Hephaistos - historical study
November 18, 2014 2:32 PM   Subscribe

Hi! I'm interested in finding some information about the way that Hephaistos is guessed to have come to be worshipped in ancient Greece. Please note that I am not looking for psychological theories (for example: "he represents the creative drive, and functions as a symbol of social exclusion and early technology"), but historical ones (for example: "he is found on an Athenian vase in 500 BCE, but no earlier, so that may have been when they began worshipping him" or, for example: "the philosopher Anaxamagazine tells us that the Thracians worshipped Hephaistos above all other gods, so it is possible Thrace was the initial origin of his cult"). Book recommendations or well-sourced websites would both be welcome! If you're dropping by the thread to merely mention a fact you know regarding Mister Hammer's origin point, that's great, but please link to a primary source. Thank you!
posted by Greg Nog to Religion & Philosophy (11 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Theoi is the gold standard for translated source material. Their page on the Hephaistos Cult runs down contemporary mentions of the main worship centers in Attica, Lemnos, and Sicily.
posted by Iridic at 2:45 PM on November 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

Well, some very basic data points: he appears in the earliest Greek epics (Hesiod's Theogony, and at various points in the Homeric epics). These are dated to the late 8th/early 7th century BC.
posted by oinopaponton at 2:48 PM on November 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also came to recommend Theoi, which has a really nice section of literary references and the time frames of those writers. You may also be interested in this chapter, which cites some additional objects and discusses the spread of the cult from Lemnos to Athens a bit.
posted by jetlagaddict at 2:50 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't have anything to add about Hephaistos in particular, but based on my work with another Ancient Greek deity, I'd advise being sure to search using all the various possible spellings because some very useful authors will have used relatively obscure options, and their works aren't always indexed well.
posted by teremala at 3:08 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Observations on the Hephaisteion from 1941 (slow PDF download), about old Heph's temple, suggests 449 BC as the conception date, so he was worshipped at least by then.

Mythagora and Theoi have what I guess are considered primary references.

The Romans nicked him and called him Vulcan, you might find some different intel that way.

"Archaeo-metallurgical" is probably a good search term.

Hephaestus gets chucked off Mt Olympus, smashes into the ground so hard that he causes it to become a volcano, his legs get all fucked up, the Greeks use natural gas vents to forge metal (probably?), bang, dude's a metalworking volcano god. Earth-fire helps them make swords, they need swords because they are constantly at war, so Hephaestus worship = more swords, but might also = no more eruptions plz?

Of course you've already seen all this stuff since I just clicked on the search results you've already likely clicked on, but still, it's fun!

posted by turbid dahlia at 3:37 PM on November 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you have access to a reference library, you'll want to check out the Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae (LIMC) and the Oxford Classical Dictionary (OCD) under both Hephaistos and Vulcan.
posted by AthenaPolias at 4:10 PM on November 18, 2014

To add on AthenaPolias, if you have access to a research library's holdings the New Pauly (probably the best comprehensive encyclopedia on classics in English) has a good entry on Hephaestus: http://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/brill-s-new-pauly/hephaestus-e507970.

There, in terms of origins, Fritz Graf concludes: "Non- and pre-Greek elements are in the background: The Sinties are considered to be pre-Greek Thracians (Steph. Byz. s.v. Lemnos) or Etruscans (schol. Apoll. Rhod. 1,608). But one cannot conclude from this and the numerous coins and theophoric personal names in Asia Minor that his origins are outside of Greece (in spite of the overwhelming majority of earlier researchers who derived him from Asia Minor, maybe from Lycia [5. 1-3]). Rather, the connection to Lemnos is part of H.'s marginal position, and the (late) documentation from Asia Minor point to the Interpretatio Graeca with an indigenous deity."
posted by dd42 at 4:22 PM on November 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Timothy Gantz's Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources, Vol. 1 includes a five-page summary of what's known about Hephaistos from major, fragmentary, and material sources. It's on pages 74-78, all but one of which are showing up for me on the Amazon preview at the moment.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 7:59 PM on November 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Seconding the LIMC. You could take a look at Pausanias' Description of Greece which is a travel guide to Greece written in the 2nd century CE.
posted by tavegyl at 2:32 AM on November 19, 2014

This passage is from Jennifer Larsen's book Ancient Greek Cults . It's not one of the definitive studies, but it's one I have at hand right now.
He is perhaps the god of the famous yearly fire festival at Lemnos, which involved the extinguishing of all fire on the island for nine days, until a ship brought new fire from which all the domestic hearths and forges could be kindled anew and purified. In the time of Philostratus of Lemnos (c. 215 CE), our source for this festival, the fire was brought from Delos, but if the festival existed in the Classical period, the new fire may have been the gift of the island’s patron deity. In Sophocles’Philoctetes (986), the title character stranded on Lemnos cries out to “Lemnian earth and the all-powerful flame wrought by Hephaistos.”

The major locus of Hephaistos’ cult outside Lemnos was Athens, where the god was integrated very early into the local pantheon and had a special affinity with Athena. The two were honored in the Chalkeia (Bronzework) festival as patrons of craft workers. As a fire deity, Hephaistos was particularly important to those who worked with forges and kilns. People set up clay statues and plaques of the god beside hearths and kilns as an “overseer” of the fire. Local legend also held that the birth of the primordial king Erechtheus from the Earth came about as a result of a comically unsuccessful rape attempt by Hephaistos, who had conceived a passion for Athena. Hephaistos therefore was ancestral to the people and had an altar in the Erechtheion.

During the Apatouria, the festival at which a man’s sons were presented for enrollment as citizens, certain Athenians dressed in magnificent clothingand lit torches “from the hearth” while singing hymns for Hephaistos. A fragmentary decree of 421/20 shows that the Hephaisteia was reorganized in that year as a large-scale celebration including a torch race, sponsored by the tribes, and an interesting contest of “ox-lifting” to be per-formed by two hundred chosen youths, with the oxen subsequently sacrificed to the god. In the same year, Alkamenes began work on the cult statues for the new temple of Hephaistos, which overlooked the busy commercial center of the city and, uniquely, was destined to survive into modern times almost fully preserved. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the bronze cult statues, one of Athena and one of Hephaistos, though later copies give us clues to their appearance. Ancient visitors praised this statue of the god because it minimized his deformity.
posted by bibliowench at 8:20 AM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Walter Burkert's Greek Religion: Archaic and Classical is a classic in the field (first published in German in 1977); his section on Hephaistos, which hopefully you can read here, starts:
Hephaistos is obviously non-Greek, as is his name. His city, Hephaistias, was the capital of the island of Lemnos, where an independent, non-Greek population held out down to the sixth century; the Greeks called them Tyrsenoi, thus identifying them by name with the Italian Etruscans. A late source tells us of a great purification festival on the island of Lemnos which culminated in the kindling of new fire and its distribution to the craftsmen; according to the Iliad, the Sinties on Lemnos took care of Hephaistos when he fell from heaven. The Kabeiroi, mysterious blacksmith gods, are sons or grandsons of the Lemnian Hephaistos.

The special importance of the smith's craft in the Bronze and early Iron Ages led to its close involvement with political and religious organizations. Traces of a smith kingship can be discerned in Late Hittite tradition. The direct association of smith workshops and sanctuary is impressively attested in Kition on the copper island of Cyprus in the twelfth century [...]
Of course, everything is footnoted to primary sources.
posted by languagehat at 11:40 AM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

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