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Chapter 4 – Culture
Venus and Vulcan
(Latin - Venus)
The irresistible Aphrodite was the ancient Greek
goddess of Beauty and Love, Fertility and Desire. There
are two accounts of her birth. In the Iliad, the ancient
writer Homer said that she was the daughter of Zeus and
Dione. But later myths and poems say that the goddess
of Love had risen from the sea foam on a seashell. Her
name was thus explained as "foam-risen" coming from
the Greek word 'Aphros', which means 'foam'.
It is said that "when Aphrodite was born the Horae (also
known as the Hours or the Seasons) welcomed her
joyously and they clothed her with heavenly garments.
They put on her head a crown of gold, and in her pierced
ears they hung bejeweled golden ornaments. Then they
adorned her with golden necklaces and the kind of jewels which the Horae wear
themselves whenever they join the dances of the gods."
Both in modern and ancient times, the picture that poets, writers and artists liked to
paint of her was of beauty and happiness; The winds flee before her and the storm
clouds; sweet flowers embroider the earth; the waves of the sea laugh; she moves in
radiant light. Without her there is no joy nor loveliness anywhere.
Although the later poems talked about her beauty and sweetness, they usually
showed her other side as well, for she was treacherous and malicious, often exerting
a destructive and deadly power over men. Through this control she gained quite an
influence, both on earth and in heaven. It was said that when she spoke, even Zeus
listened...after all, the King of the Olympians was notorious for succumbing to Love's
The lame god of the forge and metalworking, Hephaestus, was her husband, although
he was the only god to be physically ugly. It was an arranged marriage - Some say
that when Aphrodite first arrived on Mount Olympus, Zeus was struck by her beauty
and radiance and he was certain that the other gods would fight for her affections. So
he awarded Aphrodite to the most dependable and steady deity, Hephaestus.
Her husband did his utmost to please his gorgeous bride, continuously creating and
designing new golden jewelry and furniture to please her. In addition to her irresistible
looks Aphrodite had a magical golden girdle, made by Hephaestus, that when worn
Chapter 4 – Culture
Venus and Vulcan
compelled anyone she wished to desire her.
Up on Mount Olympus, Aphrodite sat on a silver throne, inlaid with beryls and
aquamarines, with a back shaped like a scallop shell, soft swan's down covering
the seat, and a golden mat for her feet that was embroidered with golden bees,
apples and sparrows. Once a year she would visit Paphos, on the island of Cyprus,
to swim in the sea for good luck and to rejuvenate herself.
Opposite Aphrodite sat the god of War, Ares, and the two had an ongoing notorious
love affair that scandalized all of Olympus. Ares and Aphrodite were always holding
hands and giggling in the corners of the palace, which made her husband
Hephaestus very jealous. He even fashioned an invisible net and captured the two
lovebirds one time, but when he assembled the Olympians to render judgment, they
wanted nothing to do with punishing them. Zeus even told Hephaestus that he was
stupid to make such a golden girdle for his wife, and that he shouldn't be surprised
that men could not resist her.
Her attendants were the Horae (Hours, Seasons, who are worshipped as the
wardens of the sky and of Olympus and are also said to attend to the Sun god,
Helios) and the Three Graces (Aglaia, Euphrosyne and Thalia, known in Greek as
the Charites); Flora and Zephyrus were ready to do her bidding as well. She was
the patroness of gardens and gardeners as well as lovers. The myrtle was her tree;
the rose, lily, hyacinth, crocus and narcissus were also sacred to her. Her animals
were the swan, the dove, the sparrow and the dolphin. The Romans called her
(Roman - Vulcan)
Chapter 4 – Culture
Venus and Vulcan
Hephaestus was the God of Fire and the Forge, the smith,
craftsman and weapon maker of the gods. He was the son
of Zeus and Hera, although it is sometimes said that Hera
conceived him by herself and without any help from Zeus.
Hera wanted to get back at Zeus because she was angry
at her husband for birthing Athena from his own head
without first procreating with her.
Of all the gods, Hephaestus was the only one to be
physically ugly, and he was also lame. But of all the gods,
it was the deformed Hephaestus who created the greatest
works of beauty.
There are two slightly different accounts of how he became
lame. One version is that Hera was so upset at having an
ugly child that she flung him off Mount Olympus and into
the sea, breaking his legs in the process. Later,
Hephaestus took revenge on his mother by building her a
golden throne which bound her with invisible fetters when she sat on it, and would not
release her until Hera had agreed to all his demands.
The other version is that Hephaestus tried to, and almost did, free his mother when
Zeus punished her by hanging her on a golden chain between heaven and earth; and
Zeus, in anger in at his son’s interference, hurled him off Olympus himself.
But most sources claim that Hephaestus landed in the sea near the island of Lemnos,
and was washed up by the surf on the shore, where his body lay broken until rescued
by the Nereids, Thetis and Eurynome (mother of the Graces).
These beautiful Nereids took great care to hide him from his mother who, still ashamed
of her deformed son, would have continued to try to harm him. Secretly Hephaestus
lived with these goddesses in their underwater caves for nine years, and that was the
awakening his creative energy.
