source of his strength can be attributed to all the heavy lifting that he did in his workshop. He had his own workshop situated in a magnificent palace on Mount Olympus.
Siblings and half siblings: Ares, Aphrodite, Athena, Dionysus, Apollo, Artemis, Aeacus, Angelos, Helen of Troy, Heracles, Perseus, the Muses, Hermes, Minos, etc.
Spouse: Aphrodite, Aglaea
Children: Eucleia, Thalia, and Erichthonius (King of Athens who was half man and half serpent)
Symbols: Anvil, tongs, and hammer
Epithets: “the Halting”, “Coppersmith”, “renowned artificer”, “Aetnaean”, “the lame one”
Mode of transportation: donkey
Roman name: Vulcan
Egyptian equivalent: Ptah
Norse equivalent: Weyland the Smith
12 Major Myths about Hephaestus
He was born deformed to the King and Queen of Mount Olympus
Hephaestus is one of the few Olympian gods that can claim to be the offspring of the mighty Zeus and Hera, both of who were king and queen of Mount Olympus.
However, some accounts state that he was only born to the goddess Hera. The Queen of Mt. Olympus was enraged after Zeus gave birth to Athena (goddess of wisdom) all by himself. The story goes on to say that Hera used a powerful potion to get herself pregnant. However, upon seeing the baby Hephaestus, Hera was so horrified by the baby’s deformed leg that she immediately cast Hephaestus out of Mount Olympus.
Some account of the myths state that the reason he was thrown out of Olympus was because he tried to mediate a fight between Zeus and Hera. Ultimately, Hephaestus fell on the island of Lemnos, where he honed his talents in the several crafts.
Regardless of the version of the story, the common denominator in Hephaestus’s birth has always centered on his disability and not-so-good looking features.
He was raised in secret by sea nymphs
As fate had it, and contrary to what Hera hoped for, Hephaestus went on to survive. He landed safely on earth after free falling from the sky for a couple of days. Taking pity on the poor baby, the nymphs (particularly Thetis, Achilles’ mother) at a nearby sea took Hephaestus in and cared for him.
According to the myths, Hephaestus is believed to have acquired his outstanding abilities in crafts and forging in the underwater cave that he was raised in.
Once the word got out that Hephaestus was alive, his father Zeus welcomed him back to Mount Olympus.
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Hephaestus forged all the Olympian gods’ weapons and armor
In all of Greek mythology, no other deity or man can hold a candle to the skills Hephaestus possessed in craftsmanship. He was an absolutely skilled craftsman, creating amazing work of arts, furniture, and weapons on Mount Olympus. The tools (i.e. anvil, hammer, and tongs) he used felt like an extension of his body. His skill set ranged from metalwork, stone masonry, sculpting, carpentry, and many other crafts.
Hephaestus is credited to have created all the metal works, palaces and thrones on Mount Olympus. He was also the god who created the chariot that Helios, god of the sun, used in flying the sun across the earth, bringing daylight to mankind.
And guess who forged Zeus’ thunder bolts and Poseidon’s trident? The credit goes to none other than Hephaestus. All in all, he forged the arrows of Apollo and Artemis; Harmonica’s necklace; Europa’s golden basket; the armor plates of Hercules and Achilles; Aphrodite’s girdle; Aegis breastplate, Agamemnon’s rod of office; Hermes’ helmet and winged sandals; Eros’ bow and arrows; and Zeus’ impenetrable breastplate.
He had the ability to make his works of art come alive (literally)
Owing to his natural ability to ability to control fire and metal, Hephaestus was able to bend any material to his will. It is also believed that he could imbue in the things that he made with motion ability. For example, he created two golden handmaidens to assist him in his workshop.
In some accounts, however, Hephaestus is believed to be the one who created the Cyclopes- the one-eyed giants/monsters. The Cyclopes frequently assisted him in his workshop. Their crowning achievement came when they made Zeus’ thunder bolts.
The Goddess Aphrodite was married off to Hephaestus
Aphrodite, the most beautiful and radiant of all the gods on Mt Olympus, constantly caused a number of gods to fight over her. Sensing that those fights could spiral into an all out war, Zeus married his daughter Aphrodite off to Hephaestus. Aside from the fact that the two deities were half-siblings, it was a vert strange pairing because no one expected Aphrodite to end up with a very hideous looking god in the shape of Hephaestus.
Another version of the story states that Aphrodite was given to Hephaestus in order to pacify the god of forges. Aggrieved perhaps by his mother’s disaffection for him, Hephaestus looked for a way to get back at her by gifting Hera a beautiful golden chair. Unbeknownst to Hera, the throne had a powerful mechanism that bound Hera in the seat. In order to set his wife free, Zeus arranged for Aphrodite to marry Hephaestus.
He created the Chains of Prometheus
The ancient Greek Titan Prometheus (creator of man) was once bound to a tree to spend the rest of eternity in torture. Zeus had grown tired of Prometheus’ trickery and shenanigans. Besides, the Titan Prometheus was the one who introduced mankind to fire. This act further infuriated Zeus. So the king of Mt. Olympus punished Prometheus by bounding him to a tree (in some account it was a mountain). The chain that he used to keep Prometheus bound was created by Hephaestus.
