Disability Studies Quarterly
Fall 2006, Volume 26, No. 4
Copyright 2006 by the Society
for Disability Studies

Toward an Archetypal Psychology of Disability
Based on the Hephaestus Myth

William Ebenstein, Ph.D.
The John F. Kennedy, Jr. Institute for Worker Education
The City University of New York
E-mail: William.Ebenstein@mail.cuny.edu


Over the last 20 years disability scholars have analyzed representations of people with disabilities as they appear in literature, myth, art, film, media, and other cultural artifacts. This research can contribute to the development of a new archetypal psychology of disability. Archetypal psychology uses mythical and poetic modes of discourse to deepen our understanding of lived experience and behavior. The stories associated with the Greek god Hephaestus are among the earliest representations of disability. His image is pervasive and spans the Western imagination from the ancient Greeks to the present. Thus, a detailed study of this myth is a logical starting point. Archetypal images from different historical eras, and disciplines, co-exist in what C.G. Jung called the "collective unconscious" where they can be compared and contrasted with each other. The Hephaestus myth helps to organize many shared images of disability into meaningful patterns that can inform our understanding of disability in contemporary culture.

Keywords: Hephaestus, mythology, archetypal psychology, history of disability, poetics of disability.


In his essay, Some character-types met with in psycho-analytic work, Freud (1958) uses Shakespeare's Richard III as the model for his analysis of personality problems of people with disabilities. In so doing he presumes what he calls an "obvious" analogy between physical disabilities and "deformities of character." Freud emphasizes the bitterness with which Richard depicts his deformity to bolster the argument that virtually all people with disabilities have personality problems. According to Freud individuals with congenital defects or debilitating injuries feel they have been wronged by Nature, and therefore are owed reparations. They feel they are "exceptions," and are not bound by the normal rules of society. Their neurotic rebelliousness is linked to their feelings of the great injustice that has been visited upon them. In Richard's case, he justifies his ruthless and immoral behavior by his grievance of being, through no fault of his own, ugly, unloved and unlovable (Freud, 1958). Many studies published through the 1950's in the medical and psychiatric literature reinforced Freud's conclusions by citing common personality problems of disabled people including their hostility, bitterness, and vindictiveness (O'Brien, 2001).

Alfred Adler's more optimistic Individual Psychology also played a key role in the development of the field of rehabilitation psychology. He argues that a physical defect can result in feelings of inferiority. However, in some cases this "organ inferiority" may also become a source of "compensation" or even "overcompensation." A striving to overcome inadequacies propels the individual toward even greater achievements than would have been imagined without the disability (O'Brien, 2001). Adler gives examples from the world of art and literature. He claims that "an inferior visual apparatus often plays a part in the development of painters." He maintains that many musicians have "ear afflictions." He takes other examples of the phenomenon of the inferior organ and its overcompensation from mythology where one finds great heroes who are lame or blind (Adler, 1956).

The field of disability studies can contribute to the development of a new psychology of disability based upon a multiplicity of archetypal images. The psychoanalytic model which drew inspiration from the figure of Richard III gives us the image of a bitter, angry, vindictive neurotic. Adler's theory is inspired by artists and mythic heroes who today might be called "super crips." The extensive studies of cultural representations of disability in literature, mythology, film and media by disability scholars can deepen our understanding of the shared images of disability that are part of what psychologist Carl Jung (1981) called the "collective unconscious."

Within the Western tradition, an archetypal psychology of disability may begin, arguably, with the Greek god Hephaestus. Hephaestus is one of the 12 Olympians, a divine smith, fire-god, and gifted artisan, greatly admired for his industry and creativity. He is the only god who works and is always employed on some task of great importance for one or another of the Greek deities. In contrast to the other immortals who are distinguished by their physical beauty, Hephaestus is crippled, his feet are on backwards, and is considered ugly even by his own mother. The myths and stories that are associated with Hephaestus are among the earliest writings in the Western poetic tradition related to disability (Kerenyi,1974; Graves, 1974).

For literary critic and disability studies scholar Leonard Kriegel, Hephaestus represents a living inspiration that resonates with his own experience of disability.

