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PP.Edmunds

The second song of Demodocus contains three references to laughter (Od. 8.266-369).  That which is laughable, or humorous, is different each time.  Hephaestus the cuckold is laughable at first and anticipates laughter.  He then reverses the situation by entrapping Aphrodite his wife and Ares her lover in bed.  The sight of them inspires the laughter of some of the other gods.  The verbal joking of these gods inspires further laughter.  These three instances of humor have each a different explanation, but all of them exclude the old idea that Hephaestus is a buffoon and as such always good for a laugh.  In Demodocus’ account, Hephaestus defends himself as best he can, through his craft.  Further, human norms for the reparation of adultery are preserved.  Poseidon guarantees the payment that Ares owes Hephaestus and apparently also the return of the bride-price from Zeus.  The “moral anthropomorphism” (Hainsworth) of this scene of daily life on Olympus is ultimately proper, even if gods, like humans, commit adultery and some gods joke about it.   

This story has an obvious comparandum in the story of the chair that Hephaestus sent to Hera after she threw him off Mt. Olympus.  When she sat on the chair she became bound to it by invisible chains.  No one could release her.  Ares went for Hephaestus but was driven away by his fire—another triumph by the smith god.  Then Dionysus went with wine, and was able to bring the drunken Hephaestus back.

The story of Hephaestus’ failed union with Athena is variously linked with one or the other of these stories. 

It is always Hephaestus as smith, not buffoon, who creates humorous situations that provoke laughter.  He himself becomes laughable, when he becomes laughable, only secondarily.  It seems to lie in the nature of laughter, not in the nature of Hephaestus, that once it starts, one does not know who will have the last laugh.

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