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Vulcan was born extremely ugly. His mother, Juno, tried to throw him off a cliff, but failed to kill her son. Instead, she put him in a volcano and told him to stay there for most of his young life. Little did she know that her young boy would grow to be a very talented blacksmith for all the gods and goddesses of Olympus.
Vulcan made thrones for the other gods to sit on in Mount Etna. Through his identification with the Hephaestus of Greek mythology, he came to be considered as the manufacturer of art, arms, iron, jewelry and armor for various gods and heroes, including the thunderbolts of Jupiter. He was the son of Jupiter and Juno, and husband of Maia and Venus. His smithy was believed to be underneath Mount Etna in Sicily.
Vulcan had a happy childhood with dolphins as his playmates and pearls as his toys. Late in his childhood, he found the remains of a fisherman's fire on the beach and became fascinated with an unextinguished coal, still red-hot and glowing.
Vulcan carefully shut this precious coal in a clam shell and took it back to his underwater grotto and made a fire with it. On the first day after, Vulcan stared at this fire for hours on end. On the second day, he discovered that when he made the fire hotter with bellows, certain stones sweated iron, silver or gold. On the third day he beat the cooled metal into shapes: bracelets, chains, swords and shields. Vulcan made pearl-handled knives and spoons for his foster mother, he made a silver chariot for himself, and bridles so that seahorses could transport him quickly. He even made slave-girls of gold to wait on him and do his bidding. From then on, Vulcan and Thetis lived like royalty.
Later, Thetis left her underwater grotto to attend a dinner party on Mount Olympus wearing a beautiful necklace of silver and sapphires, which Vulcan had made for her. Juno admired the necklace and asked as to where she could get one. Thetis became flustered causing Juno to become suspicious and, at last, the queen god discovered the truth: the baby she had once rejected had grown into a talented blacksmith.
Juno was furious and demanded that Vulcan return home, a demand that he refused. However he did send Juno a beautifully constructed chair made of silver and gold, inlaid with mother-of-pearl. Juno was delighted with this gift but, as soon as she sat in it her weight triggered hidden springs and metal bands sprung forth to hold her fast. The more she shrieked and struggled the more firmly the mechanical throne gripped her; the chair was a cleverly designed trap.
For three days Juno sat fuming, still trapped in Vulcan's chair, she could not sleep, she could not stretch, she could not eat. It was Jupiter who finally saved the day, he promised that if Vulcan released Juno he would give him a wife, Venus the goddess of love and beauty. Vulcan agreed and married Venus. He later built a smithy under Mount Etna on the island of Sicily. It was said that whenever Venus is unfaithful, Vulcan grows angry and beats the red-hot metal with such a force that sparks and smoke rise up from the top of the mountain, to create a volcanic eruption.
According to Virgil, Vulcan was the father of Caeculus.
To punish mankind for stealing the secrets of fire, Jupiter ordered the other gods to make a poisoned gift for man. Vulcan's contribution to the beautiful and foolish Pandora was to mould her from clay and to give her form. He also made the thrones for the other gods on Mount Olympus.
Vulcan's oldest shrine in Rome, called the "Volcanal", was in the Roman Forum. It was said to have been built during the Roman Kingdom by Titus Tatius, the Sabine co-king, in the eighth century BC. The Etruscan haruspices thought a temple of Vulcan should be outside the city, and the Volcanal may originally have been on or outside the city limits before they expanded to include the Capitoline Hill. Vulcan also had a temple on the Campus Marius.
The Romans identified Vulcan with the Greek smith-god Hephaestus and he became associated like his Greek counterpart with the use of fire in metalworking. A fragment of a Greek pot showing Hephaestus found at the Volcanal has been dated to the 6th century BC, suggesting they were already associated. However, Vulcan had a stronger association than Hephaestus with fire's destructiveness, and his worshippers wanted to encourage the god to avert harmful fires.
His festival, the Vulcanalia, was celebrated on August 23, when the summer heat made a fire hazard. The people made bonfires, and threw live fish or small animals into the fires as animal sacrifice. Vulcan was among the gods placated after the Great Fire of Rome in AD 64. Also because of that fire, Domitian (emperor 81–96) established a new altar to Vulcan on the Quirinal Hill. A red bull-calf and red boar were added to the sacrifices made on the Vulcanalia, at least in that part of town.
- There is a statue of Vulcan in Birmingham, Alabama, USA. It is the largest cast iron statue in the world.