And so I watch the lame god push his body through the heavens of Olympus, and my own cripple's heart fills with envy of and admiration for this brother in the kingdom of the crippled, my shining example of the will to endure (Kriegel, 1998, p.76).

A review of the expansive historical archive reveals that Hephaestus is a complex figure who incorporates many features associated with other disabled characters. His image is not contained in a single work of literature; it is pervasive and spans the Western imagination from the ancient Greeks to present day. One can find early versions of some of the cultural stereotypes that are commonly associated with people with disabilities. There are also differences between his portrayal in Greek literature and later representations based upon Christian interpretations of the pagan myth. Mythological references in scholarly texts, and artistic representations, also generated an array of creative new imagery. All these images, from different historical eras, cultures, and disciplines, co-exist in a virtual "collective unconscious." Critically looking at them from the perspective of archetypal psychology can help to organize the disassociated images into meaningful patterns that are still relevant within contemporary culture.

Birth, Fall and Return

The classical writers are unanimous in stating that Hephaestus is thrown down from Mt. Olympus. In some versions his fall causes his limp, in others it is his disability that causes his fall. According to several accounts, Hephaestus is born without any act of love from Hera, who is envious of the solo creation of Athene by Zeus. She sought to compete with her husband and give birth to a glorious son who could rival the bright-eyed goddess. However, this split-off son, conceived in anger and resentment, is weakly among the gods and born with a shriveled foot. In shame and disgust she casts the infant out of Olympus so that he falls into the great sea. The rejected child is rescued by Thetis and the sea nymph Eurynome, the mother of the lovely Graces. For nine years he remains concealed in their subterranean caverns, a secret vocational workshop, where he learns his craft. During this second incubation and apprenticeship he forges jewelry and other fine objects but also plots his return to Olympus.

In other stories Hephaestus is the son of both Zeus and Hera and again the situation is a marital quarrel. The young Hephaestus speaks up for his mother, and Zeus, enraged at his interference, takes him by the leg and throws him through the portals of Olympus. All day long he tumbles through space and, at sunset, falls more dead than alive on the island of Lemnos, where the barbaric tongued Sintians find him.

These versions, in which he is thrown down by either his mother or his father, and in which his disability is either congenital or caused by parental abuse, were combined throughout the centuries. In Erwin Panofsky's study of a series of paintings related to Hephaestus, he chronicles several Renaissance variations of the myth. For example, Servius writes of Vulcan, the Roman Hephaestus, that:

He was precipitated by Jupiter onto the island of Lemnos because he was illshapen and Juno had not smiled at him. There he was brought up by the Sintii ( Panofsky,1976, p 37.).

The Sintians were not known in any other context in Latin literature. A creative mistranslation established a connection between the Greek myth, an image in the New Testament, and bitterness. According to Panofsky, scholars translated "there he was brought up by Sintii" or "illic nutritus ab Sintiis" as "illic nutritus absintiis" which means "there he was brought up on wormwood." Wormword is a bitter herb, the chief flavoring ingredient in absinthe. This translation references the shooting star in Revelation which is named Wormwood. It falls from the sky and renders the water bitter. Through the association with wormwood Hephaestus was linked with bitterness and his limping gait became a symbol of the pollution of the soul.

And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters; And the name of the star is called Wormwood; and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many people died of the waters because they were made bitter (Revelation 8:10; 8:11).

Bitter Hephaestus does not intend to stay hidden away in an underground cave forever. Stubborn anger toward his mother inspires him to seek revenge. These "negative" emotions engender the courage that is necessary for the disabled outcast to claim his rightful place in the world. Leonard Kriegel is one of several disability studies scholars who have spoken out in praise of anger. At a certain point in his life anger was his "greatest passion." It insisted that he not resign himself to the triumph of his disability.

To feel such anger at one's proscribed [sic] fate was to demand justice for the self, to be accountable to the future one had to live, even as a cripple. That was the immense promise. And I seized it (Kreigel,1998, p.54 ).

