Fire Risk

08 23 vulcanIf we were ancient Romans we would be celebrating Vulcanalia today. A festival in honour of the god Vulcan. As he is the god of fire, they had to pay special attention to him at this time of year. Otherwise he might decide to set fire to their recently harvested grain. Even by Roman standards he is a very old god. The oldest shrine in Rome is dedicated to him and it is supposed to have been built in the eighth century BC. It is situated at the foot of the Capitoline Hill and was probably originally outside the city walls. After all, you wouldn’t want an excited fire god kicking off inside your city. It seems the Romans would celebrate by building a bonfire and throwing in live fish and small animals. Maybe I’ll have a barbecue instead.

Vulcan was the son of Jupiter and Juno, the king and queen of the gods. His mother thought he was so ugly that she threw him in the sea. He was rescued by Thetis, a sea-nymph, who raised him as her own. Vulcan had a happy childhood, playing with pearls and swimming with dolphins. Then one day he found the remains of a fisherman’s fire on the beach. He was so fascinated by a glowing ember that he put it in a clamshell and took it back to his underwater home. At first he just looked at it. Then he found he could make it hotter with bellows and use it make certain stones sweat iron, silver or gold. Later he found he could beat the metal into shape and make jewellery, weapons and tools. He built himself a silver chariot which was pulled by seahorses.

Once when Thetis went to a party on Mount Olympus, she was wearing a beautiful necklace of silver and sapphires that Vulcan had made for her. Juno admired it and asked her where it came from. Thetis knew that Vulcan was really Juno’s son and was reluctant to say. Juno was suspicious. When she discovered the truth, that the son she had rejected had become a talented blacksmith she was furious. She demanded that he return home. He refused, but he did send her a gift, a beautiful chair made from silver, gold and mother-of-pearl. Juno was delighted. Until she sat on it. Her weight triggered springs inside and straps flew out fastening her to the chair. The more she struggled, the tighter the straps became. He had built a trap for her. She was stuck in it for three days. Vulcan only agreed to release her when his father, Jupiter, offered him Venus as his bride in return for freeing his mother.

Keep an eye on Vulcan, you never know when he’s going to get out of hand. It was during the festival of Vulcanalia in 79 AD that Mount Vesuvius first began to rumble. If you’ve ever been to Pompeii or to Herculaneum, or even if you haven’t, you probably know how that turned out.

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