LLR Books

VULCAN.





[Sidenote: Vulcan's fall.]

Vulcan, or Hephæstus, son of Jupiter and Juno, god of fire and the
forge, seldom joined the general council of the gods. His aversion to
Olympus was of old standing. He had once been tenderly attached to his
mother, had lavished upon her every proof of his affection, and had
even tried to console her when she mourned Jupiter's neglect. On one
occasion, intending to punish Juno for one of her usual fits of
jealousy, Jupiter hung her out of heaven, fast bound by a golden
chain; and Vulcan, perceiving her in this plight, tugged at the chain
with all his might, drew her up, and was about to set her free, when
Jupiter returned, and, in anger at his son's interference in his
matrimonial concerns, kicked him out of heaven.

The intervening space between heaven and earth was so great, that
Vulcan's fall lasted during one whole day and night, ere he finally
touched the summit of Mount Mosychlus, in the Island of Lemnos.

                              "From morn
    To noon he fell, from noon to dewy eve,
    A summer's day; and with the setting sun
    Dropt from the zenith like a falling star,
    On Lemnos th' Ægean isle."

                                     Milton.

Of course, to any one but a god such a terrible fall would have proved
fatal; and even Vulcan did not escape entirely unharmed, for he
injured one of his legs, which accident left him lame and somewhat
deformed for the remainder of his life.

[Sidenote: Vulcan's forge.]

Now, although Vulcan had risked so much and suffered so greatly in
taking his mother's part, she never even made the slightest attempt to
ascertain whether he had reached the earth in safety. Hurt by her
indifference and ingratitude, Vulcan vowed never again to return to
Olympus, and withdrew to the solitudes of Mount Ætna, where he
established a great forge in the heart of the mountain, in partnership
with the Cyclopes, who helped him manufacture many cunning and useful
objects from the metals found in great profusion in the bosom of the
earth.

Among these ingenious contrivances were two golden handmaidens gifted
with motion, who attended the god wherever he went, and supported his
halting footsteps.

    "Two golden statues, like in form and look
    To living maidens, aided with firm gait
    The monarch's steps."

                       Homer (Bryant's tr.).

[Sidenote: The golden throne.]

Vulcan also devised a golden throne with countless hidden springs,
which, when unoccupied, did not present an extraordinary appearance;
but as soon as any one ventured to make use of it, the springs moved,
and, the chair closing around the person seated upon it, frustrated
all attempts to rise and escape from its treacherous embrace.

Vulcan dispatched this throne, when completed, to his mother, who,
delighted with its beauty and delicate workmanship, proudly seated
herself upon it, and found herself a prisoner. In vain she strove to
escape, in vain the gods all gallantly rushed to her assistance. Their
united strength and skill proved useless against the cunning springs.

  [Illustration: FORGE OF VULCAN.--Velasquez. (Museum, Madrid.)]

Finally Mercury was sent to Vulcan, primed with a most diplomatic
request to honor high Olympus with his presence; but all Mercury's
eloquence and persuasions failed to induce the god of the forge to
leave his sooty abode, and the messenger god was forced to return
alone and report the failure of his attempt. Then the gods
deliberated anew, and decided to send Bacchus, god of wine, hoping his
powers of persuasion would prove more effective.

Armed with a flask of his choicest vintage, Bacchus presented himself
before Vulcan, and offered him a refreshing draught. Vulcan,
predisposed to thirst, and incited to drink by the very nature of his
labor, accepted the offered cup, and allowed himself to be beguiled
into renewing his potations, until he was quite intoxicated. In this
condition, Bacchus led him passive to Olympus, made him release the
Queen of Heaven, and urged him to embrace his father and crave
forgiveness.

Although restored to favor, Vulcan would not remain permanently in
Olympus, but preferred to return to his forge and continue his labors.
He undertook, however, the construction of magnificent golden palaces
for each of the gods upon the Olympian heights, fashioned their
sumptuous furniture from precious metals, and further embellished his
work by a rich ornamentation of precious stones.

    "Then to their starry domes the gods depart,
    The shining monuments of Vulcan's art:
    Jove on his couch reclin'd his awful head,
    And Juno slumber'd on the golden bed."

                         Homer (Pope's tr.).

Aided by the Cyclopes, Vulcan manufactured Jupiter's weapons, the
dread thunderbolts, whose frightful power none could withstand, and
Cupid's love-inspiring darts.

[Sidenote: Vulcan's loves.]

Vulcan, in spite of his deformity, extreme ugliness, and well-known
aversion to any home but his sooty forge, was none the less prone to
fall in love with the various goddesses. He first wooed Minerva, who,
having sworn never to marry, contemptuously dismissed his suit. To
console Vulcan for this rebuff, and at the same time punish the
Goddess of Beauty, who, according to some mythologists, had refused
even his addresses, Jupiter bestowed upon him the fair hand of Venus,
and sent her and her mischievous train of Loves and Graces to reside
in the dark caves of Mount Ætna.

Amused by all the strange sights and sounds, the goddess at first
seemed quite contented; but after a time Vulcan's gloomy abode lost
all its attractions: so she forsook her ill-favored husband, and went
in search of another, more congenial mate.

Some time after, Vulcan married one of the Graces, who, however, seems
to have also soon wearied of his society, for she deserted him.

Vulcan's children were mostly monsters, such as Cacus, Periphetes,
Cercyon, etc., all of whom play an important part in heroic mythology.
He is also the reputed father of Servius Tullius, sixth king of Rome,
by a slave Ocrisia, whom he was wont to visit in the guise of a bright
flame, which played harmlessly about her.

Vulcan was worshiped by all blacksmiths and artisans, who recognized
him as their special patron, and venerated him accordingly.

                  "Those who labor
    The sweaty forge, who edge the crooked scythe,
    Bend stubborn steel, and harden gleaming armor,
    Acknowledge Vulcan's aid."

                                      Prior.

Great festivals, the Vulcanalia and the Hephæstia, were celebrated in
honor of this god, who is generally represented as a short, muscular
man, with one leg shorter than the other, a workman's cap on his curly
locks, a short upper garment, and a smith's tools in his hand.