Kriegel's determination to "get even" with his disability, to seek revenge rather than acquiesce, led him to richer moments filled with a sense of accomplishment and liberation. In the Hephaestus myth we can discern a positive psychology of anger that is grounded in the experience of disability. The disabled deity refuses to play the role of the passive victim. Instead he is an active creator in forging his future place in society. Hephaestus' revenge is accomplished in such a clever and artful way that, in the end, it is enriching for the entire Olympian community.

In one story Hephaestus sends sandals as gifts to all the gods, but those he sends to his mother are made of immovable and unyielding adamantine. When she tries to walk she falls flat on her face as though her shoes are riveted to the floor. In this slapstick farce Hera is unable to walk. The haughty old aristocrat has been caught in an undignified position and publicly humiliated. At the same time Hephaestus makes fun of himself, and his own deformity. It is a guileful deed performed by a crafty god. His practical joke demonstrates that under his awkward exterior there exists a subtle mind.

There is another famous story known as the "binding of Hera." In revenge for his expulsion from Olympus, Hephaestus sends a beautifully wrought golden throne to his mother as a gift. Hera sits on it with delight, but when she tries to rise again she is gripped by golden mesh fetters so fine they could not be seen. The golden throne then soars high into the air and Hera finds herself levitated as if in a magician's trick. The Olympians take council as to how they might free their queen but only Hephaestus knows the secret of the loosening. They send the divine smith a message that he should return to Olympus and set his mother free, but he replies adamantly that he has no mother.

Ares, his braggart brother and sexual rival, vows to bring Hephaestus back by force, but he is forced to retreat before the fire-brands hurled by the master of the forge. The god of war limps back to Olympus in ignominious defeat. Instead, the stubborn Hephaestus is coaxed back by Dionysius who gets him drunk. In farcical fashion the intoxicated smith is led back to Olympus atop a donkey, escorted by Dionysius and his satyrs. Zeus is there and Hera too, bound upon her pedestal throne. The cowardly Ares is crouched behind her chair. The other gods are laughing. However, Hephaestus is not so drunk that he would free Hera without exacting a price. He demands marriage to Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty.

The archetypal psychologist Murray Stein suggests that loosening the bonds of his mother frees an introverted Hephaestus from his own psychic entrapment and moves him forward in the process of individuation and personal development.

This mythic link between Dionysius and Hephaistos comes at an exceedingly important moment in the 'development' of Hephaistos: the crippled child has been cast out of heaven, has sulked and sought revenge, has learned his creative gifts, but has not yet found his maturity. His return to Olympus represents a rite of passage to maturity, to taking up a position within the Olympian hierarchy (Stein,1973, p.46 ).

The drunkenness and carnival atmosphere of the donkey processional are part of a loosening up, a shift in consciousness that frees Hephaestus from his fixation on revenge. He must work through his feelings of anger and bitterness toward his mother or these dangerous emotions will poison his soul and stunt his personal development. In the myth, the way this is accomplished is not through individual psychotherapy or rehabilitation counseling, but through social action. In the Hephaestus archetype, once bitterness and anger are properly acknowledged, they can motivate the individual to address the problems posed by an ablist society.

Kriegel expresses a similar thought based on his own experience of disability. He values anger for its gift of honesty in confronting the world.

Anger taught me many lessons...Give anger its due. It cannot always be 'constructive,' but confronting the world with its honesty is true power. The gift is not the emotion but the honesty one takes from it (Kriegel,1998, p.55 ).

Paul Longmore terms stories in which a disabled character overcomes anger and bitterness as "dramas of adjustment." This genre reinforces the idea that the problem is "in" the disabled person. Even if it is acknowledged that the disabled person is not the cause of the problem, the expectation is that the individual must still learn to cope. In Hephaestus we find a character who is motivated by his anger to confront a world that has discarded him. He stages what amounts to a non-violent demonstration, an act of civil disobedience that completely shuts down Olympus. His stubborn anger does not lead to acceptance, adjustment or passivity. On the contrary it lifts him up to reclaim his dignity and civil rights. The story depicts a community that must adjust to someone who has been stigmatized, segregated, and discriminated against. It is the disabled character himself who creates the humorous situation as an effective tool to confront his oppression and challenge the existing order.

