Hephaestus, renowned artificer of weapons and wheelchairs

Welcome to the first instalment of Mythology Mondays!

Every other week (to start) I’ll be posting a short intro to a figure from mythology. Any mythology that I know something about is up for grabs — Hellenic, Roman, Irish, Buddhist — you name it, I might cover it.

I’ve studied a lot of mythology over the years, both because I enjoy it and because it is rich fodder for fantasy world-building. Also because I’m a polytheist, but you already knew that, I think.

Please note, for the purposes of these posts, the term “mythology” is not a pejorative. As an anthropological term, it is merely descriptive, referring to a body of work of stories told by a religious or cultural group to explain the truths of their worldview.

Calling something myth does not actually comment on whether or not it’s real. It’s important to remember that there is a difference between cosmic truth and literal fact, and they are not mutually exclusive concepts.

Myths reveal what a religion’s or culture’s cosmic truths are — that is, truths about the culture’s cosmology, or how they view the cosmos. They don’t comment on the existence or not of the figures within them. That’s up to members of the religion or culture.

I’m kicking off Mythology Mondays with one of my favourite dudes: Hephaestus.

Hephaestus (or Hephaistos, or one of the six other spellings) is from Hellenic (Greek) mythology. His parentage is complicated, to say the least, because he’s a Greek god and if you know anything about their family trees you know they make de-tangling mohair yarn after your cat’s been at it on a catnip binge look nice and simple.

Some accounts say he was born of Zeus and Hera; some say he was born of Hera with no father. Another account says his father is Talos, the Cretan god of the sun — but yet another account says Talos is Hephaestus’ creation, a giant bronze automaton.

Like I said. Complicated.

Hephaestus is a god of fire — specifically, the fire of volcanoes and the fire of craftsmen. He works the forge of Olympus; his common symbols are the blacksmith’s tools of hammer, anvil, and tongs. Hephaestus is the craftsman of the gods — pretty much any fancy piece of equipment you read about in the Greek myths, he probably made. He also created all the thrones in Olympus. Busy guy!

His many epithets include “coppersmith,” “of many devices,” “renowned artificer,” and “the lame one.”

Oh, yeah — Hephaestus is disabled. He’s said to be “shrivelled of foot.” Lame, in this case, is a literal application, not a teenager talking about their dad’s jokes.

A photo of the marble statue "Hephaestus at the forge", which depicts Hephaestus or possibly Vulcan posing on an anvil.

That said, it’s really hard to find a depiction of him with said disability.

There are conflicting accounts about his disability and his fall from Olympus. One says that his lameness was present at birth, and Hera, so enraged at his disfigurement, flung him from Mt. Olympus to the world of mortals below. In this story, he falls into the ocean and is raised by Thetis (Achilles’ mom) and the water nymph Eurynome.

Another says that while he was protecting his mother from the advances of his father, Zeus flung him from Olympus. He fell for a full day and landed on Lemnos, where he was taken in by an ancient tribe of that island who taught him to be a master craftsman.

Some writers attribute his lameness to this fall, while earlier ones say it was there from birth.

Regardless the cause of his fall, he’s the only Olympian to have returned to Olympus after having been exiled. Mainly because Dionysos got him drunk and dragged him back so he could free Hera from the trap he’d made for her.

Like most Hellenic gods, Hephaestus has a LOT of kids, including Palaimonious of the Argonauts and four female spirits considered younger Charites. You can read more about his consorts and children here.

Hephaestus uses a stick to walk around, and in other myths he builds himself a “wheeled chair” or chariot to aid his mobility. He’s the inventor of the wheelchair. He also makes several wheeled tripods to make it easier for him to get around Olympus. And, as mentioned above, he builds several automatons — so not only is he the mythological father of accessibility aids for physical disability, he’s also the mythological father of robots.

'Hephaestus is the mythological father of mobility aids and robots.' #MythMondays Click To Tweet

He’s associated with the Roman god Vulcan, also a god of volcanoes and craftsman. While they have many similarities, I caution against concluding that Roman gods are “just Greek gods with the serial numbers filed off,” as some people like to claim. The Roman and Greek gods are each their own entities, and if you dig into them, you will find there are enough differences to hold up that assertion.

(Side note: Both Hephaestus and Vulcan are the inspiration for the Vulcanus that the Vocans worship in my Bellica Trilogy books, and you’ll get to learn a LOT more about him and the Vocan culture in Anala, book 3.)

There’s a lot more about Hephaestus in the myths, and yes, a lot of it conflicts, and some of it is honestly downright nasty. You have to remember when you read myths like this that they’re a product of their time and culture — they tell us a lot more about the people writing them then they do about the gods they were talking about.

As well, the Greeks viewed their gods not only as these great, immense, holy, awe-inspiring figures, but also figures that, well, could fuck up in innumerable ways. And so long as you didn’t make fun of them for it, you wouldn’t be turned into a spider.

I hope you enjoyed my little intro piece to Hephaestus. I wanted to keep this a lot shorter, but there’s just so much material to cover! If you want to read further about him, his Wikipedia page is a good jumping off point to understanding him. If you prefer to jump right to primary and secondary sources, Theoi.com is one of my favourite sites out there. It’s absolutely invaluable to anyone wanting to know more about the Hellenic gods and other figures from Hellenic mythology.

Y’all will get another Mythology Mondays post in two weeks’ time. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your suggestions for who I should cover in future instalments of this series. Let me know in the comments below!

Mythically yours,

PS: I don’t have much up in my RedBubble store yet, but I do have a Hephaestus-themed piece that rants against ableism, if you’re into that sort of thing. 😉

1 thought on “Hephaestus, renowned artificer of weapons and wheelchairs

  1. Pingback: Hera: Queen of Heaven, Enforcer of Boundaries | dispatches from the loony bin

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