Hephaistos (heh-FAIS-toss) is the blacksmith god, the god of volcanoes and hot fires and smelting metal ore to make iron. People said he lived inside volcanoes, and when they erupted it was because Hephaistos was moving around.
Hephaistos was Hera‘s son. He had no father, just as Zeus’ daughter Athena had no mother. People said that Zeus (or maybe Hera) had thrown Hephaistos off Mount Olympus down to earth, and he had injured his legs in his fall and couldn’t walk well. Hephaistos is one of the earliest examples of a story about someone with physical challenges.
This story shows Hephaistos’ connection to the earth in several ways: Hera, Gaia‘s daughter, is an earth goddess, and her son is also earthy. He is thrown from Mount Olympus down to the earth, and he crawls on the earth instead of walking with his head high like a sky god. Of course the god of volcanoes would have to be an earth god and not a sky god, because volcanoes are inside the earth.
In some stories, Hephaistos is married to Aphrodite, but they never seem to get along very well. Aphrodite likes Ares better. One time, Hephaistos waited until Aphrodite and Ares were together, and then suddenly dropped a net over them and trapped them. All the other gods came and laughed at them.
Another thing Hephaistos does is to make the woman Pandora, as punishment for people when they tricked Zeus into taking the wrong part of an animal sacrifice. In this image, he’s not having any trouble with his legs. But gods don’t have to be totally consistent. They’re ideas, not real people. Just like Batman can have different powers in different movies, so can Hephaistos.
Learn by doing: visit a blacksmith forge
More about the goddess Hera
D’aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths, by Edgar and Ingri D’Aulaire.
Greek Religion, by Walter Burkert (reprinted 1987). By a leading expert. He has sections on each of the Greek gods, and discusses their deeper meanings, and their function in Greek society.