It’s a Living: Working for the Gods

As we’ll see shortly, many of the older Gods, despite Their many powers, really didn’t know how to fashion material things – from weapons to vehicles to celestial palaces. While there are numerous cross-cultural examples (the Vedic Vishvakarma/Tvastar comes to my mind), let’s look at how the Greek and Norse deities maneuvered around their own inabilities, and were able to entice divine and/or enchanted beings to forge their desires…

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Hephaestus:

Hephaestus was a an Olympic God who was cast down from the sacred mountain. Now, as with almost all Greek myths, there are several variants – I’m choosing the one that was most often depicted by Attic vase painters, and which was a beloved image among the Etruscans.

In this versions of the story, Hera produces Hephaestus parthenogenically, i.e. without a consort; this was an attempt to snub Zeus, who had likewise given “birth” to Athena without Hera’s involvement. However, the baby was deformed, having a lame leg; disappointed, Hera tossed the infant from the top of Mt. Olympus.

Crashing below to the Earth, He landed on the volcanic island of Lemnos, where he was raised by a local tribe of smiths and artisans.

As an act of revenge against His mother, He sent Her a gift: a beautiful golden throne; however, when Hera sat down on it, She was unable to get up.

The Gods begged Him to free His mother; He responded remorselessly: “I have no mother”.

This went on for a while, until Dionysus, the God of Wine, intervened. Getting Hephaestus drunk, He convinced Him that his rightful place was on Mt. Olympus; the intoxicated God agreed, and Dionysus led him up the mountain surrounded by His retinue of Satyrs and Maenads, with Hephaestus typically depicted riding on a donkey.

hep

Note in the image that Hephaestus is carrying His hammer and tongs – tools of His trade. Also note Hera on the far right, imprisoned on Her throne, while a bearded Dionysus leads the way, holding a jug of wine.

So what all did He forge?

Among several other items, including autonomous robot assistants, He is said to have created:

  • Hermes’ winged helmet and sandals
  • Aphrodite’s girdle
  • Agamemnon’s staff of office
  • Achilles’ armor
  • Heracles’ bronze musical clappers
  • Helios’ solar chariot
  • Eros’ bow and arrows

In another popular myth, He also created a bed that trapped his adulterous wife Aphrodite with Her illicit lover, Aries, which we explored in this post.

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The Norse Dwarfs

As with Greek myths – and truth be told, most ancient myths – there are contradictory and often fragmentary accounts. However, between there is enough information to deduce the following:

The first generation of Dwarfs to fashion items for the Aesir (the primary Norse Gods) were known as the Sons of Ivaldi. These brilliant craftsmen made the following items:

  • Skidbladnir, a ship that was gifted to the God Freyr: it could carry all of the Aesir and their weapons; it always found a wind to move it, but best of all, it could be folded like a piece of cloth and carried around in a pocket.
  • Gungnir, the Spear of Odin: The age of the Spear in the Odin mythos is uncertain – however, it is attested that at Ragnarok, the Twilight of the Gods, it Gungnir that Odin will use to charge the ravenous wolf, Fenris.
  • New golden hair for Sif, wife of Thor: Loki, in typical malicious fashion, shaved the head of Thor’s wife. This is what forced Loki to go to the Sons of Ivaldi in the first place, and bring Her back a new head of hair (it was that or have Thor methodically break every bone in Loki’s body).

At some later point, Loki  goaded two brothers, also Dwarfs, into making new gifts for the Aesir. He compared their work to that of Sons of Ivaldi, stating that He would bet His head that they couldn’t match the excellence of Skidbladnir, Gungnir, or Sif’s golden hair. While the story has many comedic elements – including Loki’s attempt to derail the brothers’ work by transforming Himself into a gadfly, our focus is on what they finally made:

  • Draupnir: a mysterious golden ring that was given to Odin, it magically produced eight identical rings every ninth night. When Odin’s son Baldr was slain (an act which Loki had a direct hand in), the grief stricken Odin placed the ring on His son’s funeral pyre, though there is at least one further myth that implies that it was recovered, though not by Odin.
  • Freyr’s golden, glowing boar, Gullinbursti: this magical boar is said to be better than any horse, capable of riding through the air and even through the waters. In addition, because it glowed, the rider never had to fear the “murky regions”. Freyr went to Baldr’s funeral on Gullinbursti.
  • And last, but definitely not least, the one item that is probably most associated with Norse myth in general, and Thor specifically: Thor’s magic hammer, Mjolnir. This is a weapons capable of leveling entire mountains; it’s truly a weapon of potential mass destruction.

Mjolnir has only one imperfection: its handle is too short, a defect caused, once again, by Loki’s meddling.

And these, then, are the gifts of the Dwarfs.

(Incidentally, Loki managed to keep his head through a technicality, though the Dwarfs sowed His mouth shut with steel wire so they wouldn’t have to hear Him gloat).

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While Hephaestus is a proper God, it’s worth noting that He learned His skills – skills which no other Olympian possessed – from human beings.

Likewise, though the Dwarfs are enchanted beings, not from our realm (Midgard), they aren’t Aesir.

So what’s the takeaway? Maybe it’s this:

For all Their power, sometimes even the Gods require a little help from the working class…

templehephaestus
The Temple of Hephaestus, Athens, Greece. Picture from the Getty Collection.

 

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