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Who is Hephaestus?

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  • Written By: Mary Elizabeth
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 04 November 2016
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In Greek mythology, Hephaestus is one of the Olympian gods, usually numbered at twelve, and like many of the Olympians — Athena, Ares, Apollo, Hermes, and Artemis — Hephaestus is a child of Zeus. One of the children of Hera, Hephaestus is the god of smiths and other craftsmen, and fire. His counterpart in Roman mythology is Vulcan. Volcanoes served as the fires for his workshop, and were manned, so to speak, by the Cyclopes.

Hesiod and Homer give differing accounts of Hephaestus. Hesiod says that Hephaestus is the child of Hera alone, born by an act of will after a quarrel between Hera and Zeus. He was lame at birth, as well as ugly, and had the misfortune to be thrown off of Olympus for displeasing a parent. In Book I of the Iliad, the parent is Zeus, but in Book XVIII, it is Hera. In any case, he survives the ordeal and ends up on the island of Lemnos. In the second version, Hephaestus seeks revenge by catching Hera with a throne that traps her. In order to get Hephaestus back to Olympus to set Hera free, Dionysus gets him drunk.

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Hephaestus is reported by Homer to be married to Charis, one of the Graces, in the Iliad, but to the goddess Aphrodite in the Odyssey. Aphrodite was more interested in Ares, with whom she had three children, and when Helios told him about it, Hephaestus wasn’t pleased. He made a bronze net that was invisible, and arranged it above his bed before telling Aphrodite that he was taking a trip to Lemnos. Soon Ares arrived to take advantage of Hephaestus’s absence, and Hephaestus, who was actually hiding nearby, came in, dropped the net on them, and then called the other gods to witness. Eventually, he let them go.

Hephaestus is credited with making many incredible objects, besides the invisible net. He was the maker of thunderbolts for Zeus and the aegis of Athena. He was the maker of Achilles’ famous armor, as well as the necklace given as a wedding present to Harmonia. Perhaps most incredible, he created the first woman, Pandora out of clay. In Greek mythology, the creation of woman was a punishment for mortals for whom Prometheus had stolen fire.

In the 1850’s, a planet named Vulcan was proposed as an explanation for the behavior of the planet Mercury. When Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity satisfactorily explained Mercury’s behavior, the idea of Vulcan was dismissed. In the fictional universe of Star Trek, Vulcan is a planet, and Mr. Spock is one of the extraterrestrials to hail from there.

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