After a metaphysical theory class yesterday I went on a quick shopping trip with some friends. All I was looking for was incense, but I fell head over heels in love with this statue.
It’s Hephaistos (Hephaestus) forging thunderbolts at his anvil and it fills my heart with joy. When your patron is a Deity that’s not as popular as Aphrodite, Zeus or Apollo it’s really hard to find images of them for your altar.
It captures his proud, workman spirit perfectly. No throne, dais, swans or peacocks, Hephaistos merely pauses in his work for a moment so the image can be captured. His apron and sandals are functional rather than decorative, although boots are probably a wiser choice. In every way he is perfect. For some that’s a problem.
Hephaistos is lame, either by birth deformity or from an injury he received as he was thrown from Olympus. What is interesting about his deformity, it’s generally considered club-foot, is that it serves no purpose in the story. Achilles heel is the drama point in a saga, the Minotaur’s appearance has a purpose and so on through the myths. Appearance and ailment is a primary cause that gives thrust to the story.
Yet Hephaistos’ ailment is presented as an explanation, not as a primary dramatic point. His deformity teaches no lesson nor is the point upon which some saga hinges. While Aphrodite cannot be herself if she is not beautiful, Hephaistos is independent of his appearance. His deformity neither slows him down nor assists him. Why is this?
Blacksmiths used to employ arsenic to make bronze. As a result, lameness and skin cancer was the likely result of the trade. The lame smith archetype is found in many cultures. Hephaistos is lame not because it serves a purpose, but because he reflects the men who serve him.
Think about that. A God reflects those who serve them. The ancient Greeks wore tunics and sandals, therefore so did their Gods. What would the Gods look like today if they had evolved organically in our mythic imaginations? They would hardly be dressed in chitons, tunics or togas.
Today blacksmiths don’t go lame from long-term arsenic poisoning, and club foot is a treatable condition. These aren’t issues for those who follow Hephaistos today. I like to think he looks like a modern smith today. A farrier, a blacksmith, a steelworker, an arc-welder.
In some stories, he is married to Algaea, the youngest and most beautiful of the Graces and the daughter of the famous physician Asclepius. Surely with the advances in modern medicine Asclepius is able to heal any lameness in his son-in-law? I think so.
I think the image of Hephaistos on my altar is perfect. It fits him well and does him honor. I am so thankful for his influence in my life, and for the influence of his children by Algaea: “Eucleia (“good repute”), Eupheme (“acclaim”), Euthenia (“prosperity”) and Philophrosyne (“welcome”)”.