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."
, 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, 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."
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 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."
, 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).