The God of Fire
Y OU may remember reading, at the end of the story of "The Gods and the Giants," that the quarrels of Jupiter and Juno never ceased to disturb the peace of the sky where the gods dwell. Juno's temper was terrible, and so was her jealousy, and her pride was beyond all bounds. On the other hand, her character was without reproach, while Jupiter was the worst husband in the whole of heaven. To such a pitch did their quarrels at last reach, that Juno went away to earth, vowing never to see Jupiter again.
I suppose, however, that Jupiter loved Juno in the depth of his heart, or else he was afraid of the scandal that would follow upon a separation between the King and Queen of Heaven. At any rate he consulted his friends as to how the quarrel could be made up, and was advised by one of them, King Cithæron of Platæa, to have it announced that he was about to make some other goddess his queen. On hearing the news, back flew Juno in a rage to the sky to stop the marriage, and finding that there was no marriage to stop, consented to remain, and to forgive her husband once more.
But to quarrel once always makes it easier and easier to quarrel again, and harder and harder to keep love or friendship alive. And before long came another quarrel—the worst of all. Juno scolded furiously, and Jupiter at last said:—
"Enough. You shall destroy the peace of heaven no longer. Out you shall go."
"All the better," said Juno. "I will go back to earth as I did before. And I am not going to be tricked by your false stories a second time."
"No," said Jupiter; "the happiness of the earth is as dear to me as the happiness of the sky. You shall neither go to earth nor stay in heaven."
Taking a long golden chain, he fastened it round her, under her shoulders. Then he sent for one of the Cyclopes' anvils, and fastened it to her feet. Securing the other end of the chain to the keystone of the rainbow, he let her down, so that Juno hung suspended in mid-air, neither upon the earth nor in the sky, while the anvil at her feet prevented her from swinging and from climbing up again by the chain.
It was a terrible position for Juno. Her anger was still at full heat, and such a degradation, in full sight of gods and men, was a heavy wound to her pride, not to speak of the bodily pain which she had helplessly to bear. But she scorned to beg for pardon. So there she hung, plotting revenge, until night came—till Apollo was asleep under the sea, and Diana was away hunting, and Jupiter, making the most of his long-lost quiet, was dozing upon his throne. Then Juno, who certainly could not sleep with an anvil dragging at her legs and a chain at her shoulders, heard a whisper from above, "Hush! Don't start—don't scream; keep quite still, and I'll soon draw your majesty up again."
Not that Juno had thought of starting or screaming—she was much too dignified. Besides, the whisper, though rather rough and hoarse, was very pleasant to hear just then. For she recognized the voice of Vulcan, her own son, and she knew that he was going to help her.
So she kept quite quiet as she was bidden, and presently she felt herself, anvil and all, being drawn very slowly upwards, just as you may have seen a heavy sack drawn up by a machine to a warehouse window. It must have been rather painful being dragged up while the anvil dragged her down; but she found herself on firm sky at last, and sighed with relief when Vulcan, whipping out his knife, cut the cord at her feet, and let the anvil go thundering down upon the earth below.
You can fancy what a clatter it made. People started out of their sleep—not that that mattered. But it did matter that Jupiter started out of his. He sprang from his throne, and saw at once what had happened. The next moment, with a tremendous kick, he sent Vulcan flying after the anvil.
Vulcan fell and fell, spinning through space, till he lost his senses, and then—
The anvil had fallen upon the island of Lemnos, and the islanders, rushing out of their houses to see what the crash and clatter could be about, were amazed to see what looked like a confused bundle of legs and arms tumbling and whirling through the air. As it came nearer, it seemed to be a human figure. So the people made a sort of network of their arms, to catch it and prevent its being dashed to pieces.
And lucky it was for Vulcan that they did. For when he came to himself he found himself with nothing worse the matter than one leg badly broken.
God though he was, he always remained lame, and he was naturally somewhat deformed. But neither lameness nor deformity prevented his having amazing strength; and he was as clever as he was strong. The people of Lemnos treated him kindly, and he in return taught them to work in metals. They built him a palace, and he set up forges and furnaces, and made all sorts of useful and curious things. He used to work at the forges himself, blowing the fires and wielding the hammer. Among the curious things he made were two mechanical statues, which seemed alive, walked about with him, and even helped him in his work. And at last there came into his head a plan for getting called back into heaven. So he shut himself up in his smithy with his two mechanical workmen, and let nobody know what he was doing there. Those mechanical workmen were among the most useful things he made, for he could trust them to help him in his most secret work without understanding it or being able to tell how it was done.
