An ancient god of fire in Roman mythology, Vulcan is the counterpart of the Greek god Hephaestus, the god of fire and patron of metalwork and crafts. The tales about Vulcan, who is sometimes called Mulciber (the smelter), are all based on Greek myths about Hephaestus.
The son of Zeus* and Hera* (or, in some versions, of Hera alone), Hephaestus was lame and deformed. Some stories say that Zeus threw him from Olympus* for taking Hera's side in a quarrel with Zeus and that Hephaestus became lame as a result of the fall. Other myths say that Hephaestus was born lame and that Hera threw him from Olympus because she was ashamed of his deformity. He landed in the ocean and was rescued by sea nymphs, who raised him in a cave under the sea and taught him many skills.
Hephaestus became a master craftsman. One day he gained his revenge on Hera by creating for her a golden throne that contained a trap. When she sat on the throne, the trap closed and imprisoned her. The other gods begged Hephaestus to release Hera, but he would not listen. Finally, the god Dionysus* made Hephaestus drunk and obtained the key to the trap.
As craftsman for the gods, Hephaestus built palaces and other beautiful and wondrous things that enabled the Olympians to live in great luxury. He also fashioned thunderbolts for Zeus, armor for the heroes Achilles* and Aeneas* that made them invincible, and a scepter for King Agamemnon* that gave him great power. Some legends say that Hephaestus created Pandora so that Zeus could take revenge on Prometheus* for giving fire to humans. Hephaestus later made the chains that bound Prometheus to a mountain.
patron special guardian, protector, or supporter
nymph minor goddess of nature, usually represented as young and beautiful
invincible too powerful to be conquered
scepter rod or wand that serves as a symbol of royal authority
Hephaestus often appeared as a comic figure in myths and had little luck in love. One time he took an ax and split Zeus's skull to relieve a headache, and the goddess Athena* sprang fully grown from the head. He fell in love with Athena, but she rejected him. He also courted Aphrodite*, who accepted his offer of marriage but then had love affairs with others, including the god Ares*. Hephaestus fashioned a fine golden net and caught his wife and Ares in it. He then called the other gods so that they could laugh at the couple, but instead they mocked Hephaestus. The gods often made fun of him because of his limp and his soot-covered face, which came from working over the fire at his craft.
The Greeks believed that Hephaestus had a workshop on the volcanic island of Lemnos in the Aegean Sea. There, he taught the people the arts of metalwork, for which they became famous. The Romans thought that their god Vulcan lived and worked under Mount Etna, a volcano on the island of Sicily, and had workshops on Olympus and beneath other volcanoes as well. Each year in August, the Romans held a festival in honor of Vulcan called the Vulcanalia.
See also Achilles; Aeneas; Aphrodite; Athena; Fire; Greek Mythology; Hera; Pandora; Prometheus; Roman Mythology; Zeus.
Vulcanist a supporter of the theory (now accepted) that rocks such as granite were formed by solidification from the molten state, as proposed by the Scottish geologist James Hutton and others, rather than by precipitation from the sea.