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My Favourite Planet > English > People > Hephaistos

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Ancient Greek mythology, religion and art

Hephaistos (Ἥφαιστος), the son of Zeus and Hera, was the Greek god of metalworkers and sculptors, the archetypal maker of fine and extravagant metal objects, including armour for gods and heroes (e.g. Achilles, see below), Aphrodite's girdle, Hermes' winged helmet and sandals and the chariot of Helios. He was also the god of fire and volcanoes, his Roman equivalent being Vulcanus.

"The bellows blew on the crucibles, twenty in all, sending forth well-blown blasts of every degree sometimes in a hurry, at other times in whatever way Hephaistos wanted and demanded. He threw weariless copper in the fire and tin and precious gold and silver; and then he set a great anvil on its block, and grasped in one hand the mighty hammer, and in the other the tongs."

Homer, Iliad, Book 18, lines 470-477.

He was worshipped at many places around the Greek world, particularly on the northern Aegean island of Lemnos and in Athens, where the Doric Temple of Hephaistos (the Hephaisteion (see photo below), built in the second half of the 5th century BC (around the same time as the Parthenon), stands in the Athenian Agora and is the best preserved Classical temple. It housed statues of Hephaistos and Athena who was sometimes known as Athena Ergane (the Worker), patron of crafts. The two deites were celebrated at an annual festival known as the Chalkeia (Greek for copper or bronze; chalkeus was a title for a bronzeworker), which included torch races.

"Sing, clear-voiced Muse, of Hephaistos, famed for inventions. With bright-eyed Athena he taught men glorious crafts."

Homeric Hymn

Hephaistos was associated with Athena's birth: ancient vases and reliefs show him with an axe, splitting open Zeus's head, from which Athena springs fully armed (see the illustration on Athens Acropolis gallery page 13).

Although in some myths he was said to have lived and worked on Mount Olympus, several volcanoes around the Mediterranean, especially Aetna on Sicily and the nearby Lipari islands, were believed to be locations of his fiery workshop and foundry.

In early Greek art Hephaistos was depicted as lame, sometimes as a dwarf; dwarf-like statuettes of him were placed before hearths. His lameness was the result of falling from Mount Olympus, or being thrown down by Hera. He refused to return to Olympus, but was persuaded by Dionysus, who made him drunk, put him on a mule and led him home in a procession of satyrs (see photos below).

In works of the 5th century BC onwards he becomes more heroic, shown wearing a chiton (tunic), sometimes with his right shoulder bare, and often wearing an oval cap.

An early 5th century BC Athenian red-figured cup by the Foundry Painter, now in Berlin (Staatliche Museen, Berlin), shows Hephaistos sitting in his workshop with hammer and anvil, presenting the armour he has made for Achilles to the hero's mother Thetis (see photo below).

"And when the renowned smith, lame in both legs, had wrought all the armour, he lifted it and placed it in front of the mother of Achilles."

(Homer, Iliad, Book 18, lines 614-615).

The 5th century BC Athenian sculptor Alkamenes is said to have made a statue of Hephaistos, probably for the Hephaisteion, which subtly indicated the lameness in his legs (Cicero, de natura Deorum, 1.30, 83; Valerius Maximus, 8.11, ext. 3).
Hephaistos returning to Olympus on horseback at My Favourite Planet

Hephaistos returning to Olympus.

Detail of a black-figure neck amphora
from southern Italy, around 520 BC.

See details below.
Marble statue of Hephaistos, Ostia at My Favourite Planet   Detail of the statue of Hephaistos in Ostia at My Favourite Planet
Marble statue identified as Vulcanus-Hephaistos.

Perhaps a copy of an original attributed to Alkamenes, 420-415 BC.
Found in the Baths of Mithras (Terme del Mitra, I,XVII,2), Ostia.

The statue lacks attributes, such as a hammer or axe, which would identify
him as Hephaistos. His pilos (conical cap) and short-sleeved chiton, worn
over one shoulder only, are reminiscent of depictions of Odysseus.

Ostia Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 152.
Hephaistos on a Roman puteal relief at My Favourite Planet

Detail of a marble puteal (well head) with an Archaistic relief depicting
a procession of twelve Olympian gods. Hephaistos (right), holding a
double-headed axe or hammer in both hands, meets Zeus.

Reign of Emperor Hadrian, 117-138 AD. Greek marble.
Height 83.5 cm; height of relief panel 49.3 cm.

Palazzo Nuovo, Capitoline Museums, Rome. Inv. No. MC 1919.
From the Medici Collection, then the Albani Collection.

