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Hephaestus, the Greek God of Fire and Volcanoes
Internet URLs are the best. Thank You for Your Contribution! Uh Oh. There was a problem with your submission. Please try again later. Articles from Britannica Encyclopedias for elementary and high school students. Keep Exploring Britannica Charles Dickens. Many studies published through the 's in the medical and psychiatric literature reinforced Freud's conclusions by citing common personality problems of disabled people including their hostility, bitterness, and vindictiveness O'Brien, Alfred Adler's more optimistic Individual Psychology also played a key role in the development of the field of rehabilitation psychology.
He argues that a physical defect can result in feelings of inferiority. However, in some cases this "organ inferiority" may also become a source of "compensation" or even "overcompensation. Adler gives examples from the world of art and literature. He claims that "an inferior visual apparatus often plays a part in the development of painters.
The field of disability studies can contribute to the development of a new psychology of disability based upon a multiplicity of archetypal images. The psychoanalytic model which drew inspiration from the figure of Richard III gives us the image of a bitter, angry, vindictive neurotic. Adler's theory is inspired by artists and mythic heroes who today might be called "super crips.
Within the Western tradition, an archetypal psychology of disability may begin, arguably, with the Greek god Hephaestus. Hephaestus is one of the 12 Olympians, a divine smith, fire-god, and gifted artisan, greatly admired for his industry and creativity. He is the only god who works and is always employed on some task of great importance for one or another of the Greek deities.
In contrast to the other immortals who are distinguished by their physical beauty, Hephaestus is crippled, his feet are on backwards, and is considered ugly even by his own mother. The myths and stories that are associated with Hephaestus are among the earliest writings in the Western poetic tradition related to disability Kerenyi,; Graves, For literary critic and disability studies scholar Leonard Kriegel, Hephaestus represents a living inspiration that resonates with his own experience of disability.
And so I watch the lame god push his body through the heavens of Olympus, and my own cripple's heart fills with envy of and admiration for this brother in the kingdom of the crippled, my shining example of the will to endure Kriegel, , p. A review of the expansive historical archive reveals that Hephaestus is a complex figure who incorporates many features associated with other disabled characters.
His image is not contained in a single work of literature; it is pervasive and spans the Western imagination from the ancient Greeks to present day. One can find early versions of some of the cultural stereotypes that are commonly associated with people with disabilities. There are also differences between his portrayal in Greek literature and later representations based upon Christian interpretations of the pagan myth. Mythological references in scholarly texts, and artistic representations, also generated an array of creative new imagery.
All these images, from different historical eras, cultures, and disciplines, co-exist in a virtual "collective unconscious. Birth, Fall and Return The classical writers are unanimous in stating that Hephaestus is thrown down from Mt. In some versions his fall causes his limp, in others it is his disability that causes his fall. According to several accounts, Hephaestus is born without any act of love from Hera, who is envious of the solo creation of Athene by Zeus.
She sought to compete with her husband and give birth to a glorious son who could rival the bright-eyed goddess. However, this split-off son, conceived in anger and resentment, is weakly among the gods and born with a shriveled foot. In shame and disgust she casts the infant out of Olympus so that he falls into the great sea. The rejected child is rescued by Thetis and the sea nymph Eurynome, the mother of the lovely Graces. For nine years he remains concealed in their subterranean caverns, a secret vocational workshop, where he learns his craft.
During this second incubation and apprenticeship he forges jewelry and other fine objects but also plots his return to Olympus. In other stories Hephaestus is the son of both Zeus and Hera and again the situation is a marital quarrel. The young Hephaestus speaks up for his mother, and Zeus, enraged at his interference, takes him by the leg and throws him through the portals of Olympus.
All day long he tumbles through space and, at sunset, falls more dead than alive on the island of Lemnos, where the barbaric tongued Sintians find him.
These versions, in which he is thrown down by either his mother or his father, and in which his disability is either congenital or caused by parental abuse, were combined throughout the centuries. In Erwin Panofsky's study of a series of paintings related to Hephaestus, he chronicles several Renaissance variations of the myth. For example, Servius writes of Vulcan, the Roman Hephaestus, that:. He was precipitated by Jupiter onto the island of Lemnos because he was illshapen and Juno had not smiled at him.
There he was brought up by the Sintii Panofsky,, p The Sintians were not known in any other context in Latin literature. A creative mistranslation established a connection between the Greek myth, an image in the New Testament, and bitterness.
