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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: May 2011
  • First published in: 1909



The classical literature and art of Greece appear to claim for this god a place in the pantheon of the leading divinities; and yet the meagreness of the cult-records, unless they are accidentally defective and strangely misleading, establishes the conclusion that he played but a small part in the social and political life, and counted but little for the higher religious consciousness of the race. His figure is more transparent than that of any other male Olympian; and the study of his cult is comparatively easy, and most of the problems that present themselves concern comparative philology, mythology, ethnology, rather than religion. He is one of the very few Hellenic gods whose elemental origin is obvious and never disguised, for he belongs unmistakeably to the fire; and the preanthropomorphic perception of fire as a divine thing seems to survive in various popular or poetic expressions which use the name of the god as a synonym for it. We are familiar with the Homeric phrase describing the cooking of meat, ‘they held it over Hephaistos’; and the prophet in Sophocles’ Antigone says of the offerings that refused to catch fire on the altar, ‘from the sacrifice Hephaistos did not gleam,’ and again the fire with which the enemy threatened the walls of Thebes is called in the same play ‘the Hephaistos of the pine-torch.’

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