The Hephaestus myth inaugurates a tradition in Western literature of using disability for comic purposes. In creating tricky devices Hephaestus manipulates the world in a way that is charming yet utterly compelling. His practical jokes give rise to "asbestos gelos," "inextinguishable laughter," among his fellow Olympians. The classics scholar Margery L. Brown identifies Hephaestus as a "Trickster." In spite of the "friendly-cruel" laughter that may be directed at him he remains a powerful and magical figure. It is he who conceives and executes clever pranks to achieve a specific purpose. His comic genius is based upon an ability to mimic others, but also to parody his own disability. He is able to embarrass others because he is willing to be embarrassed himself. Thus, stubborn anger and bitterness are transformed through slapstick. Since anyone may be a target of mockery, Hephaestus, the disabled Trickster, creates a comedy of equality in which everyone in the Olympian leisure class has an equal right to be ridiculed and humiliated.

Hephaestus, Aphrodite and Ares

Despite his disability and less than classical good looks, Hephaestus has the confidence, audacity, and naivete to demand Aphrodite, the most beautiful and erotic of the goddesses as his wife. In so doing he expresses self-assurance regarding his masculinity and sexual identity. At the same time there is a feeling of inevitability that this manufactured union, his adolescent sexual fantasy, is bound to end badly. According to Robert Garland the arranged marriage is a "precursor to the Beauty and the Beast motif" but "without the happy ending." The promiscuous Aphrodite is not associated with conjugal union. Indeed, she inspired and actively aided the adultery between Paris and Helen that resulted in the Trojan War.

Homer and Ovid relate the story of Aphrodite's infidelity with Ares. Helios, the Sun, spies them in the act of lovemaking and informs Hephaestus who determines to catch the two in their illicit sexual activity. The divine smith fashions a net so fine it is invisible and as strong as it is fine. He hangs it over the bedposts of his marriage bed and pretends to depart for his workshop on Lemnos. As soon as he leaves Ares steals into the house and embraces Aphrodite. The chains drop down upon them, and they find themselves trapped. Meanwhile Hephaestus retraces his steps and calls out to the other gods to witness his errant wife and her lover caught in a compromising position.

Come here, to see a ridiculous sight, no seemly matter, how Aphrodite, daughter of Zeus forever holds me in little favor, but she loves ruinous Ares because he is handsome, and goes sound on his feet, while I am misshapen from birth (Odyssey: 8.310).

Hephaestus blames her adulterous affair on his lameness. According to Martha Edwards, lameness is a characteristic associated with ugliness, an "ungraceful unevenness," and a "cosmetic defect" that contrasts with the Greek ideals of physical beauty and symmetry of the body. In Greek mythology Hephaestus' limp has primarily an aesthetic meaning. After being rejected by his mother he is now betrayed by his wife because he is ugly and deformed.

Only the male gods assemble in the palace of Hephaestus; the goddesses stay home out of modesty. In this comic burlesque and public shaming Hephaestus plays the role of the dishonored, cuckold husband. Uncontrollable laughter erupts among the gods as they gaze upon this ridiculous and bawdy sight. For prankster Hephaestus it is a humiliation, one which he shares with his rival Ares. Although Aphrodite is enmeshed and exposed her plight elicits only admiration. Hermes is even envious of Ares as he views the glorious body of Aphrodite and confesses that he would gladly change places with him.

The bitterly honest Hephaestus is embarrassed but he also wins praise for his ingenuity.

See the slow one has overtaken the swift, as now slow Hephaistos has overtaken Ares, swiftest of all gods on Olympus, by artifice (techne), though he was lame (Odyssey 8:306).

The Greek techne, from which our word technology is derived, is translated as "artifice," "craft," or "device." It has a double meaning in that it refers to an external object that is made, as well as the subjectivity of the maker. A device is an invented thing, but also devious scheming; a contrivance is a mechanical appliance, but also a clever plan; craft refers to the skill in making an object, but a crafty person is also skillful in deceiving others. In Greek mythology the artifice associated with Hephaestus is a greatly admired trait.

