“In another context, late in the essay, Proclus again has occasion to speak of Hephaestus and his role as demiurge. There are no apparent contradictions with the present passage, and on is inclined to believe that Proclus had firmly in mind a comprehensive doctrine regarding the mythology of Hephaestus. He is described as ‘lame in both lets’…because, as Timaeus had said, the created world is ‘legless’…Plato’s explanation of the term ‘legless’ is transferred to the Homeric myth: ‘that which is moved by the motion generated around the intellect and thought had no need of feet.’

The Union of Ares and Aphrodite creates ‘harmony and order for the opposites,’ that of Hephaestus and Aphrodite creates in this world beauty and radiance ‘to make the world the most beautiful of all visible things.’ The hypercosmic nuptial embrace and the encosmic adultery are, in fact, simultaneous and eternal, but the mythoplasts have distorted the account according to the familiar pattern. If the cuckolded husband observes the encosmic goings-on from his hypercosmic perch and binds the couple together, the truth behind the screen is that this world has need both of the power of separation (Ares) and of that of combination (Aphrodite), and if he subsequently breaks the chains (at the urging of Poseidon, whose preeminent role it is to preside over the cycle of coming to be and passing away), it is because a static union of the two would bring the process to a standstill—Hephaestus’s act simultaneously destroys the physical universe and (since eternal destruction and eternal coming to be are the life of that universe) creates it anew.”

–Robert Lamberton


PSA: Read The Automation for free on Smashwords

Read it for free.

“In the distant past, the god Vulcan created a handful of Automatons…”

From ‘Robotics: Hephaestus does it again Inaugural lecture’ by Jean-Paul Laumond

“It was when I was preparing this lecture that I discovered that roboticists have a god: Hephaestus. In Greek mythology, Hephaestus was an ingenious, talented craftsman, known for the remarkable weapons he made. But he also made wheelchairs that moved about on their own (basically, mobile robots) and golden servants that helped him to move about (basically, helper robots), and he even made Pandora, a clay statue to whom Athena gave life. He had a tumultuous love life, as attested by the following passage by Apollodorus, a chronicler from the second century BCE:

Athena visited Hephaistos, wanting to fashion some arms. But Hephaistos, who had been deserted by Aphrodite, yielded to his desire for Athena and began to chase after her, while the goddess for her part tried to escape. When he caught up with her at the expense of much effort (for he was lame), he tried to make love to her. But she, being chaste and a virgin, would not permit it, and he ejaculated over the goddess’s leg. In disgust, she wiped the semen away with a piece of wool and threw it to the ground. As she was fleeing…

While Hephaestus is the god of doing, Athena, who appears here as the one who calls the tune, is the goddess of knowing or —to protect me from reprimands from the exegetes, especially in this assembly— let me consider her as such for the purpose this lecture. Hephaestus was thus seeking to possess Athena. He was unable to do so. Could the doing not aspire to the knowing? A hard blow for the roboticist.

Robotics stems from this tension. Although the myth contradicts a current tendency to confuse science and technology, it does nevertheless reflects my own experience regarding innovation —experience that I might sum up as follows: even though doing is not understanding, understanding enables one to do, but unfortunately, not always. And even though one may very well do without understanding, doing also enables one to have tools —sometimes surprising ones— for understanding.

Hephaestus is starting all over again with new Pandoras. They are no longer of clay, but mecatronic. And they are animated. The roboticist keeps on asking the question of autonomy: what adaptability can we hope to give these new machines? The analogy between humans and machines has to be made23; it cannot be avoided. In the end, does Hephaestus have the keys to knowledge? With his machines that adapt, that “decide” on their actions, what can he tell us about our own “functioning”? The question is both dangerous and beautiful.

Let us bear in mind the image of the myth —and it is only an image, for even if the roboticist can identify with Hephaestus and can shape Pandora out of clay, he is neither Athena nor Geppetto. He will never give any humanity to clay or wood. A robot is a machine controlled by a computer; nothing else. Although animated, it remains and will remain an inanimate object without a soul that becomes attached to our soul [and without] the power of lovei. Let us allow the demi-gods to talk, let us enjoy works by Fritz Lang and Mary Shelley, and let us not be afraid. But are we actually anxious? That is not so sure. In any case, our Japanese friends aren’t, they who are so different from us; they for whom union is possible.”


Quotes on Hephaistos from FACING THE GODS:

“As the proletarian worker is seen by the Marxist to be the workhorse of industrial society,  so is Hephaistos the only Olympian God who works…

Hephaistos is a quintessential fringe-person on Olympus…

Hephaistos-consciousness drifts a bit toward the Frankenstein phenomenon: his brother is the monster Typhon, but that goes beyond the fringe of Olympian society.

…The feet of Hephaistos tell volumes: they are turned back to front, and when he walks he goes with a rolling gait that strikes the other Gods as somehow hilarious…On this particular occasion his buffoonery has the effect of keeping the Gods from each other’s throats.

