On Hephaestus' lameness: Iliad 1.590ff. vs. Iliad 18.391ff.

vbd. · 3 · 4221


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κέκλετο δ' Ἥφαιστον κλυτοτέχνην εἶπέ τε μῦθον:
Ἥφαιστε πρόμολ' ὧδε: Θέτις νύ τι σεῖο χατίζει.
τὴν δ' ἠμείβετ' ἔπειτα περικλυτὸς ἀμφιγυήεις:
ἦ ῥά νύ μοι δεινή τε καὶ αἰδοίη θεὸς ἔνδον,
ἥ μ' ἐσάωσ' ὅτε μ' ἄλγος ἀφίκετο τῆλε πεσόντα
μητρὸς ἐμῆς ἰότητι κυνώπιδος, ἥ μ' ἐθέλησε
κρύψαι χωλὸν ἐόντα:

[...]and spake to him, saying: Hephaestus, come forth hither;
Thetis hath need of thee.
And the famous god of the two strong arms answered her:
Verily then a dread and honoured goddess is within my halls,
even she that saved me when pain was come upon me
after I had fallen afar through the will of my shameless mother,
that was fain to hide me away by reason of my lameness.

Bill, this is Iliad 18.391-7. Somewhere in the homeric poems there is a mention of Zeus throwing Hephaestus out of heaven* for taking his mother's side in the quarrel with Hera, and that would be the reason why Hephaestus is a cripple. The incident I attached above must be a second fall from heaven of Hephaestus, and not another version of why Hephaestus is a cripple, right? Because Hephaestus says "my shameless mother threw me out of heaven for being ashamed by reason of my lameness". If Homer wrote this as a possible explanation of why Hephaestus is a cripple, then it is just inconsistent, because his handicap couldn't have resulted from a fall that was brought on to him because Hera was ashamed that he was crippled, because apparently before the fall he wouldn't have been crippled, and Hera wouldn't have a reason to throw him out. So if that's not the case, if Homer (the myth) is not being inconsistent, then we must be talking about a second fall of Hephaestus from heaven, and not an alternative version of why Hephaestus is a cripple. What's your take on this?

* Hera attempted to destroy Herakles with a storm after putting Zeus to sleep, but the god woke and was furious and hung the goddess in fetters from heaven. When Hephaistos attempted to free her from these bonds, Zeus threw him out of heaven. He fell to earth landing severely wounded on the island of Lemnos. The story was an alternate version of the story (above) in which Hera cast him from the threshold of heaven.
« Last Edit: 19 Oct, 2008, 11:12:49 by spiros »
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As reasonable as it may be to suppose that H. fell not once, but twice from heaven, we have to admit that no ancient author ever attempted to rationalize the contradiction that way.  And you’re right, it is a contradiction in the Iliad :  1.590ff. has him thrown down by Zeus, while eighteen books later we have the passage you cite, in which his mother pitches him out.  I see no way out of simply accepting the contradiction;  it’s not the only one in the Iliad:  Bonus dormitat Homerus.

I agree, however, that the Book 18 account is not an alternative version of why Hephaestus is a cripple.  As Nilsson points out (GGR 1.527), Homer’s Hephaestus limps in both legs — there is nothing to indicate that only his foot is crippled.  The fact that Zeus grabbed him by the foot when throwing him may have nothing to do with his handicap.  And the fall onto Lemnos in either case, while heavily injuring him, may not have been thought to be the cause of his lameness.  Here’s why:

In myths of a number of cultures, blacksmiths, whether divine or human, are strong but distorted creatures — dwarves, cripples, etc.  Presumably this derives from the blacksmith’s reality, having to spend his days exerting his arms and shoulders while standing stationary before his forge or anvil.  Huge chest and arms, but weak, spindly legs.  Conversely, it has also been suggested that those who were lame from birth might tend to go into such a profession, just as blindness might push one into the rhapsode’s trade.  So Hephaestus’ handicap, like Homer’s blindness, might simply have “gone with the territory” in his professional capacity, and might not have required an aetiological myth. 
« Last Edit: 19 Oct, 2008, 02:42:57 by billberg23 »


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Thank you for your valuable insight.

About Zeus grabbing him by the leg, those were exactly my thoughts... but I will need to think more about this and see if I can come up with a rational explanation to all this (which is unlikely but I should still give it a go), but right now there appear to be contradictions that we can't but accept. A common place of all Hephaestus falls is the fact that Thetis then takes care of him. I think Hephaestus is made to be grabbed by the foot for various reasons: he's meant to be a blacksmith -if Zeus had injured him in the hands he couldn't have been the blacksmith. But also, he is referred to as "the God of 2 strong arms", so grabbing him from his arms probably wouldn't have worked out so well for Zeus. But, was Hephaestus a blacksmith before his fall? Was he born a blacksmith? Or is this something he acquired thanks to Thetis and Eurynome?

In Odyssey 8.305ff:
[305] And terribly he cried out and called to all the gods: “Father Zeus, and ye other blessed gods that are forever, come hither that ye may see a laughable matter and a monstrous, even how Aphrodite, daughter of Zeus, scorns me for that I am lame and loves destructive Ares [310] because he is comely and strong of limb, whereas I was born misshapen[...]"

To my understanding that's like saying "I was born to be the blacksmith", given your theory that his handicap has to do with his profession, which I agree with. And it also suggests that his fall(s) have nothing to do with his lameness, but again, there might be other reasons why he doesn't just say "shameless Zeus threw me out making me a cripple", mainly the fact that Zeus is standing next to him, or simply it's something Homer is not interested in at this point of his narrative.

Either way I don't see a point in attempting to rationalize these myths about Hephaestus: even if we did find a rational explanation to all this I doubt it would make any difference.

PS: "According to Hesiod, when Zeus produced Athena from his head, Hera, in jealousy, parthenogenically gave birth to Hephaestus. The pathos of her rebellion is demonstrated by the fact that Hephaestus is a buffoon and, of all the Olympianos, the only cripple." This seems to me like an extra hint that Homer is not implying the fall(s) to be the cause of Hephaestus' lameness.
« Last Edit: 19 Oct, 2008, 08:21:22 by iTech »
At last, I have peace.


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