Hephaestus hands Thetis the armor of Achilles, 5th century BCE Greek pottery, now in the Altes Museum, Berlin.

Hephaestus (eight different spellings; pronounced: /həˈfɛstəs/; Ancient Greek Ἥφαιστος Hēphaistos) was a Greek god whose Roman equivalent was Vulcan. He is the son of Zeus and Hera, the King and Queen of the Gods (or perhaps of Hera alone). He was the god of technology, blacksmiths, craftsmen, artisans, sculptors, metals, metallurgy, fire and volcanoes. Like other mythic smiths but unlike most other gods, Hephaestus was lame, which gave him a grotesque appearance in Greek eyes. He served as the blacksmith of the gods, and he was worshiped in the manufacturing and industrial centers of Greece, particularly in Athens. The center of his cult was in Lemnos.[1] Hephaestus's symbols are a smith's hammer, an anvil and a pair of tongs, although sometimes he is portrayed holding an axe.


In one tradition clearly attested in Homer's Odyssey and perhaps also in the Iliad, Hephaestus was born of the union of Zeus and Hera.[2] In another tradition, which was only unambiguously recorded in late texts,[3] but which may be an archaic survival of an autonomous Hera, she bore Hephaestus parthenogenetically; she is given the motivation in Hesiod's Zeus-centered cosmology[4] that she was engaged in a competitive quarrel with Zeus for his "birthing" of Athena, but Attic vase-painters illustrated the mainstream tradition that Hephaestus was already present at the birth of Athena, seen to be wielding the hammer with which he had split Zeus' head to free her.

Fall from Olympus

Hera threw Hephaestus out of heaven in disgust because he was lame;[5] alternatively, he was made lame by the fall or, he was flung by Zeus, because he came to his mother’s rescue when Zeus had her in fetters for opposing him. He fell into the sea, where Thetis and the Oceanid Eurynome cared for him in a sea cave[6] or he fell for an entire day and landed on the island of Lemnos, where he was cared for by the Sintians, an ancient Lemnian tribe.[7] In every case, he remained forever lame.

Volcano god

Hephaestus was identified by Greek colonists in southern Italy with the volcano gods Adranus of Mount Etna and Vulcanus of the Lipari islands. His forge was moved there by the poets. 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".[8]

An Athenian founding myth tells that Athena refused a union with Hephaestus because of his unsightly appearance and crippled nature, and that when he became angry and forceful with her, she disappeared from the bed. His 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 imaginative etymology for Erichthonius, of strife (Eris) between Athena and Hephaestus and the Earth-child (chthonios). There is a Temple of Hephaestus, the Hephaesteum miscalled the "Theseum", located near the Athenian 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.

Homer makes Charis the wife of Hephaestus. However, according to most myths, Hephaestus is a husband of Aphrodite, who commits adultery with Ares.


Hephaestus crafted much of the other magnificent equipment of the gods, and almost any finely-wrought metalwork imbued with powers that appears in Greek myth is said to have been forged by Hephaestus: Hermes' winged helmet and sandals, the Aegis breastplate, Aphrodite's famed girdle, Agamemnon's staff of office,[9] Achilles' armor, Heracles' bronze clappers, Helios' chariot as well as his own due to his lameness, the shoulder of Pelops, Eros' bow and arrows. Hephaestus worked with the help of the chthonic Cyclopes, his assistants in the forge. He also built automatons of metal to work for him. This included tripods that walked to and from Mount Olympus. He gave to blinded Orion his apprentice Cedalion as a guide. In one version of the myth, Prometheus stole the fire that he gave to man from Hephaestus's forge. Hephaestus also created the gift that the gods gave to man, the woman Pandora and her jar. Being a skilled blacksmith, Hephaestus created all the thrones in the Palace of Olympus.[10]


Hephaestus is given many epithets, some of which include:[11]

  • “the lame one” (ἀμφιγύεις)
  • “the halting” (κυλλοποδίων)
  • “coppersmith” (χαλκεύς)
  • “renowned artificer” (κλυτοτέχνης)
  • “shrewd, crafty” or “of many devices” (πολύμητις)

The lame smith

Hephaestus is the only Olympian god to have been exiled from Olympus and to have returned. In a Homeric version of Hephaestus's myth, Hera, mortified to have brought forth such grotesque offspring, promptly threw him from Mount Olympus. He fell nine days and nights and landed in the ocean,[12] where he was brought up by the Oceanids Thetis (mother of Achilles) and Eurynome.

