Greek god of fire. He was originally a deity of Asia Minor and nearby islands (especially Lemnos); his Roman counterpart was Vulcan. Born lame, or crippled at an early age, he was cast out of heaven by his parents, Zeus and Hera. His wife was Aphrodite, goddess of love. He was the patron of smiths and craftsman and was often depicted working at his forge. Volcanoes were believed to be the fires of his workshops.
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The first-century sage Apollonius of Tyana is said to have observed, "there are many other mountains all over the earth that are on fire, and yet we should never be done with it if we assigned to them giants and gods like Hephaestus".
An Athenian founding myth tells that Athena refused a union with Hephaestus because of his unsightly appearance, and that when he became angry and forceful with her, she disappeared from the bed. Hephaestus ejaculation landed on the earth, impregnating Gaia, who subsequently gave birth to Erichthonius of Athens; then the surrogate mother gave the child to Athena to foster, guarded by a serpent. Hyginus made an etymology of strife (Eri-) between Athena and Hephaestus and the Earth-child (chthonios). Some readers may have the sense that an earlier, non-virginal Athena is disguised in a convoluted re-making of the myth-element. At any rate, there is a Temple of Hephaestus (Hephaesteum or the so-called "Theseum") located near the Athens agora, or marketplace.
On the island of Lemnos, his consort was the sea nymph Cabeiro, by whom he was the father of two metalworking gods named the Cabeiri. In Sicily, his consort was the nymph Aetna, and his sons two gods of Sicilian geysers called Palici.
In Iliad i.590, Zeus threw Hephaestus from Olympus because he released his mother Hera who was suspended by a golden chain between earth and sky, after an argument she had with Zeus. Hephaestus fell for nine days and nights before landing on the island of Lemnos where he grew to be a master craftsman and was allowed back into Olympus when his ability and usefulness became known to the gods.
Hephaestus gained revenge against Hera for rejecting him by making her a magical golden throne which, when she sat on it, did not allow her to leave it. The other gods begged Hephaestus to return to Olympus to let her go, but he repeatedly refused. At last Dionysus shared his wine, intoxicating the smith, and took him back to Olympus on the back of a mule.
Hephaestus was reported in myth as cholōs, "lame", crippled, halting (ēpedanos) and misshapen, either from birth or as a result of his fall: in the vase-paintings, Hephaestus was shown lame and bent over his anvil, his feet sometimes back-to-front: Hephaistos amphigyēeis. He walked with the aid of a stick. The Argonaut Palaimonius, "son of Hephaestus"— which is to say a bronze-smith— was also lame. Other "sons of Hephaestus" were the Kabeiroi on the island of Samothrace; they were identified with the crab (karkinos) by the lexicographer Hesychius, and the adjective karkinopous, "crab-footed" signified "lame", Detienne and Vernant have observed: the Kabeiroi were seen as lame too.
Hephaestus’s physical appearance indicates arsenicosis, low levels of arsenic poisoning, resulting in lameness and skin cancers. In place of less available tin, arsenic was added to copper in the Bronze Age to harden it; most smiths of the Bronze Age would have suffered from chronic workplace poisoning, and the mythic image of the lame smith is widespread.
In either case, Hephaestus and Aphrodite had an arranged marriage and Aphrodite, disliking the idea of being married to unsightly Hephaestus, began an affair with Ares, the god of war. Eventually, Hephaestus found out about Aphrodite’s promiscuity from Helios, the all-seeing Sun, and planned a trap for them during one of their trysts. While Aphrodite and Ares lay together in bed, Hephaestus ensnared them in an unbreakable, chain-link net and dragged them to Mount Olympus to shame them in front of the other gods for retribution. However, the gods laughed at the sight of these naked lovers and Poseidon persuaded Hephaestus to free them in return for a guarantee that Ares would pay the adulterer's fine. Hephaestus states in the Odyssey that he would return Aphrodite to her father and demand back his bride price: this is the one episode that links them.
In Homer's Iliad the consort of Hephaestus is a lesser Aphrodite, Charis "the grace" or Aglaia "the glorious", the youngest of the Graces, as Hesiod calls her. Hephaestus fathered several children with mortals and immortals alike. One of those children was the robber Periphetes. With Thalia, Hephaestus was sometimes considered the father of the Palici.
The Thebans told that the union of Ares and Aphrodite produced Harmonia, as lovely as a second Aphrodite. But of her union with Hephaestus, there was no issue, unless Virgil was serious when he said that Eros was their child. Later authors might explain this statement when they say the love-god was sired by Ares but passed off to Hephaestus as his own son.
In some myths, Hephaestus built himself a "wheeled chair" or charioteer with which to move around, thus helping him overcome his lameness while showing the other gods his skill.
Hephaestus was somehow connected with the archaic, pre-Greek Phrygian and Thracian mystery cult of the Kabeiroi, who were also called the Hephaistoi, "the Hephaestus-men," in Lemnos. One of the three Lemnian tribes also called themselves Hephaestion and claimed direct descent from the god. He had a follower who named himself Hephacules after him.
Hephaestus had comparatively few epithets. One was Hephaestus Aetnaeus, owing to his workshop supposedly being located below Mount Aetna.