The fire myths also form quite a large class, and comprise the
Cyclopes (the thunder and lightning), children of Heaven and Earth,
whose single blazing eye has been considered an emblem of the sun.
They forge the terrible thunderbolts, the weapons of the sky
(Jupiter), by means of which he is enabled to triumph over all his
enemies, and rule supreme.
The Titans are emblems of the subterranean fires and the volcanic
forces of nature, which, hidden deep underground, occasionally emerge,
heave up great masses of rock, and hurl them about with an
accompaniment of deafening roars, while their ponderous tread causes
the very earth beneath them to tremble.
In this group we also find Prometheus, whose name has been traced to
the Sanskrit _pramantha_ (or "fire drill"). Learned men have therefore
proved that the "beneficent Titan, who stole fire from heaven and
bestowed it upon mankind as the richest of boons," was originally
nothing but the lightning ("the celestial drill which churns fire out
of the clouds"); but the Greeks had so entirely forgotten this
etymological meaning, that they interpreted his name as the
"fore-thinker," and considered him endowed with extraordinary
Vulcan (or Hephæstus), strictly "the brightness of the flame," another
fire hero, is represented as very puny at birth, because the flame
comes from a tiny spark. His name is derived from the Hindoo _agni_,
whence come the Latin _ignis_ and the English verb _to ignite_. Vulcan
dwells by preference in the heart of volcanoes, where the intense heat
keeps the metals in fusion, and so malleable that he can mold them at
will; and, as "the association of the heavenly fire with the
life-giving forces of nature is very common," the Hindoo Agni was
considered the patron of marriage as well as of fire; and the Greeks,
to carry out this idea, united their fire god, Hephæstus, to the
goddess of marriage, Aphrodite.
The Greek Hestia (or Latin Vesta) was also a personification of fire;
and, her name having retained its primitive meaning to a great extent,
"she continued to the end, as she had been from the beginning, the
household altar, the sanctuary of peace and equity, and the source of
all happiness and wealth." Her office was not limited merely to the
hearths of households and cities, for it was supposed "that in the
center of the earth there was a hearth which answered to the hearth
placed in the center of the universe."