The puteal is said to have been found n the 18th century in a vineyard outside the Porta del Popolo, Rome. According to other accounts it was found either at Nettuno or Hadrian's Villa, Tivoli. It stood in the Medici Villa outside the Porta del Popolo. Cosimo III de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany (1642-1723) presented it to Cardinal Alessandro Albani (1692-1779). It was acquired by the Capitoline Museums in 1728 along with other objects from the Albani Collection.

Two trains of gods advance in opposite directions around the side of the puteal and meet each other. The procession approaching from the left is lead by Zeus, holding a sceptre in his left hand and a thunderbolt in his right. He is followed by Hera, Athena, Herakles, Apollo (with a lyre), Artemis (with a bow in her left hand), Ares, and Aphrodite (with a flower in each hand).

Hephaistos, approaching from the right, leads Poseidon (with trident and dolphin), Hermes (with caduceus and ram), and Hestia.

The representation has been variously interpreted as the return of Hephaestos to Olympus, the introduction of Herakles among the gods, or the birth of Athena (hence Hephaistos' axe). Not all the Twelve Great Gods of Olympus are present: Demeter is absent, as is Dionysus who is considered to have taken Hestia's place (see Dionysus). Herakles, who was not among the twelve, here makes up the number.
Fragmentary statue of Hephaistos from Corinth at My Favourite Planet

Fragmentary marble statue of Hephaistos.

Roman period, 2nd - 3rd century AD. From the
West End of the Forum of Ancient Corinth.

Corinth Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. S 790.
Hephaistos gives Thetis the armour he has made for her son Achilles at My Favourite Planet

Hephaistos gives the goddess Thetis the armour and arms he has made for
her son Achilles during the Trojan War (Homer, Iliad, Book 18, lines 614-615).
Achilles used them to avenge the death of his friend Patroclus (see Homer).

Antikensammlung SMB, Berlin (Altes Museum). Inv. No. F 2294.

The tondo on the inside of an Attic red-figure kylix (drinking cup), made in Athens 490-480 BC. Known as the "Berlin Foundry Cup" (German, Erzgießerei-Schale); the name vase of the Foundry Painter. The outside of the cup (Sides A and B) shows workers (sculptors) at a foundry.

Discovered by Campanari in Vulci, an important Etruscan city (Lazio, north of Rome). Acquired for the Prussian Royal Collection, Berlin, in 1837 by Karl Josias Freiherr von Bunsen.

Bearded Hephaistos, wearing a short tunic and sitting on a cushioned stool, holds up a helmet in his left hand, and has a hammer in his right. Thetis stand to his right, wearing a chiton and cloak and a fillet in her hair, and holds a spear and shield. The device on the shield is a flying bird carrying a snake in its claws, surrounded by four stars.

A pair of greaves (shin armour) hangs on the wall of the workshop, between the two figures. On the right a hammer hanging from the wall, and beneath it an anvil stands on a mound of earth. The inscription, running downwards (clockwise) to the right of Thetis, states: Ο ΠΑΙΣ ΚΑΛΟΣ (O PAIS KALOS, the boy is beautiful).
Hephaistos returns to Olympus, escorted by Dionysus and his companions at My Favourite Planet

Hephaistos returns to Olympus on a mule, escorted
by Dionysus (behind Hephaistos) and his companions.

Middle Corinthian column krater (bowl for mixing wine and water), about
600-575 BC. Perhaps by the Ophelandros Painter. From Nola, Campania, Italy.

Hephaistos, Dionysus and two other figures hold drinking horns.
Some of the dancers wear padded costumes which may suggest
that the scene depicts a ritual or dramatic performance.

Such carefree Archaic period depictions of the rustic procession
may be compared with the more sophisticated and consciously
triumphal Roman period images of Dionysus' return fom India.

British Museum. Inv. No. GR 1867.5-8.860 (Vase B 42). Blacas Collection.
Dionysus leads Hephaistos back to Olympus at My Favourite Planet

Dionysus leads Hephaistos, riding a mule, back to Olympus, followed by a silen.

Black-figure neck amphora made in southern Italy around 520 BC.
Attributed to the Polyphemos Group.

British Museum. Inv. No. GR 1949.2-17.1.
Hephaistos returning to Olympus on an Attic column krater at My Favourite Planet

Detail of an Attic column krater showing Hephaistos returning to Olympus.

Attributed to the Leagros Group, second half of the 6th century BC.
From Akragas (Agrigento), Sicily.