One day the gods up in heaven were excited by the arrival of a splendid golden throne—a present from the earth for Jupiter. How it came there nobody knew. But there it was, and all agreed that nothing so magnificent in its way had ever been seen before, even in the skies. Jupiter was about to try how it felt to sit upon, when Juno, jealous even of that, went quickly before him and seated herself.
"Ah! that is a comfortable throne!" she exclaimed. "There is nothing like gold to sit upon, after all."
Jupiter was annoyed with Juno's behavior, as indeed he was with most things she did. As, however, he did not like to make another scene before all the gods and goddesses, he waited patiently for her to get up again. But she did not move.
At last—"I think that is my throne," he hinted, in a tone which seemed gentle, but which Juno understood exceedingly well. Still she did not move.
"Thrones are not meant to go to sleep upon," he said in a yet more meaning way.
And still she did not move.
"Get up!" he thundered at last, his patience gone.
"I can't!" was all she could say, as she made a vain effort to rise. "The throne is holding me with its arms!"
And so it proved. Juno was held so tightly by the throne that she could scarcely struggle. It was very strange. And presently it became stranger still. Neither the authority of Jupiter, nor all the strength and skill of all Olympus together, could loosen the clutch of the magic throne.
"Ah!" said Mercury—who, you may remember, was Jupiter's chief messenger, and the quickest and cleverest of all the gods—"if only Vulcan were here! He understands these things."
"And why is he not here?" asked Jupiter, sternly.
But nobody dared answer, though everybody knew. However, Mercury took the hint, vanished for an instant or two, and, while the gods were vainly tugging at the arms of the throne, reappeared, followed by a limping figure all black and hot from the forge—in short by Vulcan.
"What is the matter?" asked Vulcan, as innocently as if he had nothing to do with it at all. "Ah! I see. A clever invention; but—By the way, I can't afford another broken leg: so if I help my mother this time—"
Seeing from the face of Jupiter that he had nothing to fear, he pressed the tip of his grimy finger upon a secret spring—the arms instantly opened, and Juno was free. What they did with the throne I cannot tell you; but you may be certain that nobody ever sat on it again.
After that, Vulcan remained among the gods as the god of Fire, and was the chief blacksmith of nature. He opened vast forges in the middle of the earth, where he made weapons and armor for gods and heroes, and thunderbolts for Jupiter. The Cyclopes, the giants with one eye in the middle of their foreheads, were his workmen. The chimneys of his furnaces are called volcanoes, of which the chief is Mount Ætna in the island of Sicily; and one can tell when some great work is going on by the smoke and flame that bursts out of these. Volcano, you will no doubt notice, is very nearly the same word as Vulcan.
And so things went on quietly till one day a very wonderful thing happened. Nobody has ever been able to account for it or understand it; so I must just tell you the story as it stands. One lovely spring morning, when there was scarcely the softest breeze to stir the sea, shining like a mirror in the sun, a light amber-colored froth that floated upon the ripples was seen, by watchers upon the shore of the island of Cyprus, to gather into a delicate rosy cloud that presently began to tremble as if it were trying to be alive. It still rested lightly upon the water—so lightly that the breeze, soft and gentle as it was, might have blown it away; but its delicate trembling carried it upwards till at last it seemed to breathe, then to take shape, and at last blossomed into the most beautiful woman—if woman it was—that had ever been seen in the world, or even in heaven. With wonderful grace she glided to the shore; and poets have told how the zephyrs, or soft west winds, guided her as she came, and the four seasons received her on the shore. The people of Cyprus could only wonder and worship; and this was the birth of the great goddess Venus, the Queen of Love, whom the Greeks called Aphrodīte, which means born of the Foam of the Sea.
And this wonderful goddess of Love and Beauty Jupiter chose to give in marriage to Vulcan, the deformed and limping god of Fire.