There, he began to craft beautiful jewelry from the multi-colored underwater coral reefs,
and from the variety of precious metals found underwater. To compensate for his
lameness, Hephaestus built two golden robots to help him move around, and also the
twelve splendid thrones of Olympus. Helped by the Cyclops, who were master
craftsmen in their own right, he continued to develop his skills with decorative iron and
other metals, creating beautiful gifts for his surrogate mothers, the Nereids.
It wasn't long before Hera saw Thetis wearing some of the beautiful jewelry he had
created and demanded to know the source of this divine craftwork. She could tell that
no mere mortal could create anything resembling such exquisite work. When she
learned it was her own son Hephaestus, she realized that although physically deformed,
her son was capable of unsurpassed creations. All of a sudden his deformity didn't
Chapter 4 – Culture
Venus and Vulcan
Hera forgave him for not being all she had hoped for, and asked for her husband Zeus
to return him to his rightful place up on exalted Mount Olympus. But Hephaestus was
quite happy living on Lemnos and was still understandably angry at his mother for her
past treatment of him. He refused to comply with the order.
Finally, Zeus resorted to trickery. The King of the Olympians sent Dionysus,
Hephaestus' brother and the god of wine, to intoxicate him and persuade him to return.
Hephaestus had never experienced wine, and was drunk in no time. Thus out of his
mind, and agreeable to just about anything, Hephaestus then mounted a donkey and,
accompanied by Dionysus, rode back to the palace at Mount Olympus.
Hera wisely declared him her son, even though Hephaestus himself claimed to have no
mother, and that was how he returned to his rightful place and became one of the
Olympians. Many ancient Greek vase painters were fond of depicting Hephaestus'
triumphant return to Olympus.
Once back among his fellow gods on Mount Olympus, Hephaestus chose to live
underground, where he could work as an artisan undisturbed. Hera grew to like her
lame son, and felt very guilty for her previous vile conduct towards him. She gave
Hephaestus a massive workshop with many bellows, anvils, and helpers; there he
continue to create beautiful ornaments, weapons, furniture and jewelry to the endless
amusement and delight of the Olympian gods and goddesses. To help him in his
workshop, he forged handmaidens out of gold, who were able to move around and help
him in his work.
In Homer's Iliad his wife is said to be Aglaia (Splendor), one of the Graces; in the
Odyssey she is Aphrodite. But the commonly held belief is that Zeus, greatly regretting
his previous enmity towards this talented god, and knowing that he could make great
use of Hephaestus' skills, gifted Aphrodite to Hephaestus as his wife.
Zeus felt that the beautiful goddess of love would arouse the passions of the other
Olympians, leading to great hostility and bickering, and decided that the steady and
easygoing god of the forge would make a solid partner for her. Aphrodite was not happy
to be joined with such an unattractive mate, but knew that it was a marriage only in
name and did not refuse. Her numerous extramarital affairs scandalized Olympus and
often made poor Hephaestus the butt of many jokes from his fellow Olympians.
Hephaestus was a kind and peace-loving god, gentle and introverted and popular both
in heaven and on earth. Along with Athena his patronage was very important to life in
the city, because they were the patrons of the handicrafts, which along with agriculture
were the lifeline and support of civilization. Hephaestus protected the smiths and
Athena the weavers, and the people revered and paid homage to these important
Physically, Hephaestus was generally represented as a sturdy and muscular man with a
thick neck and hairy chest who, because of a shortened, lame leg and club foot,
supported himself with the aid of a crutch. Bearded, this blue collar god most often was
shown dressed in a ragged sleeveless tunic and woolen hat.
Chapter 4 – Culture
Venus and Vulcan
Most frequently, he was portrayed in art holding the heavy tools of his trade, especially
the blacksmith's hammer and tongs. Sometimes in artistic depictions, he was
surrounded by the Kabeiroi, the dwarflike blacksmith servants of the Mother Goddess
who helped in his subterranean forge, deep below Olympus.
He was worshipped by all blacksmiths and artisans, who recognized him as their special
patron and venerated him accordingly. Two great festivals, the Vulcanalia (celebrated
by the Romans on August 23, the first day of Virgo) and the Hephaestia were
celebrated in his honor.
Hephaestus was the one who split open the head of Zeus with an axe, when the King of
the Olympians was suffering from a terrible headache. From the gaping head of Zeus
emerged Athena. At the request of Zeus, and against his wishes, he also created the
first woman, Pandora, who eventually unleashed a slew of evils upon the world.
Hephaestus was the only Olympian god who actually did physical work and he is
worshipped for demonstrating that labor can be noble. He showed that it's not only
important to do work, but to do so in an excellent and efficient fashion, and his skill was
matchless. It's easy to see why he became the patron god of artists and craftsmen of all
kinds, including weavers, painters, metalworkers, blacksmiths, leatherworkers, potters
and builders.
Chapter 4 – Culture
Venus and Vulcan
Venus and Vulcan Graphic Organizer
Deity of:
Patron of:
Things associated
Other information
I. In 2-3 sentences, explain who Venus & Vulcan were and what their domains, powers & functions were. Give their Greek
names and explain two major weaknesses or character flaws you perceive in each of them.