According to Panofsky, scholars translated "there he was brought up by Sintii" or "illic nutritus ab Sintiis" as "illic nutritus absintiis" which means "there he was brought up on wormwood. This translation references the shooting star in Revelation which is named Wormwood. It falls from the sky and renders the water bitter.
Through the association with wormwood Hephaestus was linked with bitterness and his limping gait became a symbol of the pollution of the soul. And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters; And the name of the star is called Wormwood; and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many people died of the waters because they were made bitter Revelation ; Bitter Hephaestus does not intend to stay hidden away in an underground cave forever.
Stubborn anger toward his mother inspires him to seek revenge.
These "negative" emotions engender the courage that is necessary for the disabled outcast to claim his rightful place in the world. Leonard Kriegel is one of several disability studies scholars who have spoken out in praise of anger. At a certain point in his life anger was his "greatest passion. To feel such anger at one's proscribed [sic] fate was to demand justice for the self, to be accountable to the future one had to live, even as a cripple. That was the immense promise. And I seized it Kreigel,, p.
Kriegel's determination to "get even" with his disability, to seek revenge rather than acquiesce, led him to richer moments filled with a sense of accomplishment and liberation. In the Hephaestus myth we can discern a positive psychology of anger that is grounded in the experience of disability. The disabled deity refuses to play the role of the passive victim. Instead he is an active creator in forging his future place in society.
Hephaestus' revenge is accomplished in such a clever and artful way that, in the end, it is enriching for the entire Olympian community. In one story Hephaestus sends sandals as gifts to all the gods, but those he sends to his mother are made of immovable and unyielding adamantine. When she tries to walk she falls flat on her face as though her shoes are riveted to the floor.
In this slapstick farce Hera is unable to walk. The haughty old aristocrat has been caught in an undignified position and publicly humiliated. At the same time Hephaestus makes fun of himself, and his own deformity. It is a guileful deed performed by a crafty god. His practical joke demonstrates that under his awkward exterior there exists a subtle mind. There is another famous story known as the "binding of Hera. Hera sits on it with delight, but when she tries to rise again she is gripped by golden mesh fetters so fine they could not be seen.
The golden throne then soars high into the air and Hera finds herself levitated as if in a magician's trick. The Olympians take council as to how they might free their queen but only Hephaestus knows the secret of the loosening. They send the divine smith a message that he should return to Olympus and set his mother free, but he replies adamantly that he has no mother. Ares, his braggart brother and sexual rival, vows to bring Hephaestus back by force, but he is forced to retreat before the fire-brands hurled by the master of the forge.
The god of war limps back to Olympus in ignominious defeat. Instead, the stubborn Hephaestus is coaxed back by Dionysius who gets him drunk. In farcical fashion the intoxicated smith is led back to Olympus atop a donkey, escorted by Dionysius and his satyrs. Zeus is there and Hera too, bound upon her pedestal throne. The cowardly Ares is crouched behind her chair.
The other gods are laughing. However, Hephaestus is not so drunk that he would free Hera without exacting a price. He demands marriage to Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty. The archetypal psychologist Murray Stein suggests that loosening the bonds of his mother frees an introverted Hephaestus from his own psychic entrapment and moves him forward in the process of individuation and personal development.
This mythic link between Dionysius and Hephaistos comes at an exceedingly important moment in the 'development' of Hephaistos: the crippled child has been cast out of heaven, has sulked and sought revenge, has learned his creative gifts, but has not yet found his maturity. His return to Olympus represents a rite of passage to maturity, to taking up a position within the Olympian hierarchy Stein,, p.
The drunkenness and carnival atmosphere of the donkey processional are part of a loosening up, a shift in consciousness that frees Hephaestus from his fixation on revenge. He must work through his feelings of anger and bitterness toward his mother or these dangerous emotions will poison his soul and stunt his personal development. In the myth, the way this is accomplished is not through individual psychotherapy or rehabilitation counseling, but through social action. In the Hephaestus archetype, once bitterness and anger are properly acknowledged, they can motivate the individual to address the problems posed by an ablist society.
Kriegel expresses a similar thought based on his own experience of disability. He values anger for its gift of honesty in confronting the world. Anger taught me many lessons Give anger its due. It cannot always be 'constructive,' but confronting the world with its honesty is true power. The gift is not the emotion but the honesty one takes from it Kriegel,, p. Paul Longmore terms stories in which a disabled character overcomes anger and bitterness as "dramas of adjustment. Even if it is acknowledged that the disabled person is not the cause of the problem, the expectation is that the individual must still learn to cope.
