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Myths about the Roman God Vulcan

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Myths about the Roman God Vulcan
Vulcan was the offspring of Jupiter and Juno. He was so remarkably deformed that Jupiter threw him down from heaven to the isle of Lemnos. In this fall he broke his leg, as he also would have broken his neck, had he not been caught by the Lemnians. It is added that he was a day in falling from heaven to earth. Some report that Juno herself, disgusted at his deformity, hurled down Vulcan into the sea, where he was nursed by Thetis and her nymphs, whilst others contend that he fell upon land, and was brought up by apes.

It is probable that Juno had some hand in his disgrace, since Vulcan, afterwards, in resentment of the injury, presented his mother with a golden chair, which was so contrived by springs unseen, that being seated in it she was unable to rise, till the inventor was prevailed upon to grant her deliverance.

The first abode of Vulcan on earth was in the isle of Lemnos. There he set up his forges, and taught men the malleability and polishing of metals. Thence he removed to the Liparean islands, near Sicily, where, with the assistance of the Cyclops, he made Jupiter fresh thunder-bolts as the old ones decayed. He also wrought an helmet for Pluto, which rendered him invisible; a trident for Neptune, which shook both land and sea; and a dog of brass for Jupiter, which he animated so as to perform the functions of nature. At the request of Thetis he fabricated the divine armor of Achilles, whose shield is so beautifully described by Homer; as also the invincible armor of Aeneas, at the entreaty of Venus. However disagreeable the person of Vulcan might be, he was susceptible notwithstanding of love. His first passion was for Minerva, having Jupiter's consent to address her; but his courtship, in this instance, failed of success, not only on account of his person, but also because the goddess had vowed perpetual virginity. He afterwards became the husband of Venus.

He was believed among the gods presiding over marriage, from the torches lighted by him to grace that solemnity. It was the custom in several nations, after gaining a victory, to pile the arms of the enemy in a heap on the field of battle, and make a sacrifice of them to Vulcan. As to his worship, Vulcan had an altar in common with Prometheus, who first invented fire, as did Vulcan the use of it, in making arms and utensils. His principal temple was in a consecrated grove at the foot of mount Aetna, in which was a fire continually burning. This temple was guarded by dogs, which had the discernment to distinguish his votaries by tearing the vicious, and fawning upon the virtuous.

He was highly honored at Rome. Romulus built him a temple without the walls of the city, the augurs being of opinion that the god of fire ought not to be admitted within. But the highest mark of respect paid him by the Romans was, that those assemblies were kept in his temple where the most important concerns of the republic were debated, the Romans thinking they could invoke nothing more sacred to confirm their treaties and decisions, than the avenging fire of which that god was the symbol.

This deity, as the god of fire, was represented differently in different nations: the Egyptians depicted him proceeding from an egg, placed in the mouth of Jupiter, to denote the radical or natural heat diffused through all created beings. In ancient gems and medals he is figured as a lame, deformed and squalid man, with a beard, and hair neglected; half naked; his habit reaching down to his knee only, and having a round peaked cap on his head, a hammer in his right hand, and a smith's tongs in his left, working at the anvil, and usually attended by the Cyclops, or by some of the gods or goddesses for whom he is employed.

The poets described him as blackened and hardened from the forge, with a face red and fiery whilst at his work, and tired and heated after it. He is almost always the subject either of pity or ridicule. In short, the great celestial deities seem to have admitted Vulcan among them as great men used to keep buffoons at their tables, to make them laugh, and to be the butt of the whole company.

If we wish to come at the probable meaning of this fable, we must have recourse to Egyptian antiquities. The Horus of the Egyptians was the most mutable figure on earth, for he assumed shapes suitable to all seasons, and to all ranks. To direct the husbandman he wore a rural dress; by a change of attributes he became the instructer of smiths and other artificers, whose instruments he appeared adorned with. This Horus of the smiths had a short or lame leg, to signify that agriculture or husbandry will halt without the assistance of the handicraft or mechanic arts. In this apparatus he was called Mulciber, (from Mulci, to direct and manage, and ber or beer, a cave or mine, comes Mulciber, the king of the mines or forges;) he was called also Hephaistos, (from Aph, father, and Esto, fire, comes Ephaisto, or Hephaiston, the father of fire; and from Wall, to work, and Canan, to hasten, comes Wolcon, Vulcan, or work furnished;) all which names the Greeks and Romans adopted with the figure, and, as usual, converted from a symbol to a god.

Vulcan the God of Fire
Roman Colosseum
Roman Gods

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