Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Homeric Hymn 20 - To Hephaistos

Sweet voiced Muse
Celebrate with song
Hephaistos, famous
For his cunning devices.

Along with flashing
Grey eyed Athena
He taught the groundlings
Glorious labour.

They dwelt
The hollows,
Of mountains.
Like fabulous monsters.

And now:
Thanks to Hephaistos;
Renown for his arts,
They learnt
The many skills that allow
An easy life. Maturing
The cycles of the year
With their own families.

Be gracious Hephaistos.
Deliver prosperity and wealth.

Hephaistos was the Greek god of (for lack of a better word) technology, artisans, smiths etc. Technology being from a Greek word techne. As a noun it means art, skill, method of doing things, including soothsaying. It also has to 'bad' meaning of cunning. As a verb the meaning is pretty much the same, to make by art, to execute skilfully, also to contrive cunningly. Hephaistos is described as being KLUTOTECHNES - famed for his skill.

As a nod to the reality of the type of work, Hephaistos was lame, walking with golden leg braces he made for himself. Robert Graves says that smithies were often made lame to keep them from running away, I do not know enough to comment on this, however I do know enough about the harsh reality of hard manual work to see the obvious link. It made be hard for us to understand, but metal working would have been seen as something much like magic for the ancients, agreeing with Arthur Clarke's third law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Some say that Hephaistos was the child of Hera and Zeus, while other tales have him born parthenogenetically from Hera alone. Either way the child was ugly, and in embarrassment Hera threw him from Olympus. He lived under the sea in the grotto of Thetis (later the mother of Achilles) for nine years. Later Hera was reconciled with him, and he returned to Olympus, and given Aphrodite as his bride, who later cockculed him with Ares. In revenge Hephaistos made a strong net of golden thread capturing the illicit lovers, and causing much laughter among the other gods.

Hephaistos sided with Hera in opposition to Zeus, and he was again cast out of Olympus, falling for nine days, landing on the island of Lemnos, which in antiquity was the site of volcanic activity. (Later the island was used as a base for the ill fated Gallipoli campaign in 1915.) After Zeus relented in his anger Dionysus was sent to retrieve him, and getting him drunk her brought him back to Olympus on a donkey, this being a popular scene in Athenian vase paintings.

Hephaistos shared a temple with Athena, as she was the goddess of cunning in warfare. Some suggest that the name Hephaistos means he who shines in the day time, while Athena was a moon goddess, with the owl as her symbol. Every year, on the last day of the Pyanopsion (in November), there was a joint festival, where the Arrephoroi, young girls (aged 7 to 11) set up the loom that would be used to make a peplos for the statue of Athena. The festival was also in honour of artisans.

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