Hephaistos, wearing a crown and craftman's tunic (exomis), and
holding an axe or hammer, rides an ithyphallic mule led by maenad.
Behind him is a satyr with an erect penis holding a rhyton (cup).
The other side (Side B) shows the rape of Tetys by Peleos.

Agrigento Regional Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. C.1535.
Hephaistos returns to Olympus, Catania, Sicily at My Favourite Planet Detail of Hephaistos returning to Olympus in Catania at My Favourite Planet
Hephaistos returns to Olympus on a mule led by a satyr.

Attic black-figure lekythos, made in Athens,
end of the 6th century BC.

Museo Civico, Castello Ursino, Catania, Sicily.
Inv. No. 5069. From the Benedettini Collection.
A black figure kyathos showing Hephaistos returning to Olympus at My Favourite Planet

Detail of a black figure kyathos (cup) showing Hephaistos' return to Olympus
on a mule. Dionysus and a satyr carring a sack of wine follow him. 520-500 BC.

Excavated at tomb in Room 371, Banditaccia necropolis, Etruria.

National Etruscan Museum, Villa Giulia, Rome.
Hephaistos at the wedding of Peleus and Thetis at My Favourite Planet

Hephaistos, left, riding a mule, at the rear of a procession of deities, nymphs and muses
at the wedding of Peleus and Thetis. Before him are Eileithyeia, goddess of childbirth,
with Tephys, and her husband, the fish-tailed god Okeanos, the grandfather of Thetis.

Detail of a large Attic black-figure dinos (wine bowl), made in Athens around 580 BC.
Signed by Sophilos as painter, the earliest known Athenian vase painter to sign his works.

British Museum. Inv. No. 1971.11-1.1.

See another photo and information about this vase below.
The Hephaisteion in the Agora of Athens at My Favourite Planet

The Hephaisteion, the temple of Hephaistos and Athena Ergane, in the Agora of Athens.
Built in the second half of the 5th century BC (around the same time as the Parthenon),
it is the best preserved Classical temple. It was previously believed to be the temple of
Theseus, and the nearby district and metro station were named Thission after it. During
the 19th century a number of foreign Christians were buried in the temple. Later the
graves were removed, and the building was used as a deposit for archaeological finds.
Bronze plaque with a relief of Hephaistos forging arrows for Eros at My Favourite Planet

Bronze plaque with a relief of Hephaistos (Vulcan)
forging arrows for Eros (Cupid), watched by Aphrodite.

Made by Andrea Briosco, known as Riccio, Padua,
late 15th - early 16th century. On the back, the
inscription "Ri", was cast with the plaque.

Bode Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. 1921. Acquired 1892.
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Deities attending the wedding of Peleus and Thetis at My Favourite Planet

Detail of a large Attic black-figure dinos (wine bowl) with a depiction of
a procession of deities attending the wedding of Peleus and Thetis.

Made in Athens around 580 BC. Signed by Sophilos as painter,
the earliest known Athenian vase painter to sign his works.

British Museum. Inv. No. 1971.11-1.1.

Both Zeus and Poseidon were attracted to the sea nymph Thetis, but then learned that her son was destined to be greater than his father. So it was decided that she should marry the mortal Peleus, and all the Olympian gods attended the wedding. It is notable that neither Zeus and Poseidon nor their respective wives Hera and Amphitrite are depicted on the dimos.

The procession scene runs continually right around the body of the dinos, beginning and ending with the house of the bridgroom Peleus, between two columns of which is written "Sophilos painted me". The names of the participants in the procession are painted next to the figures.

The line of wedding guests is led by Iris, who is greeted by Peleus, standing before his house, holding a kantharos (wine jug). Next to arrive are Demeter, Hestia, Chariklo, Leto, Dionysus and Hebe. Then comes the centaur Cheiron, the guardian and tutor of the future son of Peleus and Thetis, Achilles. Behind him walk Themis and three nymphs, followed by three four-horse chariots: Ares and Aphrodite accompanied by five muses, one playing a syrinx (Pan pipes); Hermes and Apollo accompanied by three muses; Athena and Artemis accompanied by three Moirai (Fates). At the rear are Okeanos, Tephys, Eileithyeia and Hephaistos, behind whom can be seen the columns of Peleus' house.

Remarkably, the stand of the dimos has also survived. The the foor of the stand and the lower part of the bowl are decorated with paintings of lions, deer, goats, rams a wild boar and sirens. Bowls and stands of this shape are thought to have derived from eastern metal protypes. It has been suggested that this vessel may have been designed for a wedding feast.
Photos and articles © David John

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