Tony Natsoulas
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""Hephaestus sculpts Pandora"
40" X 19 " X 21 " 2009

This is a portrait of my friend Joe Scarpa as Hephaestus. It was inspired by this story.... 

The Greek god Hephaestus was the only on of the Greek gods of Mount Olympus who had a "regular" job and actually worked with his hands. Hephaestus was also the only one of the Olympians who was born with a physical defect. It is unclear exactly how Hephaestus came to be lame. Several different explanations are given in different versions of his myths.

In one version, he was born with a clubfoot and then thrown out of Mount Olympus because his parents could not accept his imperfection. In another version, the infant Hephaestus was injured in the fall after he was thrown out by Zeus, who was angry at his mother for having the nerve to conceive the baby without his help.

Hera, with the help of a magical herb, had managed to "get herself pregnant" with the help of Zeus or any man, a process called parthenogenesis. (Note: Many myths name Hephaestus as the son who was born as a result of this immaculate conception, but in some versions the son was Ares.)

Hera had done this to even the score with her husband for having given birth to Dionysus by himself. Here is short version of that story: Semele, one of Zeus' many lovers, lay dying while pregnant with Zeus' son Dionysus. With the help of Hermes, Zeus removed the unborn child and implanted him under the skin of his thigh where he remained until he was ready to be born.

In an account written by Hesiod, Zeus cast Hephaestus out because he had attempted to rescue his mother from Zeus’ anger. Zeus had strung Hera from the starts for having caused the wreck of a sailing ship under Zeus’ protection during the Trojan war. Hephaestus had tried to free her from her bonds, was caught, and punished with expulsion from the heavens.

Some versions of the myths name Zeus as the one who cast him out, others say it was Hera, and still others tell that both parents rejected him. The bottom line . . . Hephaestus got off to a rocky start in life, unwanted son of rejecting parents who saw no beauty in their little son. Not to mention ending up with a physical defect that left him lame.

Whatever the reason, Hephaestus fell to earth, landing in the sea near the Island of Lemnos. He had the good fortune to be rescued and nursed back to health by a group of sea nymphs and Titan goddesses. They went to great lengths to keep him hidden from his parents, hiding him in their underwater cave.

Living there, Hephaestus began his career of craftsmanship. Collecting coral, pearls, and precious metals from the ocean floor, he began to fashion exquisite jewelry. He even built little robots made of gold to help him get around. With the help of the one-eyed Cyclopes who were master metal smiths themselves, Hephaestus built a set of golden thrones for the Olympian gods and goddesses.

Soon his creations were all the rage. Hera, wanting some of the marvelous jewelry that all the goddesses were wearing forced the goddess Thetis, who was one of the goddesses who had cared for Hephaestus while he was in hiding, to tell her who had made her gorgeous jewelry. Thetis told her that it was made by her own talented son.

Hera saw that they had been wrong to reject Hephaestus, that in spite of his imperfections, he had the talent (not to mention good taste) of a god. She persuaded Zeus to welcome him back. And so, Hephaestus was invited to return to Mount Olympus and to take his place among the gods.


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Photo by Izzy Schwartz.