Hephaestus, the Greek God of Fire and Volcanoes

The Most Imperfect of the Perfect Greek Pantheon

The return of Hephaestus to Olympus, with Dionysus and satyr

New York Public Library Digital Collections

Hephaestus is the name of the Greek god of volcanoes and a craftsman and blacksmith associated with metalworking and stone masonry. Of all the gods on Olympus, he is arguably the most human, having suffered abuse by the other gods, who by contrast are aloof, perfect, and remote from the frailties of men. Hephaestus is also connected to humanity by his chosen profession, sculptor, and blacksmith. Yet he is one of the children of the marriage of the powerful gods Zeus and Hera, also the most quarrelsome couple in the Olympian heaven.

Some of the legends around Hephaestus suggest he was parthenogenic, the son of only Hera unaided by Zeus, an event caused by Hera in anger after Zeus produced Athena without the benefit of a female partner. Hephaestus is the god of fire, and the Roman version of Hephaestus is represented as Vulcan.

Hephaestus' Two Falls

Hephaestus suffered two falls from Mount Olympus, both humiliating and painful—gods aren't supposed to feel pain. The first was when Zeus and Hera were in the midst of one of their endless quarrels. Hephaestus took his mother's part, and in anger, Zeus threw Hephaestus off Mount Olympus. The fall took an entire day and when it ended in Lemnos, Hephaestus was nearly dead, his face and body permanently deformed. There he was tended by Lemnos' human inhabitants; and when he finally as a wine steward to the Olympians, he was a figure of ridicule, particularly in comparison to the legendarily handsome wine steward Ganymede.

The second fall from Olympus occurred when Hephaestus was still scarred by the first fall, and perhaps more humiliating, this one was caused by his mother. The legends say that Hera could not bear the sight of him and his deformed legs, and she wanted this reminder of a failed quarrel with Zeus to disappear, so she threw him off Mount Olympus once more. He stayed with the Neriads on earth for nine years, tended by Thetis and Eurynome. One myth reports that he only returned to Olympus by crafting a beautiful throne for his mother with a secret mechanism trapping her in it. Only Hephaestos could release her, but he refused to do so until he is made drunk enough to return to Olympus and set her free.

Hephaestus and Thetis

Hephaestus and Thetis Hephaestus is often associated with Thetis, another deity with human traits. Thetis was the mother of the doomed warrior Achilles, and she went to extraordinary lengths in numerous efforts to protect him from his foretold fate. Thetis tended Hephaestus after his first fall and later asked him to forge new weapons for her son. Thetis, the divine parent, begs Hephastus to craft a beuatiful shield for her son Achilles, a shield predestined to bring its bearer death. It was the last futile effort of Thetis; soon Achilles died. Hephaestus is said to have lusted after Athena, another crafts person; and in some versions of Mount Olympus, he was the husband of Aphrodite.

Sources ​

Rinon Y. 2006. Tragic Hephaestus: The Humanized God in the "Iliad" and the "Odyssey". Phoenix 60(1/2):1-20.

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Gill, N.S. "Hephaestus, the Greek God of Fire and Volcanoes." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, thoughtco.com/hephaestus-111909. Gill, N.S. (2020, August 28). Hephaestus, the Greek God of Fire and Volcanoes. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/hephaestus-111909 Gill, N.S. "Hephaestus, the Greek God of Fire and Volcanoes." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/hephaestus-111909 (accessed June 10, 2023).