Hephaestus claims that his trophy wife has cheated on him because he is disabled. Through his cunning and ingenuity he brings incontrovertible evidence, an eyewitness account of lovers in flagrante delicto, to the court of public opinion. The plaintiff seeks justice and receives reparations in the form of the "price of adultery," which is owed by Ares. Previously, when he was attacked, Hephaestus bested Ares in physical combat. However, he is essentially a peaceful good-natured god and refuses to play the role of the violent jealous husband. By divorcing himself from the Aphrodite anima he can connect with other mythic perspectives.

From antiquity this story of adultery has inspired varied interpretations in literature, sculpture, the graphic arts, and painting. The Greek version resembles a light hearted entertainment, devoid of any serious judgmental comment. Later artists and Christian commentators added a moralistic message. In several engravings Vulcan is portrayed as a powerful hero standing for justice, rectitude, and integrity. Sometimes scholars offered practical advice. A 14th century monk observed that the marriage was doomed from the start because "when ugly husbands are mismatched with beautiful wives, adultery is sure to follow" (Lowenthal,1995, p.51 ).

A mock-heroic poem dating to the 16th century has Vulcan, rather than Venus, carrying on an illicit love affair. Venus is furious and dispatches Mercury to the island of Lemnos to stop it. Mercury finds the island populated by apes and Vulcan in love with the most beautiful simian maiden (Janson, 1952). According to art historian Erwin Panofsky, several post-classical scholars translated "there he was brought up by Sintii" or "illic nutritus ab Sintiis" as "illic nutritus ab simiis" or "there he was brought up by apes." This association with apes reinforces the idea of parody and "aping" that is connected with Hephaestus' comic persona. It is also a form of derision because apes were considered ugly imitations of human beings in the same way that Hephaestus was considered a deformity of the Olympian ideal of physical beauty.

In a more contemporary context, literary critics Hinz and Teunissen (1985) refer to the Ares/Aphrodite/Hephaestus Complex that pervades the D.H. Lawrence novel, Lady Chatterley's Lover (1993). They see the crippled god embodied in war veteran Clifford Chatterley, the unsympathetic wheelchairuser husband. However, in this fictional twist it is the beautiful, healthy, young wife who is victimized, frustrated both sexually and emotionally, because she is tied to an impotent invalid with a crippled soul. Trapped in a loveless marriage she takes a lover. This theme, referred to by disabilities scholar Louis Battye (1966), as the Chatterley Syndrome, builds upon the idea, taken to an extreme by Lawrence, that once a person becomes crippled he is no longer a man. In ceasing to be a sexual being Clifford is essentially defrauding his wife.

Psychoanalytic interpretations have emphasized the themes of sexual inadequacy and deviance. According to Philip Slater (1968), the story of adultery is an "exercise in self-humiliation" and "self-emasculation." Murray Stein (1973) suggests that the failure of his marriage to Aphrodite is related to his "Mother complex." His crippled feet give "an obvious clue" to problematic sexuality, "feet having definitely a phallic significance." A psycho-sexual interpretation of the Hephaestus myth that focuses on castration or incest motifs places the blame for Aphrodite's infidelity on the disabled victim. However, in the story, Aphrodite remains true to her own archetype. Would we expect her to remain a faithful wife?

In Greek myth and throughout the centuries Hephaestus is depicted as a cuckold, not because he is sexually incapacitated, but because he is perceived as ugly. His lameness is viewed as an aesthetic monstrosity, an affront to an ideology of beauty that values symmetry of the physical body. Interpretations of the myth that are based upon theories of sexual impotence or sexual inadequacy appear to have originated within the psychoanalytic movement. Thus, as far as I can tell from the historical archive, the "Chatterley Syndrome," and the stereotype of people with disabilities as sexually incapacitated, is a relatively modern innovation.

