The divine smith

The ^sir constructed this edifice without the help of a specialist craftsman. Snorri says that they set up forges and made all their own tools, with which they then shaped metal, stone, and wood. The Greek gods' houses on Olympus, on the other hand, were built for them by Hephaestus (Il. 1. 607 f.). He is their regular smith and general artificer. He is the idealized projection of a human craftsman: although he makes things that no mortal could, such as robots to serve in the house, they are all such things as could be used in the human world. It is not he but the Cyclopes who make Zeus' thunderbolt.

The Homeric Hephaestus has much in common with the Ugaritic craftsman god Kothar, and the descriptions of his activity may show the influence of Canaanite poetic traditions.116 But craftsman gods appear in several other Indo-European mythologies, and we should consider whether they reflect a common prototype.

In Hittite and Palaic texts there are references to a divine smith Hasammili, often in the context of underworld gods. He is either taken over from the non-Indo-European Hattic pantheon, or the Hattic name was adopted for a divine smith figure that the Indo-European Anatolians had.117

The Vedic figures who come into consideration are Tvastr and the three Rbhus.118 Tvastr's name is the agent noun from the obsolescent verb tvaks, 'exercise strength'. He wields a metal axe; he fashioned Indra's thunder-weapon, and the gods' drinking vessel. He is also the shaper of all human and animal forms, and he develops the embryo in the womb. The Rbhus were originally mortals, but they attained divine status on account of their marvellous skills. The verb taks (~ Greek tcktwv, etc.) is generally used of their work. They are associated with Indra, whose steeds they fashioned. They also made a self-propelled flying car for the Asvins, and a cow that yields the divine drink sabar. Their most famous accomplishment was to improve on Tvastr's work by dividing the gods' drinking vessel into four.

In the Ossetic tales there figures repeatedly a divine artificer Kurdalagon who makes things in the heavenly smithy. Like Hephaestus, he makes things on request to meet the special needs of human heroes: a cradle for the newborn Soslan, armour, weapons, a plough, a flute that plays melodies by itself. There are references to his anvil and to the fierce fire of his forge, maintained by twelve bellows.119

The Roman Volcanus is best left out of the picture, as he was essentially the god of volcanic and other fire, not a smith. His literary appearances in this role are the consequence of his identification with Hephaestus.

The Irish gods were served by three craftsman deities, the brothers Credne, a metal-worker, Luchta, a carpenter, and the smith Goibniu. These made the weapons with which the De Danann defeated the Fomoire. The most prominent was Goibniu, who made Lug's great spear and who was also thought of as a healer. His forge was located in various parts of Ireland. He

117 On Hasammili see E. von Weiher in the Reallexikon der Assyriologie, iv. 127 f.

118 On these see Macdonell (1898), 116-18 and 131-4, where all source-references are given.

119 Sikojev (1985), 10, 70 f., 76, 132, 145, 169 f., 209, 296.

is especially associated with the hosting of a feast at which the De Danann drank an ale that made them immortal and exempt from old age and dis-ease.120 This recalls Tvastr's and the Rbhus' intimate connection with the vessel or vessels that held the gods' drink. In the Iliad (1. 597 f.) Hephaestus appears as the cupbearer who plies the gods with draughts of nectar. We cannot but suspect a common background to these stories.

Although there is no smith among the ^sir, the Edda does know of a legendary smith Volund, of Lappish descent, not a god, but called dlfa liodi or visi dlfa, 'prince of elves' (Vglundarkvida 10. 3, 13. 4, 32. 2). He appears in Old English poetry as Weland, and since the tenth century, at least, megalithic barrows in southern England have been identified as Wayland's Smithy. He made famous weapons for heroes, such as Waldere's sword Mimming and Beowulf's coat of mail.121 In the Volundarkvida he is enslaved to a Swedish king, kept on an island, and lamed to prevent his escape, but he overcomes his master by cunning and escapes by flying. The story was well known in England, as artistic evidence and literary allusions show.122 The laming recalls Hephaestus, while the escape from an island by flying is paralleled in another Greek myth about an outstanding artificer: Daedalus, whom Minos detained in Crete.123

According to a Russian text of 1261, the gods to whom the Lithuanian pagans sacrifice include 'Telyavelik, the smith (Ky3He^ who forges the sun . .. and sets it up in the sky'.124 This seems to have been conceived as a daily event. A series of Latvian folk songs refer to a celestial smith, working at his forge in heaven, or sometimes in or beside the sea; the sparks fly, the cinders fall to earth. He is making a crown for his sister, a crown, a gold belt, or a ring for the Daughter of the Sun, spurs for the Sons of God, etc.125

There is considerable diversity among these myths, and none of the smiths' names is related to any other. The argument for a single mythical prototype is not strong. As J. P. Mallory observes in a judicious entry in EIEC (139 f.), 'deities specifically concerned with particular craft specializations may be expected in any ideological system whose people have achieved an appropriate level of social complexity'. On the other hand, craft specialization goes

120 Altram Tige Dd Medar in E. O'Curry, Atlantis 3 (1865), 385, 387 f.; W. Stokes, RC 12 (1891), 61 ff. ยงยง96, 122; Book of Fermoy 111 f.; Acallam na Senomch pp. 180 and 191 Dooley-Roe.

121 Waldere A 2, cf. Waltharius 965 Wielandia fabrica; Beowulf 455.

123 On these motifs see Dronke (1997), 265-8. She points out that mythical smiths often have some physical disability or deformity, and she sees the magical flight as a shamanistic element, to which Volund's Lappish origins are relevant. But the influence of the Daedalus myth (by way of Ovid) is also possible.

124 Mannhardt (1936), 58-60, cf. 65-8. 125 Jonval (1929), nos. 453-63.

back at least to the Neolithic period, and may be assumed in some degree for the Indo-Europeans. They pictured their gods anthropomorphically, and if they pictured them in dwellings and with material possessions, they may well have told of a particular god who made these things for them. Two motifs that recur in different branches of the tradition stand out as potentially significant: the making by a special artificer of the chief god's distinctive weapon (Indra's and Zeus' bolt; Lug's spear), and the craftsman god's association with the immortals' drinking. This brings us on to our next topic.

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