Hephaestus is not usually considered to be one of the great Greek gods. He certainly does not seem to be held at the same level as Apollo, or Athena, or, of course, Zeus, but his worship was one of the most important elements of ancient Greek culture. The importance of the great gods of story may wax and wane, but Hephaestus was never neglected. You see, he was the god of fire and metallurgy. To thee all dwellings, cities, tribes belong, diffused through mortal bodies, rich and strong (Orphic Hymm 66). And…men who before used to dwell caves in the mountains like wild beasts. But now that they have learned crafts through Hephaistos the famed worker, easily they live a peaceful life…(Homeric Hymm 20)
From Hephaestus came the ability to work metal, an incomprehensible art to those not versed in it. From this seemingly supernatural ability came the near awe that smiths and their products were held. The status of the metalworker in the Bronze and Iron ages was great, with cults and even kingships associated with the smith. He carried the power and mystery of the bronze with him and all felt it. The centre of his forehead was tattooed with…the eye of Cyclops, the cult mark of Hephaestus, the smith of the gods. The smell of fire and metal hung about him, he was answerable only to the master artificer who was his god (Unsworth 148-49).
Metal, four thousand years ago, was the province of the elite, the rich, the priesthood, the aristocracy, and, above all, the warrior class. Metal was sacred, earning many sobriquets–brilliant gleaming bronze, or glorious armor, responsible as it was for the rise and fall of dynasties and empires. To a Bronze Age warrior, whether on the field of battle, perhaps before the beetling towers and steep walls of Troy itself, or on one of the innumerable pirate raids launched by the early Greeks in their black ships as they plied the wine-dark sea in search of plunder, a metal weapon must have been beyond precious, the very instrument of their continued place in the world.
Even as metal became more common and commonplace, with the once precious material being used for ploughshares and shovel tips, the mystique given to its working was not lost. Weyland Smith, one of the Old Ones who haunted the countryside in pre-Christian Celtic Britain, was one of the last vestiges of the great Indo-European gods who migrated West with those peoples from some unknown Central Asian origin. Long after Zeus, Woden, Enlil, and the other towering figures of Indo-European religion had all but vanished, the smith god was always given his due.
Bronze and iron do not mean much to us these days. I mean, look around you, metal objects surround us. It certainly is all around in a lifting gym. Barbells, plates, kettlebells, pullup bars, sleds, stands. Metal isn’t that special and it certainly isn’t rare, but still, there is something else, something very atavistic about weightlifting. About gripping that metal bar and whipping it fast and hard through a skilled movement. We may not realize it, but our hands, our muscles, our sinews, certainly recognize the ancestral importance which we have attached to metal. They recognize and acknowledge that ancient connection between man and metal, even if we cannot put a face or name to the feeling. And talk of time travel, talk of temporal empathy, at that moment, through that metal bar, I know what that long since passed warrior must have felt.
Or maybe I just really like weightlifting.
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7 Clean and Jerk 155/105#
21 Double Unders
(Jocelyn did it in 6:00)
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