In Hephaestus we find a character who is motivated by his anger to confront a world that has discarded him. He stages what amounts to a non-violent demonstration, an act of civil disobedience that completely shuts down Olympus. His stubborn anger does not lead to acceptance, adjustment or passivity. On the contrary it lifts him up to reclaim his dignity and civil rights. The story depicts a community that must adjust to someone who has been stigmatized, segregated, and discriminated against. It is the disabled character himself who creates the humorous situation as an effective tool to confront his oppression and challenge the existing order.
The Hephaestus myth inaugurates a tradition in Western literature of using disability for comic purposes. In creating tricky devices Hephaestus manipulates the world in a way that is charming yet utterly compelling. His practical jokes give rise to "asbestos gelos," "inextinguishable laughter," among his fellow Olympians. The classics scholar Margery L. Brown identifies Hephaestus as a "Trickster. It is he who conceives and executes clever pranks to achieve a specific purpose. His comic genius is based upon an ability to mimic others, but also to parody his own disability.
He is able to embarrass others because he is willing to be embarrassed himself. Thus, stubborn anger and bitterness are transformed through slapstick. Since anyone may be a target of mockery, Hephaestus, the disabled Trickster, creates a comedy of equality in which everyone in the Olympian leisure class has an equal right to be ridiculed and humiliated.
Hephaestus, Aphrodite and Ares Despite his disability and less than classical good looks, Hephaestus has the confidence, audacity, and naivete to demand Aphrodite, the most beautiful and erotic of the goddesses as his wife. In so doing he expresses self-assurance regarding his masculinity and sexual identity. At the same time there is a feeling of inevitability that this manufactured union, his adolescent sexual fantasy, is bound to end badly. According to Robert Garland the arranged marriage is a "precursor to the Beauty and the Beast motif" but "without the happy ending.
Indeed, she inspired and actively aided the adultery between Paris and Helen that resulted in the Trojan War. Homer and Ovid relate the story of Aphrodite's infidelity with Ares. Helios, the Sun, spies them in the act of lovemaking and informs Hephaestus who determines to catch the two in their illicit sexual activity. The divine smith fashions a net so fine it is invisible and as strong as it is fine. He hangs it over the bedposts of his marriage bed and pretends to depart for his workshop on Lemnos. As soon as he leaves Ares steals into the house and embraces Aphrodite. The chains drop down upon them, and they find themselves trapped.
Meanwhile Hephaestus retraces his steps and calls out to the other gods to witness his errant wife and her lover caught in a compromising position. Come here, to see a ridiculous sight, no seemly matter, how Aphrodite, daughter of Zeus forever holds me in little favor, but she loves ruinous Ares because he is handsome, and goes sound on his feet, while I am misshapen from birth Odyssey: 8.
Hephaestus blames her adulterous affair on his lameness. According to Martha Edwards, lameness is a characteristic associated with ugliness, an "ungraceful unevenness," and a "cosmetic defect" that contrasts with the Greek ideals of physical beauty and symmetry of the body. In Greek mythology Hephaestus' limp has primarily an aesthetic meaning. After being rejected by his mother he is now betrayed by his wife because he is ugly and deformed.
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Only the male gods assemble in the palace of Hephaestus; the goddesses stay home out of modesty. In this comic burlesque and public shaming Hephaestus plays the role of the dishonored, cuckold husband. Uncontrollable laughter erupts among the gods as they gaze upon this ridiculous and bawdy sight. For prankster Hephaestus it is a humiliation, one which he shares with his rival Ares. Although Aphrodite is enmeshed and exposed her plight elicits only admiration. Hermes is even envious of Ares as he views the glorious body of Aphrodite and confesses that he would gladly change places with him.
See the slow one has overtaken the swift, as now slow Hephaistos has overtaken Ares, swiftest of all gods on Olympus, by artifice techne , though he was lame Odyssey The Greek techne , from which our word technology is derived, is translated as "artifice," "craft," or "device. A device is an invented thing, but also devious scheming; a contrivance is a mechanical appliance, but also a clever plan; craft refers to the skill in making an object, but a crafty person is also skillful in deceiving others.