Hephaestus was a popular god among the Greeks, but he also has a fairly specialized role. He was a god of craftsmanship and technology. That made him an important god in urban centers, but the average farmer cared afar less about him than other gods. He remains important in spite of that, and he plays an important role in plenty of Greek myths.
The God of Crafts
Hephaestus is primarily the god of the forge, but he does have other areas of expertise. He also served as the god of sculptors, masons, carpenters, and most other crafts. The exceptions are the crafts that were traditionally done by women, such as weaving. It is most accurate to say that Hephaestus was the god of masculine craftsmanship and creating items for sale rather than for use in the home.
He has a secondary role as the god of fire and volcanoes. The connection comes from his role as the divine blacksmith, because that profession relies on the use of fire. This role also has an exception. He is rarely associated with cooking or hearth fires inside the home. He deals with creation and crafting, not with general domestic work.
Who Worshiped Him?
The Greeks worshiped their gods so that they would receive blessings in return. That meant that Hephaestus was relevant anywhere that had professional craftsmen, but his worship tended to concentrate in specific areas. The center of his cult was the island of Lemnos, where he was said to have landed when he was cast off of Olympus.
Athens was also a major center of his worship. The city was a major center of industry, with far more people engaged inc rafting and trade than in most of the surrounding area. The Athenians loved gods of crafting in general, and seem to have respected Hephaestus as the male version of Athena, who handled most feminine crafts.
The Titles of Hephaestus
The Greeks often gave titles to their gods. Those epithets reveal some of their most distinguishing characteristics, and sometimes the things that people valued in those gods. Hephaestus has several such titles:
- The Halting
- The Lame
- Famously Talented
- The God of Aetna
These titles reveal two general themes. The first is the god’s physical deformity. He had a bad leg, and he is often depicted as being fairly ugly which means he is not favored by his father Zeus. That may be because metalworkers in the ancient world often got exposed to huge amounts of arsenic over time, which could cause that sort of deformity.
His titles also refer to his skills. Hephaestus is the ultimate artisan, and people worshiped him in the hopes of being blessed with similar skills. It is only natural that they would honor him with titles that refer to those talents. His claim to being the God of Aetna also falls into this category because Aetna was the legendary site of his forge.
Links to Other Gods
Hephaestus has connections to many of the other Greek gods. The most common type of connection plays to his role as the divine smith. Almost every god has weapons, chariots, or other tools, and Hephaestus is the one who makes most of them. He also forges weapons for many heroes, often at the request of their divine parents.
He also has personal links to two goddesses. He is married to Aphrodite in most myths, but the marriage is not a happy one. She has an affair with his brother Ares, but Hephaestus eventually finds out about it. He forges a magic net that is so small that nobody can see it, and he throws it over them when they are together so he can reveal the affair to the other gods. It is said that his uncle Poseidon eventually persuaded him to free Ares.
Some traditions also give him a romantic link with Athena. The two have a lot in common as the patron of male and female crafts, so it is natural that the Greeks would link the two of them in their stories. Hephaestus pursues Athena, but she rejects him because it is in her nature to stay unmarried. The Athenians tied this myth to that of their founding heroes, who could ultimately trace their ancestry back to Hephaestus. At least one temple to Athena had images of Hephaestus, which shows that the link extended to religious worship.
Myths and Legends
A core myth of Hephaestus deals with his exile from and eventually return to Olympus. The exact reasons vary between sources, but most of them agree that Hephaestus was thrown out of Olympus shortly after he was born. Some say that the fall was what damaged his leg, but other sources say that he was born with the injury.
He eventually returns to the mountain. One of the oldest myths says that his mother, Hera, was the one to throw him out of Olympus, and he retaliated by making a golden throne that trapped her when she sat on it. Hephaestus refused to return at first, but eventually Dionysus, the god of wine and revelry, got him drunk and led him back.
Most of the other myths deal with his wondrous creations. These stories often have him playing a supporting role to the god or hero that actually uses the items, but he does feature more prominently in a few stories. His acts of revenge on Hera and Aphrodite are the most notable, but he also made a chariot that could pull itself.
His role in the story of Prometheus is also notable. Prometheus stole fire from the gods, and some versions have that fire coming from the forge of Hephaestus. The god also played a major role when it came time to punish humanity for the theft. He created Pandora herself, as well as her famous pithos, which is often translated as her box, but it really more like a big clay jar.
Things to Remember
- Hephaestus is the god of crafts, but he is more associated with those done by men than by women.
- He is also a god of fire, particularly the fires of a forge or kiln rather than a cooking fire.
- His relationship with the major goddesses, such as Aphrodite, tend to be strained.
- He creates magic items for the other gods. In general, if an item is famous enough to have a name or be a symbol of the god, Hephaestus probably made it.
- He tended to receive worship in major urban centers, such as Athens, and often received it along with Athena.