Hephaestus was reported in myth as cholōs, "lame",[13] and depicted with crippled feet, said to be halting (ēpedanos) and misshapen, whether from birth or as a result of his fall; in the vase-paintings, Hephaestus is shown lame and bent over his anvil, hard at work on a metal creation, 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.[14] 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[15] have observed: the Kabeiroi were seen as lame too.[16] In some myths, Hephaestus built himself a "wheeled chair" or chariot with which to move around, thus helping him overcome his lameness while showing the other gods his skill.[17] In Homer's Illiad it is said that Hephaestus built some bronze human machines to help him get around.

Hephaestus’s physical appearance is taken by some to indicate 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.[18]

Return of Hephaestus

In an archaic story,[19] 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.[20] The other gods begged Hephaestus to return to Olympus to let her go, but he refused, saying "I have no mother".[21]

At last Dionysus, sent to fetch him, shared his wine, intoxicating the smith, and took him back to Olympus on the back of a mule accompanied by revelers, a scene that sometimes appears on painted pottery of Attica and in Corinth,[22] as well. In the painted scenes the padded dancers and phallic figures of the Dionysan throng leading the mule show that the procession was a part of the dithyrambic celebrations that were the forerunners, in Athens, of the satyr plays of the fifth century.[23]

The theme of the return of Hephaestus, popular among the Attic vase-painters whose wares were favored among the Etruscans, may have carried this theme to Etruria.[24] As vase-painters portrayed the procession, Hephaestus was mounted on a mule or a horse, accompanied by Dionysus, who held the bridle and carried Hephaestus' tools, which include a double-headed axe.

The traveller Pausanias reported seeing a painting in the temple of Dionysus in Athens, which had been built in the 5th century but may have been decorated at any time before the 2nd century CE, when Pausanias saw it:

There are paintings here – Dionysus bringing Hephaestus up to heaven. One of the Greek legends is that Hephaestus, when he was born, was thrown down by Hera. In revenge he sent as a gift a golden chair with invisible fetters. When Hera sat down she was held fast, and Hephaestus refused to listen to any other of the gods save Dionysus – in him he reposed the fullest trust – and after making him drunk Dionysus brought him to heaven.[25]

Hephaestus and Aphrodite

Hephaestus, being the most unfaltering of the gods, was given Aphrodite’s hand in marriage by Zeus in order to prevent conflict over her between the other gods.

Woodcut illustration of Venus and Cupid, with Vulcan chaining Venus and Mars while Dis looks on in the background - Penn Provenance Project

15th century German depiction of Vulcan (Hephaestus) chaining Venus (Aphrodite) and Mars (Ares).

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 god, 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 so small as to be invisible 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.[26] 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.[27] 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.

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 comparatively few epithets. One was Hephaestus Aetnaeus, owing to his workshop supposedly being located below Mount Etna.[28]

The minor planet 2212 Hephaistos discovered in 1978 by Soviet astronomer Lyudmila Chernykh is named in his honor.[29]