Clifford Chatterley can be compared to Jon Voight's character Luke in the 1978 film Coming Home. The drama focuses on the adulterous relationship between the beautiful Sally, played by Jane Fonda, and Luke, a paraplegic Vietnam veteran. "Sally's sexual liberation is represented by her ability to reach orgasm with Luke, something she could never do with her husband..." writes Anne Shewring (2000). Luke is portrayed as an attractive, sexually active, self-assured person with a disability.

In Renaissance literature Vulcan, as master of fire, is identified as the founder of the alchemical arts and its greatest practitioner. In the popular literature he is frequently portrayed as an evil and sinister figure because in turning base metals into gold he is imitating Nature and thus forging the work of God (Linden 1974). Alchemists believed that the story of the binding of Venus and Mars in Vulcan's bed was an encoded recipe. Venus represents copper, Mars represents iron and Vulcan is the fire that is needed to facilitate an alchemical transformation. In the archetypal psychology literature, Aphrodite and Ares, Love and War, are always imagined as an inseparable "psychic conjunction." As the alchemist-smith in our soul it is Vulcan who binds the two lovers together.

James Hillman uses this myth to reflect upon the psychology of war, the glorification of violence, and the love of guns in contemporary American culture. He writes that humans "love their weapons, crafting them with the skills of Hephaestus and the beauty of Aphrodite for the purposes of Ares" (Hillman, 2005). The lovers are welded together in the armor and weaponry that Hephaestus creates, including the sublime Shield of Achilles. Beautiful goddesses come to his workshop to ask him to fashion arms for their favorite warriors. These baleful implements of war, disability and death are also among the most desirable objects.

Hephaestus' Workshop

Hephaestus is the only god that works. He is the most physically vivid of all the Olympians. In the Iliad he is depicted as a robust smith, middle-aged, with a bearded face, a powerful thick neck, hairy chest, sweaty brow and heavily muscled arms, wearing a sleeveless tunic. In this setting Super Cripple Hephaestus looms large and distinguished. His wife is the beautiful Charis, one of the Graces, who serves as his romantic companion and workshop assistant. He is seen by his anvil and forge, wielding a hammer and tongs, working with metals, and crafting wondrous objects. His poetic workshop is specifically designed to accommodate his disability. Of particular interest to the field of disability studies is his work in the area of assistive technology, accommodations in the workplace, and his creation of mechanical objects that function as robots or automata.

In his workshop he has built 20 self-animated tripods with golden wheels that can move back and forth at the gods' assemblies and perform the work of robot servants. He also utilizes voice-activated bellows. In order to steady his unsure steps he fashioned two golden statues that resemble living girls. They hasten to his side and assist him as he walks. These golden maidservants could not only speak and use their limbs but were also endowed with intelligence. His creations also include other machines that imitate the behavior of human beings such as Talos, the giant bionic bronze man who had Olympian blood in his veins, and the beautiful but artificial maiden Pandora, the first woman. In a vase painting Hephaestus is also depicted riding in a magnificent winged wheelchair-like chariot.

Physically, Hephaestus is compensated for his weak legs with a powerful torso, muscular arms and ambidextrous fingers. According to disability historian H. Stiker, Hephaestus is a powerful magician with access to occult power precisely because of his deformity (Stiker, 2002). Robert Garland (1995) uses a similar "compensation" theory to account for his status as a skilled artisan with magical powers to infuse life into inanimate objects.

A variety of theories have been proposed to account for the god's lameness. One is that it is a consequence of his status as a 'magician' in accordance with the principle whereby a special defect is redeemed or compensated for by a special gift or talent. Hephaistos' lameness is thus compensated for by his magical power to infuse life into inanimate materials and forge armour of incomparable excellence (Garland, 1995, p.61 ).

In his underground volcanic workshop whether on Lemnos, or later on Mt. Etna, Hephaestus is often surrounded by an assembly of disabled figures. The archetypal workplace is imagined as accommodating his crew of oddly-shaped assistants. He is aided in his work by a race of mythical smiths who are set apart by some physical defect: dwarf metalworkers and miners, giant one-eyed Cyclopes, "thumblings" that were personifications of tools, crab-like creatures with pincer hands, simian demons, and frightening magicians. These grotesque assistants represent a secret brotherhood closely associated with Mother Earth.

