Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Lone Artist

Let's talk about Hephaestus.

Hephaestus, Scott Eaton

Because honestly, who else is going to? The poor guy is the underdog to beat all underdogs, even in a mythos that includes Menelaus. He's the son of Zeus and his actual wife, so he gets no fun cavorting origin story. He's got a much hotter, flashier brother - and a gorgeous wife who flagrantly cheats on him with said brother. He's stuck in a volcano making pretty and amazing things for the ungrateful bastards he calls family, who grab what he gives them and don't even stay to say thank you. After Oedipus, he may have been dealt the worst hand in all of Greek mythology.

Mars and Venus Surprised by Vulcan,
Alexandre Charles Guillemot
It gets worse. All the memorable Hephaestus myths involve him getting humiliated in some way. How did he become lame? Well, Zeus pitched him off Olympus for siding with Hera in a marital spat. How did he score the most beautiful of all goddesses? Well, because his dad thought opposites might attract (and also figured that he owed him one after the whole laming business). How did he finally figure out that Aphrodite was two-timing him? Well, he had to catch her with Ares in a net before he could get anyone to pay attention. Even when he's a peripheral character, he's put-upon; when Achilles needs new armor in which to kill Hector, guess who has to pull an all-nighter to have it ready by morning?

You have to feel for the guy.

What makes things even sadder is that everyone on Olympus recognizes his competence.  No one dreams of going to anyone but Hephaestus for everything from jewelry repairs to new thunderbolts. Among scads of glory-hungry and talented deities, he is universally recognized as the most gifted. And no one ever asks anything more of him than what they want from him. He's the ugly friend who makes you look better by comparison.

And he does his job tragically well. Athena gets all the glory for giving handicrafts to humans, with no mention of who might have taught her. Apollo runs away with the artistic laurels, because it's not like any other god might be good at making pretty things. The guy can make a freaking volcano erupt when he works the night shift, but his own father steals the shock-and-awe points whenever he feels like pitching a hissy fit and a few thunderbolts. Hephaestus gets no credit for things that, in a more attractive god, would be cause for adoration and fangirling.

To which he says, with consummate grace: So what?

Hephaestus isn't a fame-seeker. He's not waiting with bated breath for the popular verdict on his latest creation. He knows it's good. He knows he made it. And he knows the next one will be even better. Hephaestus is an artist. He's actually a much more dedicated artist than Apollo, who spends more time skirt-chasing and scoring good PR than actually making music. Hephaestus lives in his studio. He literally breathes his creations. He is focused 24/7 on the thing he does well and that he loves to do. And most importantly, he's made it pay. All artists need patrons; what good is art if no one sees it? Hephaestus's skills earn him a dedicated clientele. Big freaking deal if they don't actually talk to him; capital-P Patrons of Art are almost always assholes in one way or another. The main thing is, they come back. They recognize the value of what he creates, and they want more. Hephaestus is living the artist's dream.

Sure, he's the solitary artist, the one who works in seclusion churning out beauties. But he's also a god. When he wants something done, he gets it done, whether it's a gorgeous new shield or an invisible wife-catching net. It's no coincidence that he traps Ares and Aphrodite in the literal coils of his own skill, which they thoughtlessly undervalued in undervaluing him. Hephaestus lives by his art. And he likes it that way.

Because if he didn't? Come on. This is a go-getter. This is a guy who knows where he's headed. If he didn't like the destination, he'd just set course for a new one. He wouldn't do it with a fuss and a fanfare, and someone would probably tease him for it. But he'd still be doing what he wanted. You just can't stop him.


  1. I always liked Hephaestus. He's much calmer and I'd say kinder than his fellow gods. Like, if I was gonna get a Greek deity to be my patron, I'd want him, b/c he's never gonna pull a Helen of Troy on you.

    He shouldn't feel too bad, anyway. The biggest iron statue in the world is of him. :) Well, of Vulcan, but same difference. It's in Birmingham. So, the iron industry at least has not forgotten him.

    1. I know! He's definitely the one Greek god you could trust to be a decent person and not screw you over because he felt like it. I used to retcon the mythology to make Aphrodite actually in love with him because it frustrated me to see her ignore his awesome.

      That statue, by the way, is freaking AMAZING. I had no idea it existed. And it's really nice to know that his people appreciate him. Which, really - the artist's audience still admires his work. Not much more you can ask for.

  2. I like your statement of Hephaestus, he is truly an amazing god better than his father, he is neither a cheats or a bit**. His work is amazing and all the god should appreciate his creation.
    I hate his mother Hera who threw him away, I mean how could she do that to her own child.. but it's all good.. being ugly is tough however that should not let anyone down.. he is the perfect example of .. BIT** please, who care about my outer appearance it should be inside that counts and what I do for living.
    All the artist should be inspired by him because he is the perfect example of hard working and appreciating that people/god recognising his work and not looking for fame.

    1. I couldn't agree more. It's great to find another Hephaestus fan! And you're right, he's one of the best role models in mythology in terms of his work ethic and his dedication.

      I did always get the sense that none of the Greek gods were that into being parents. Demeter stands out because she's the only one who'd shut down the world to get her daughter back. And at least Hera doesn't play favorites - she seems kind of indifferent to all her kids. Silver lining? Sort of?