  1. Walter Burkert, Greek Religion 1985: III.2.ii; see coverage of Lemnos-based traditions and legends at Mythic Lemnos)
  2. Homer, Odyssey viii. 312 Homer, Iliad i. 578 (some scholars, such as Gantz note that Hephaestus' reference to Zeus as 'father' here may be a general title) , xiv. 338, xviii. 396, xxi. 332; this is the view adopted by Cicero, De Natura Deorum 3. 22
  3. Bibliotheke i. 3.5 (consciously contradicting Homer); Hyginus, Preface to Fabulaef
  4. Hesiod, Theogony 924ff.
  5. Homeric Hymn 3, to Pythian Apollo 310 ff
  6. Homer, Iliad xviii.136ff; Homeric Hymn 3, to Pythian Apollo 310 ff.
  7. Homer, Iliad i.568 ff
  8. Life of Apollonius of Tyana, book v.16.
  9. its provenance recounted in Iliad II
  10. Graves, Robert (1960). "The Palace of Olympus". Greek Gods and Heroes. United States of America: Dell Laurel-Leaf. pp. 150. 
  11. Autenrieth, Georg (1891). A Homeric Dictionary for Schools and Colleges. United States of America: Harper and Brothers. 
  12. as he tells it himself in the Iliad (xviii.395)
  13. Odyssey 8.308; Iliad 18.397, etc.
  14. Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica i.204.
  15. Marcel Detienne and Jean-Pierre Vernant, Cunning Intelligence in Greek Culture and Society, trans. Janet Lloyd (Atlantic Highlands NJ: Humanities Press), 1978:269-72, cited by Morris Silver, Taking Ancient Mythology Economically 1992:35 note 5.
  16. Hephaestus' Roman counterpart Vulcan was seen as lame also. In Ugarit, among other parallels with Greek myth, the craftsman-god Kothar Hasis is identified from afar by his distinctive walk, possibly suggesting that he limps. (Baruch Margalit, Aqhat Epic 1989:289); in Egypt, Herodotus (iii.36) was given to understand, the craftsman-god Ptah was a dwarf. Compare the Nordic lame bronzeworker Weyland the Smith.
  17. Jay Dolmage, "'Breathe Upon Us an Even Flame': Hephaestus, History, and the Body of Rhetoric," Rhetoric Review Vol. 25, No. 2 (2006), 119-140. 120.
  18. H. W. F. Saggs, Civilization Before Greece and Rome, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989:p200-2001.
  19. Features within the narrative suggest its archaic nature to Kerenyi and others; the fullest literary account, however, is a late one, in the Roman rhetorician Libanios, according to Guy Hedreen, "The Return of Hephaistos, Dionysiac Processional Ritual and the Creation of a Visual Narrative" The Journal of Hellenic Studies 124 (2004:38-64) p. 38 and note.
  20. A section "The Binding of Hera" is devoted to this archaic theme in Karl Kerenyi, The Gods of the Greeks (1951, pp 156-58) who refers to this "ancient story", which is one of the "tales of guileful deeds performed by cunning gods, mostly at a time when they had not joined the family on Olympus".
  21. Kerenyi 1951:157.
  22. Axel Seeberg, "Hephaistos Rides Again" The Journal of Hellenic Studies 85 (1965), pp. 102-109, describes and illustrates four pieces of Corinthian painted pottery with the theme; a black red-figure calpis in the collection of Marsden J. Perry was painted with the return of Hephaestus (L. G. Eldridge, "An Unpublished Calpis", American Journal of Archaeology 21.1 (January - March 1917:38-54).
  23. The significance of the subject for the pre-history of Greek drama is argued by T.B.L. Webster, "Some thoughts on the pre-history of Greek drama", Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies 5 ((1958) pp 43ff; more recently, see Guy Hedreen 2004:38-64.
  24. The return of Hephaestus was painted on the Etruscan tomb at the "Grotta Campana" near Veii (identified by Petersen, Über die älteste etruskische Wandmälerei (Rome, 1902) pp 149ff; the "well-known subject" was doubted in this instance by A. M. Harmon, "The Paintings of the Grotta Campana", American Journal of Archaeology 16.1 (January - March 1912):1-10);
  25. Pausanias, 1.20.3.
  26. in his Theogony 945
  27. Aeneid i.664
  28. Aelian, Hist. An. xi. 3
  29. Schmadel, Lutz D. (2003). Dictionary of Minor Planet Names (5th ed.). New York: Springer Verlag. pp. 180. ISBN 3540002383. 

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This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Hephaestus. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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