In the Homeric Hymn, Hephaestus and Athene are depicted as the founders of civilization.

Sing, clear-voiced Muse, of Hephaistos, renowned for his skill,
Who with gray-eyed Athene taught to men upon earth
Arts of great splendor, men who in former days lived
Like wild beasts in caves in the mountains. But having learned skills
From Hephaistos, famed for his craft, they now, free from care,
Tranquilly live out their lives year by year in their houses (Sargent, 1973, p.70 ).

The purposeful tending of fire, a role that in some pre-historical societies may have been reserved for people who were crippled, led to the use of tools, the formation of the first social units, and to the construction of dwellings. People learned basic manufacturing skills like firing pottery, backing bricks, and smelting metals. The individual chosen to tend the fire would have been a powerful figure in the community, and perhaps also a shaman. In this vision of the rise of humanity through technology, the lame god is cast as a culture hero.

The Greek vision stands in stark contrast with view of Hephaestus as portrayed by post-classical Christian poets and scholars. They made a connection between the fire-god who is thrown down from Olympus and another fallen angel. The association of Hephaestus and Lucifer is explicit in Milton's Paradise Lost, where he is numbered among Satan's attendants.

Nor was his name unheard or unadorned
In ancient Greece...and how he fell
From Heaven they fabled, thrown by angry Jove
Sheer o'er the crystal battlements: from morn
To noon he fell, from noon to dewy eve,
A summer's day, and with the setting sun
Dropt from the zenith, like a falling star,
On Lemnos, the Aegaean isle. Thus they relate
Erring; for he with his rebellious rout
Fell long before; nor aught availed him now
To have built in Heaven high towers; nor did he scape
By all his engines, but was headlong sent
With his industrious crew, to build in Hell (Milton, 1962, p 25-26.).

Different images of technology emerge from different visions of the origins of civilization and different fantasies of paradise. In the Homeric Hymn early human beings are depicted as living in caves like wild beasts before using fire, inventing tools, and learning practical skills. Compare this with the Christian image of the garden, an unspoiled pastoral landscape defiled by the noisy engines, polluted waters, and "Satanic mills" associated with technology and industrial progress. A garden utopia does not require universal design elements because people with disabilities, imperfect beings, are not imagined as inhabiting a perfect world. Before the fall, in the garden, there was no need of assistive technology. The perception of people with disabilities as evil and sinister which has roots in the Judeo-Christian tradition is reinforced through the Hephaestus myth. His trickiness becomes a sign of a malevolent nature; his limping gait becomes a symbol for the corruption of the soul. Through these associations disability, technology, industrialization, and sin were linked in the "collective unconscious" of the Western imagination.

According to Edwards (2004), in Greek antiquity people with physical disabilities worked in the skilled and semi-skilled trades and the arts. Indeed, the lame god and his sister Athena were the beloved patrons of Athenian craft guilds. However, over the centuries, in Western society, as communities transitioned from an agrarian to an industrial way of life, traditional craft guilds that may have accommodated individuals with disabilities began to disappear. The widespread use of coal fueled an industrial revolution and Hephaestus' modest workshop evolved into the modern factory. In England, as early as the 1700's, many social commentators and artists became disgusted by the ugliness, pollution and human suffering associated with the new factory system. Instead of being connected with progress and the rise of civilization as portrayed in the Homeric Hymn, industrialization and machine technology were viewed by many as the evil antithesis of the quiet pastoral garden (Marx, 1967).

The archetypal psychologist Murray Stein (1973) points out that the "Hephaestian fantasy" of heavily muscled men wielding hammers and wrenches, surrounded by glowing furnaces, and struggling with red-hot steel, as depicted in a mural by Diego Rivera, is a "Marxist image of the proletarian worker-masses." This mural in the Detroit Museum of Art was commissioned to depict industrial workers in America yet it reinforces the underworld qualities ascribed to Hephaestus' workshop by Milton.

