Interview with Hephaestus…
This is a piece of fiction inspired by the story of Hephaestus. By taking the elements of this character from a variety of sources, “The Iliad,” “The Odyssey,” Hesiod, Apollodorus, and others, I wrote as though I were Hephaestus being interviewed about my life.
“My name is Hephaestus and I am most uncomfortable with words. I use images, clay, wood, leather and precious metals to tell my stories. I am not eloquent like Hermes, I hammer and bend and stoke the fires to express myself; to tell my story with words seems flat and difficult. However, I will try.
Let me start with my father, Zeus. As a young man, he never acknowledged me, but always, he accused me of siding with my mother who only wanted me around for her own devices. It is said that I was born to her without intercourse, born to her and her alone. I don’t know what to think about that; what I do know is that I am thrust between them, not as a child, but as a weapon—a cudgel!
My memory goes in circles so I can’t tell my story in a line, only in images like those on Achilles’ shield; images that are forces in themselves. It is in images and crafty things that I marshal the rage that is inside of me—images that bleed off the heat that fire the cauldron of my heart. So, I will tell my story as I see it, those images that are burned in my mind.
Zeus, father, king of my world, rages against my mother. He has hung her by her wrists out the side of our home in his terrible fury over her meddling with Hercules. With his back to me (as usual) I am emboldened to use my craftiness and wile to free her from his chains. I reach forward with my devious fingers and discover the trick that holds her hanging from his wrath and spleen.
As the last clasp opens, releasing her from his bonds, I feel a fist wrap my ankle and jerk me through the ripe air (there is something uniquely sensuous and electrifying in the sensation of ones own bones breaking…). My leg, pulverized, becomes the center of my universe as I arch over my fathers shoulder and out of my home. The cold, clear sight of HIS back fills my mind as I fall.
The burning in my leg spreads as I plummet for what seems like days—years—lifetimes. I flop and tumble with the fire in my leg stabbing up into my heart, burning my chest, blinding and deafening me until I am utterly consumed.
The shock of landing in water and the coolness that suddenly envelops me quenches the heat in my legs and on my skin, but not in my heart. Cool, gentle hands find me and take hold, probing my skin, soothing my blindness and deafness until sight and sound return. Thetis, my aunt, takes me in and nurses me in my heart and injury.
Fearing the wrath of Zeus, Thetis leads me into the darkness of the grotto beneath her home. She hides me while I heal in what ways I can, and gives me leave to thrash about in my pain and anguish. Her sisters tend me until I can move about on my own. I am as deep in my despair as the very abyss I am confined to.
Years I am in this shadowy place, and years the rage cooks inside of me until one day I lamely stumble across a hammer and anvil. Picking it up, feeling its weight, I wildly swing the hammer into the great anvil with a thundering crash. The reverberations awake in me a crazed wildness that causes me to swing the hammer madly in reckless abandon until my arms are worn and the hammer and anvil are destroyed. The feeling is so satisfying that I find another and destroy it. Then another and another, destroying each in succession with no end, no regret.
“BANG…BANG…BANG,” my destruction rings out.
One day I noticed a rhythm, a simple pattern that sounds briefly from my incessant hammering. At first it fuels my rage and I try to break the pattern, change it to keep my madness alive. But, each time I try, a new pattern emerges and it becomes intoxicating. I seek it out, hammering rhythmically and soon the patterns evoke images in my mind. The intoxication grows with pattern and images dance around my anvil, awakened by the beating of my hammer in greater and greater complexity.
Soon I find myself adding materials, gold, bronze, and silver, the pattern of my hammering and the images in my mind crying out for form. The sounds change, “BANG…BANG…TAP—BANG…BANG…TAP,” as I feed the materials onto the anvil, manipulating and forming the various metals into the images that haunt me.
The images in my mind begin to take shape under my hammer and the rage I feel cools—just a little. Each time I make something new, I can feel a piece of myself come back to life, painfully, horribly back to life. Something beautiful is born between the anvil and my hammer—something terrible….
In the days and years that follow more and more shapes appear. I make a forge and the fire inside of me is renewed with purpose—madness. Every waking moment is spent creating the images that dance behind my eyes. The music of my hammer, the fire in my heart, the forge, and the growing strength of my arms become a concert of gold, silver and bronze until my fame takes me out of that deep, dark place.
It is nine years before I return from the grotto. I make beautiful things; brooches and necklaces, and many other works of art. Creating these gifts sooths the burning that will not be quenched. My recovery is difficult and I remain lame. Now, I stand on my own two feet (laugh), such as they are. I am laughed at for my looks and my walk, yet I serve my own purpose. When I am called upon for my skills, something clever to be made, I do as I am asked. However, make no mistake, it is my work that is done, my fire in the forge.”