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N.S. Gill

Myth Monday - Dionysus and the Return of Hephaestus

By August 6, 2012

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Photo of Hera stuck on the throne, with Prometheus. PD courtesy of Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons.
The Return of Hephaestus to Olympus is a story depicted in literature and art that introduces interconnected Greek mythological puzzles and shows some of Zeus' family's dynamics.

The story begins with a version of Hephaestus' lameness. In one set, Hephaestus' imperfection manifested itself at birth. This led his mother Hera to cast him out of Olympus. He landed in the sea where the nymph Thetis tended him. (Later, Thetis requests a set of armor from Hephaestus for her son, Achilles, as described in the Iliad Book XVIII.) Alternatively, Hephaestus' fell from Olympus when Zeus hurled him out for defending his mother. In this version, Hephaestus fell for an entire day and wound up on Lemnos. This second version does not provide a motive for the nasty trick Hephaestus played, so for simplicity, let's go with the first.

Hephaestus, grown now and still angry at his mother, decided to get even. He was a blacksmith, so he could forge great items like magical, floating thrones. He sent one of these to his mother. Perhaps she accepted it thinking Hephaestus was trying to get back in her good graces. Perhaps it was just so attractive she didn't think. At any rate, it was a mistake for Hera to sit in the throne, since, once she did so, she was stuck.

None of the available gods or goddesses could unstick Hera. Hera's son Ares suggested that Hephaestus might be persuaded to undo his workmanship, but when Ares tried to persuade his brother, Hephaestus beat him off with firebrands.

Dionysus stepped forward as a savior, but with the implicit condition that he be admitted to the company of the Olympians. His technique for dealing with Hephaestus wasn't words. He offered Hephaestus wine -- probably enough to make him thoroughly inebriated. Hephaestus arrived at Olympus on the back of a donkey, accompanied by Dionysus and his sileni.

Hephaestus then asked for (version 1) Athena in marriage. This led to rejection by Athena, Hephaestus' spilled seed, and the creation of Erichthonius; in turn, leading to the populating of Athens [see Children of Athena].

Alternatively (version 2), but without ancient literary evidence, Hephaestus asked for Aphrodite as his bride. Since Hephaestus is the traditional husband of Aphrodite, and since this is such a strange pairing, the second version has appeal.

This story accounts for the inclusion of Dionysus among the 12 Olympian gods.

Reference: Timothy Gantz' Early Greek Myths.

Previous 2012 Myth Mondays:

  1. Hercules Hurls His Guest
  2. Scylla
  3. Olympics Origins II: Myrtilos
  4. Hercules the Giant-Killer
  5. The First Tyrant
  6. The King and the Harpies
  7. The Dawn Goddess Loves a Mortal
  8. Vediovis
  9. Even a Boar Wishes to Kiss Adonis
  10. Hero and Leander
  11. Who Were the Argonauts?
  12. The Chimera
  13. Narcissus and Echo
  14. How Perseus Fits In
  15. Hesiod and the Bestiary
  16. The First Olympics Origins I
  17. Dionysus and the Return of Hephaestus
  18. Zeus, the Recent Victor of the Titanomachy, Wins Once More in Hesiod's 'Theogony'
  19. Atlas, the Titan Who Didn't Shrug
  20. Troilus and ... Polyxena
  21. Who Is the Virgo?

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October 1, 2009 at 4:10 pm
(1) Bill says:

This is how Dionysius got into Heaven? I’d never heard that before. I wonder what Gantz uses as a reference. Did you notice that none of the other gods could release Hera? (Although I wonder how hard some of them were trying.) Hepheatus was one of the few that could bind and unbind. I’ve been ready Mircea Eliade’s “The God who Binds”. I think zeus, athena, eros, and hermes were the only other ones with that ability. I’d have to check my notes. and of course Cronus.


October 1, 2009 at 4:24 pm
(2) ancienthistory says:

It’s on p.75. I’m not sure, but I think he’s citing the “Libanius” account. here are G’s exact words:”[W]hen Dionysos does bring Hephaistos back, the latter pointedly presents to his mother her benefactor, and she accomodates by persuading the other gods to admit Dionysos to their company.” Aside from the reference earlier in the paragraph to the Libanius account, there is nothing, yet the rationale for Dionysus’ inclusion among the Olympians is the most interesting bit for me, so I included it.

October 1, 2009 at 6:43 pm
(3) Bill says:

Thanks for including it, it ties up some loose ends nicely. Toss in the story about Hesita taking her place at the hearth, so Dionysius can sit in her throne and it’s all wrapped up. I don’t recall the reference for the Hestia story.

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