The Lame Smith
Working fire, Metalwork, Masonry, Sculpture
Forge, Hammer, Anvil, Quail
"Hephaestus went the way of these in the pride of his great strength limping, and yet his shrunken legs moved lightly beneath him."
Homer, epic poet and historian
Hephaestus was a child born out of spite. His mother Hera conceived him by herself in revenge for Zeus' many affairs and illegitimate children. The last straw was Zeus giving birth to Athena, and Hera formed Hephaestus from her rage and oaths, leaving the child with lame legs and an unpleasant face. Repulsed by what she had wrought, Hera threw the infant from Olympus, whereupon the sea nymph Thetis saved the baby and took him to a sea grotto.
The god grew to adulthood in the grotto ignorant of his heritage but loved and cared for by Thetis. He travelled to the isle of Lemnos to learn the art of metalwork from the ancient Sintain tribe before moving on when his skills surpassed his teachers'. Riding a donkey to compensate for his weak legs he searched for a place to make his own forge. Hephaestus settled in the heart of a volcanic island and built mechanical handmaidens to aid him.
His skill in crafting wondrous items gained him fame and attracted the attention of the Olympian gods. They commissioned him to forge new thrones befitting their station in the world. Hephaestus gladly undertook such an honour until Helios told him the identity of his mother and the story of his birth. The truth filled Hephaestus with a cold hatred of Hera and he fashioned a trap. When she sat on the throne, thousands of tiny chains emerged from from the chair, entrapping the goddess. Hera cried out for help but the other gods could not set her free.
Zeus sent Ares to bring Hephaestus to Olympus but the smith rejected his threats and refused to come. Ares tried to force the issue but Hephaestus beat him with his hammer and threw Ares off the volcano. Hephaestus refused to treat with the Olympians and sealed himself in his forge.
As Hera’s distress became greater, Zeus asked Dionysus, the god of wine, to bring Hephaestus to Olympus. The smith had heard good things of Dionysus, and being locked in his mountain forge had given him a terrible thirst. He opened the door and soon both gods were inebriated. They laughed and traded stories until Hephaestus' strength failed him and he slumped over his forge in a stupor.
The hungover Hephaestus was placed before Zeus, who asked what Hephaestus wanted in return for freeing Hera. Hephaestus asked to be accepted as the son of Hera and be allowed to take his place in Olympus. Zeus granted the request and Hera begged forgiveness for the wrong she had done. Kind-hearted Hephaestus forgave his mother and soon became a firm friend of Dionysus.
When Aphrodite selected Hephaestus to be her husband he was overjoyed and showered her with fantastic gifts. This and his tenderness earned the love of his new wife. Yet Aphrodite soon found herself bored and unable to see past Hephaestus’ lameness and the crude form of his face. Her gaze wandered and she betrayed him. Helios revealed to Hephaestus that Aphrodite and Ares were having an affair. Disappointed and betrayed, he plotted his revenge.
With the golden chains he set a trap around Aphrodite's bed where he caught his wife and Ares. The cuckolded husband dragged the captured pair to Olympus, intending to humiliate and shame the adulterous gods. The other gods were amused by the nude lovers but Poseidon alone showed the lame god any sympathy. He asked Hephaestus to release the pair in return for Ares paying a fine and a divorce from Aphrodite.
Depressed, the god threw himself into his work. He crafted armour worthy of the gods and gave it to the mortal heroes Herakles, Achilles and Aeneas, but nothing he created eased his unhappiness and loneliness. Aphrodite, who had genuinely loved Hephaestus, felt sorrow for her actions and arranged for Aglaia, the youngest Grace, to meet the smith. The two fell in love and married.
Hephaestus was born after the Titanomachy. He has no hatred for the Titans but fears how they would treat a lame god. The smith's champions work to prevent the Titans' return and to spread knowledge. They are sent across Greece to develop the metalwork and sculpting skills of mortals loyal to the Olympian court. The smith god chooses his champions for their strength and skills but favours people who have suffered as outcasts. To mark them as his champions and to aid them in their work they are equipped with an item made by the god himself.
Despite his lame legs and plain features, Hephaestus is an imposing sight. He supports his muscular upper body on crutches made of bronze with gold inlays, and when he travels he rides a stout donkey. His hair and beard are closely cut against the heat of the forge and he wears a plain chiton and cap.
A talented and kind man, Hephaestus is generous except to those who have wronged him. Even then he does not hold grudges for long. Forever aware that his lameness marks him as weaker and inferior in the eyes of some, he strives to prove his worth through his crafts. Though he has a magnificent palace on Olympus clad in copper, Hephaestus spends his time in his volcano forge.
Larger cities have a temple dedicated to Hephaestus and the annual festival in his name takes place in late autumn. The festival's main event is a relay race in which competing teams of youths compete to bring a burning torch from the city walls to the temple. A torchlight procession to the temple follows and a bull is sacrificed over an open fire. Day-to-day worship is by those who work with fire. It is common for a small figurine of Hephaestus to be placed next to hearths and forges.