The island of Rhodes, Samothrace, Delos, Lemnos were much associated with a race of cretaures variously called Dakyloi, Telchines, Kouretes, Korybantes, or Kabeiroi; on Lemnos they were called Hephaistoi, in the plural. These names refer to dwarf-like servants of the Great Mother Goddess. Invariably, they occupy themselves with metallurgy at subterranean forges, deep in the body of the Mother herself, for the islands were in earliest times identical with the Great Goddess. As the Idaean Daktyloi (‘Daktyloi’ meaning ‘fingers,’ thus as the ‘fingers’ of the Great Goddess), these smith-dwarfs learne dtheir matallurgic arts originally from the Great Mother herself.

…Hera, the Olympian mother of Hephaistos, preserves associations from earlier, pre-Olympian times with beings of Dactylic nature. The importance of this incestuous pattern in the Hephaistian configuration is central.

Invariably the mythical smiths were set apart by some defect or oddity…

…But the fire of Hephaistos is fundamentally not a daytime, Olympian fire but a subterranean fire.

…Baccaccio argued that Greek imagination gave Hephaistos to the apes because apes imitate nature by practicing the arts and crafts.

…The furnace itself is an ‘artificial uterus,’ as Eliade has pointed out; the smith stands in the service of the metallurgic processes that occur in the furnace just as the Idaean Daktyloi served the Great Mother in her labor. Whereas the heroes o fsolar masculinity perform great tasks to free themselves from bondage to the maternal background, Hephaistos remains always in the service of the feminine. And the Hephaistian passion for creative work is deeply of the Mother.

This intimacy between Hephaistos and the feminine world finds mythic expression through an incident of his boyhood. When Hera flings him in disgust from the gates of heaven, the crippled child falls into the sea and is rescued from drowning by the sea-nymphs Thetis and Eurynome, who take him home and nurture him for nine years.

…To the feminine ego the Hephaistian constellation may appear perhaps even more problematical and threatening. Hephaistos connects to her deepest feminine-maternal impulses, yet wants something other than simple maternity….Hephaistos goes contra naturam (his feet turned the wrong way round!) in a way that profoundly threatens to undermine or rechannel the essence of purely natural feminine creativity. Hephaistos may be, therefore, a monstrous offense to feminine naturalism, a sick-making disharmony in the tones that vibrate between feminine ego=consciousness and the Great Mother.

…And yet, in a subtle way unseen by Hera, Hephaistos is a precise response to Athene, from hermaphroditic femininity to hermaphroditic masculinity. If as W. F. Otto says ‘Athene is a woman, but as if she were a man,’ Hephaistos is a man, but as if he were a woman.

Because she sees in Hephaistos a failure, Hera tries again and produces, finally, Ares. Whether or not Ares satisfies her is not said, but he certainly does reflect his mother’s ferocious, battle-crazy animus…

In temperament, too, the brothers are very unlike, Ares thriving on strife and drinking too deeply of the bloody waters of mortal combat, Hephaistos rather the peace-maker who tends to shy away from conflict.

Hephaistos, it is told, won the hand hand of Aphrodite as reward for freeing Hera from the chains with which he had bound her. What sort of marriage this was remains in the dark, but it seems quite clear that Hephaistos spent much of his time on Lemnos with his smithy-friends, leaving the voluptuous Aphrodite home alone to mind the house. Her affair with Ares, begun during these interludes and carried on while Hephaisots was introverting at his underground forge, is marked by high erotic intensity: it is a as through in the coming together of Ares and Aphrodite two sexual opposites meet which were simply not present tin the Hephaistos-Aphrodite combination.

Not that Hephaistos is at all effeminate and soft. The many drawings and paintings of him show generally a robust specimen of the masculine sex with heavily muscled arms and thick neck. And he is, after all, God of smiths and craftsmen (‘hardhats’!), probably the least effeminate elements of the population.

Even more than Hephaistos, Dionysos is ‘a man but as if he were a woman.’ But whereas Hephaistos tends to tie down and fixate (a kind of compulsion to ‘show them’), Dionysos is the God of dismemberment, dissolution, and loosening.

The mythic ties between Hephaistos and Athene show, both in their quantity and profundity, a deep-going association between these two figures. More than Aphrodite, Athene is the ‘soul-mate’ of Hephaistos. Yet a kind of cloudy mysteriousness shrouds their relationship; no single tradition was ever clearly established on this subject, and so what confronts us is a blurred image based on rumors and conflicting reports…Whether, as in some reports, he marries her or not, the outcome is the same: Hephaistos seeks impetuously and passionately to make love to Athene: at the moment of climax she pushes him aside, and his semen falls to the earth where it impregnates Gaia…” – James Hillman, “Hephaistos: A Pattern of Introversion,” from Facing the Gods.