The chain was believed to be very strong. And had it not been for the sheer strength of the demigod Heracles (Hercules), Prometheus would have spent all of eternity bound to the mountain while his liver was feasted upon daily by Zeus’ eagle.
Hephaestus created the first woman, Pandora
Desiring to inflict untold suffering on the race of men, Zeus commanded his son Hephaestus to create Pandora, the first woman. The King of Mount Olympus wanted to punish men (i.e. the creation of Prometheus) for receiving fire from the trickster god Prometheus.
Hence, on the command of Zeus, Hephaestus created Pandora, who was later given a jar (Pandora ’s Box) and sent to live with the race of men. Upon reaching earth, Pandora’s curiosity got the better of her, forcing her to open the box she had been given. And so the contents of the box, which contained unimaginable miseries and sufferings, were unleashed upon the earth (i.e. the race of men). It is believed that the only item that remained in Pandora’s Box was hope.
Did you know that ancient Greeks commonly believed that Hephaestus was the god who created Pandora’s Box?
His wife Aphrodite was very unfaithful
Widely revered as the goddess of beauty, Aphrodite – Hephaestus’s wife – was a very unfaithful woman. She is believed to have had affairs with several gods and mortals. The most famous of her affair was with Ares, the Greek god of war and wanton violence.
The moment Hephaestus got wind of the affair, he devised a mechanical net and placed it on the bed. The goal was to use the net to trap Ares and Hephaestus while they were together. The magical net did its job and ensnared the adulterous gods. Quickly, Hephaestus dragged Ares and Aphrodite to the center of Mount Olympus, where he displayed them for the whole Olympian gods to shame. He released them after Aphrodite agreed to pay her bride price back to him.
Hephaestus facilitated the birth of Athena
The birth of Athena (the goddess of wisdom and strategic warfare) is quite a popular story in ancient Greek mythology. According to the myth, Athena – Zeus’ favorite daughter – was born a full grown woman with all her battle gear. She emerged out of Zeus’ forehead after Zeus had swallowed the goddess Metis (Athena’s mother) who was pregnant with Zeus’ child. Zeus feared that the offspring of Metis could one day unseat him from his throne on Mt. Olympus. Hence he swallowed Metis.
Shortly after swallowing Metis, Zeus had a very painful headache. In order to relieve his pain, he asked Hephaestus to use his mighty ax to crack open his skull. Athena then emerged out of Zeus head a fully grown woman in her battle attire.
Prometheus stole fire from Hephaestus’ workshop
The story about Prometheus stealing fire from Mount Olympus has featured prominently in many ancient Greek myths. But have you ever wondered where the fire came from in the first place? Well, it certainly had to come from the god of fire and volcanoes – Hephaestus. After all, Hephaestus was the god of fire and volcanoes.
Prometheus might have been a very troublesome and devious titan. However, he was altruistic in his actions. He went against the Olympian gods and stole fire from Hephaestus’ workshop for mankind. Aside from keeping themselves warm with the fire, the race of man was able to technologically advance its society.
Other interesting facts about Hephaestus
- In the heat of the Trojan War, Hephaestus defeated the river god Scamander with fire.
- He was the preferred god of worship by sculptors, blacksmiths, and other craftsmen in manufacturing and industrial zones. For example, the Cult of Hephaestus was located at Lemnos. Then, there was also the Temple of Hephaestus in Athens near Agora.
- He supported the Greeks during the Trojan War.
- Hephaestus gifted a knife to the couples Peleus and Thetis (Achilles’ mother). As a payback of a previous debt owed to Thetis, Hephaestus also made the shield and armor Achilles used during the Trojan War.
- He was usually depicted as a very brawny man with bushes of beard on his face. In his hands, was mostly a hammer. What is common in most depictions of Hephaestus is the lame leg.
- Some stories hold the view that Hephaestus got his lame leg after the mighty fall from heaven to earth. And his bad skin and somewhat ugly looks is believed to be the result of prolonged exposure to the chemicals that he worked with in his workshop. Most likely, the substance was arsenic in nature.
Ptah preceded Zeus as chief of the gods. Hephaestus is a child of Hera, Zeus’s wife. So how can Hephaestus be equated with Ptah?
When it comes to mythologies of the ancient world, there is no one account to the stories. That’s how come some deities appear as the consort of deity A, and then in another account, those same deities appear as the offspring of deity A. Regarding your question about how Hephaestus could be equated to Ptah, it is worth noting that both deities were primarily revered in their respective pantheons as the deities of craftsmen. It is on that basis the ancient Greek god Hephaestus is seen as the equivalent of the Egyptian god Ptah.
In terms of Ptah’s role in creating the universe, or say being the father of the Egyptian gods, perhaps he could be equated to Zeus in the Greek pantheon.
There are countless examples of these pairings. For example, Greek primordial goddess Gaia (or Gaea) – goddess of the Earth – could be equated to ancient Egyptian god Geb, the earth god. On the basis of Geb being the father of famous Egyptian deities like Isis, Osiris and Seth (Set), some mythologists prefer to equate him to the Greek Titan Cronus who fathered majority of the Greek Olympians. Visit this link Gaia: Greek Goddess of the Earth to learn more about how Gaia’s role in the Greek pantheon strikes a close resemblance to Geb’s in the Egyptian pantheon.