Unlike craft workers, industrial workers were subject to the conformity of the assembly line and their bodies became interchangeable parts of a machine. People with disabilities, who were not imagined as reposing in a perfect world, were also not imagined working in modern factories. Employment policies, supported by labor unions, factory owners, and the welfare state, excluded or excused people who did not fit the normal mold from working in what O'Brien (2005) characterizes as "standardized" environments designed for the "average" worker. In comparison, Hephaestus' workshop provides a mythic model for a utopian workplace that applies universal design elements, and incorporates technology and individualized accommodations to tap the creative energies of all workers, with and without disabilities.


Over the last 20 years disability studies scholars have researched and analyzed representations of people with disabilities as they appear in literature, mythology, art, film, media, and other cultural artifacts. These shared images are, for the most part, taken-for-granted. Yet they have a powerful effect on the attitudes and behaviors of individuals, and on the public policies and institutions of our society. This constellation of images can contribute to an archetypal psychology of disability. A detailed study of the Greek god Hephaestus is a logical starting point in such an endeavor. An archetypal psychology of disability is rooted in the depth psychology of Freud, Adler and Jung as re-visioned by James Hillman (Hillman, 1975). It uses personification and myth to present psychological insights and deepen our understanding of lived experience.

Many disabled figures are portrayed as pathological, sick, pitiful, weak, afflicted, neurotic, haunted or otherwise flawed. Hephaestus too has his dark and deviant side. For an archetypal psychology of disability it is important that one not apply the "medical model" to these images and try to correct, fix, or treat them as if they are wrong. Every image reveals an insight that may help us understand the personal experience of disability and its place in the broader society.

Freud bases his psychology of disability on the bitter, angry, vindictive Richard III, and we can find elements of this motif in the Hephaestus myth. Adler bases his psychology on the heroic "Super Cripple," and this dimension is also an aspect of the Hephaestus archetype. Jung's Trickster figure is evident in the mockery and comic dimensions of the myth. An important feature of archetypal psychology is that a multiplicity of images is needed to explore the breadth and depth of human experience. Seeing disability through any single perspective limits and distorts its full meaning.

Another premise of archetypal psychology is that the gods do not appear in isolation. Thus, in the stories related to his birth and reinstatement on Olympus, we see Hephaestus struggle with anger and bitterness toward his mother, the Goddess Hera. Dionysius serves to re-connect him to other Olympians and thus to other mythic perspectives. In his marriage to Aphrodite and his rivalry with Ares we find insights into the themes of disability, beauty, ugliness, war and sexuality. Through his association with Athene he is portrayed as a working class hero and god of technology. The dynamics of these relationships allow us to explore manifestations of the myth in personal experience, and in the culture.

Archetypal landscapes are also instructive. In Hephaestus' mythic workshop the creative soul of the worker is valued and technology and artistic design are used to accommodate individual differences. His workshop served as an icon for the Athenian craft guilds. Milton locates the workshop in Hell as part of Hephaestus' association with original sin and the evils of industrialization. In the Renaissance, it is an alchemical laboratory. During the industrial revolution it is transformed again into the modern factory. The way people with disabilities are imagined, or not imagined, in certain places such as a garden utopia or modern factory, often serves as a premise for further fantasies, ideas, and even policies related to disability.

An archetypal psychology of disability is based in an imaginal history rather than an actual history of disability. Images from different times, places, and disciplines can co-exist in a virtual "collective unconscious" where they can be compared and contrasted with each other. Archetypal psychology uses mythology to organize these dissociated and far-flung fragments into meaningful patterns that can inform our personal and communal experience of disability.

A common mistake is equating images of disability with actual people with disabilities. The "naturalistic fallacy" would encourage us to judge images as right or wrong, positive or negative, based upon their faithfulness and likeness to the appearance of disability in the material world. Instead, in archetypal psychology, images of disability are compared with other images in fields such as myth, literature, art, poetry, film and media. These images have their own logic and deeper meaning which govern many of our customary notions about disability. This constellation of images is also part of our shared heritage, belief systems, and culture. Thus the further development of an archetypal psychology of disability might reveal that many real world problems confronting people with disabilities are actually rooted in failures of our collective imagination.


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