Vulcan: The Mythological God of Fire

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The Vulcan Vent has a design meant to contain fires and dangerous embers outside buildings. So where does the name ‘Vulcan Vent’ come from? Hint: Not Star Trek. It may be logical to assume as much, but one would be incorrect.

Not the Planet Vulcan either, the hypothesized planet from the 1800s. That turned out to be not a planet at all, though a mathematician named Le Verrier thought Mercury’s orbit could be explained with 19th century Newtonian physics.

Still, the planet has a bit of interesting history for those with any interest in astronomy. Much like the God the planet was named after, so too was the planet just a myth!

We didn’t name it after the Avro Vulcan bomber either, but here’s a cool video of one nonetheless.

You may want to lower your speaker volume before clicking.

It took an Einstein to prove no Vulcan.

There was no planetary object with a gravity of its own that was too close to the sun to be seen with optics of the period. Nowadays, look through a 10 stop filter on your modern DSLR camera during an eclipse and you can see this for yourself: no planet on our side of the sun (though you’ll see a few sunspots, maybe). These partial eclipse-visible sunspots and stars close to the sun were the culprits for the false observations by astronomers of repute. An argument could be made the eclipse phenomenon itself is responsible for the planet’s continued postulated existence, as the planet would largely be sought by all types of astronomers till 1915 when Einstein’s General Relativity would explain Mercury’s orbit. Yes, there was a few further spottings of planetoid sized objects long after, but those are just stray comets and asteroids (these are named Vulcanoid objects).

Enough astronomy for now:  The original God of both hindering and helpful fire was the Roman God Vulcan. This Vulcan is the one that started it all. This God would wake up Monday morning and have no need for coffee to get started, as he was motivated to get the work of the day over with, and if that meant he stepped on a few toes, so be it. This God was motivated to get’r done. The climate, every flame on Earth, all his. His whims ruled the fate of everyone. Campfire not igniting no matter how long your try? It’s not because the wood’s too wet, it’s because Vulcan’s not willing it for some reason.

Ancient Romans would hold summer rituals during The Vulcanalia where animal sacrifices were made in order to satiate his supposed thirst for: well, ‘something’, anyway. It was hoped the harvest would not dry or burn away those last summer months as a result. 

No doubt Vulcan was an iron-fisted god, metaphorically. This one was responsible for everything basically heat related, if you will. Droughts, volcanoes, fires, he’d allow the blacksmiths and cooks their ovens, and for the temps to rise in the summer. Burning a candle, it was perhaps thought, would please Vulcan just a bit. As far as the Roman God was concerned, it could be argued he was much the Roman version of Yin and Yang. After all: no land without lava, no crops without ashes to feed the land.

What, you may wonder, did this God look like? Well, contemporary depictions were more… modest in their depictions of Roman Gods than modern imaginings of Hollywood. On the wikipedia page, for instance, you see an average Joe-like man, naked as the day except for a red cape, in a cave. There is another with him depicted as a blur-faced blonde man, wide of shoulder and stature, about to do some torturing, apparently (no one said he was a merciful God). Let’s just say the Romans didn’t get many good appearances of him in the flesh where a painter could sit down and paint him.

Named after the Roman (not Hephaestus, the Greek) mythical God of fire.

According to the Greeks, however, Hephaestus was quite an ugly baby, and Juno (Queen of the Gods) hurled him off Mount Olympus in horror of his gross, red, bawling face. Under the sea he found a foster mom, he grew up in the ocean, made friends with dolphins, (just living the sea life), when one day he finds some coal on land and becomes obsessed with making burning things in his underwater lair creating weird creatures which need not be mentioned here for the sake of decency.

So later he makes a trap chair for mom Juno, which he imprisons her in, until dad (aka Jupiter to the world) must come in and make a deal to marry him to Venus (the famed love and beauty Goddess). Talk about enabling destructive tendencies, Zeus, wow.

We already know Hephaestus was not a looker. So, like in many arranged marriages where the wife thought she could do better but didn’t want to confront the in-laws, Venus was a bit of a cheating heart. He’d make a volcano erupt whenever she two-timed him. To the Greeks, when a mountain top exploded into a cauldron of lava, they knew Vulcan and Venus were having a domestic issue.

Later, when Zeus caught wind that humans stole fire’s secret, Hephaestus was handed a work order. He would mold Pandora from clay and earth and give her form. To this day (mythologically) we have all the evils floating around in the world that came from Pandora and her box, and it was largely Hephaestus’ handiwork!

Whereas the Greek God was an infamous super-being, Roman Vulcan was a higher functioning deity, to say the least. It seems like he spent more time running the fires of the world and heavens than being raised in the ocean.

It can be argued that whereas Roman’s Vulcan had a philosophical, perhaps elemental explanation for why evil existed (theodicy), the Greek Vulcan Hephaestus had a human-God conflict at the center of Greek theodicy (the ‘theft’ of fire’s secrets).  

There are other iterations of Vulcan, but those could be considered perversions of the one ‘true’ Roman fire God that came a bit after the original Greek version. We’re looking at you, highly rated Starz show ‘American Gods’ with Corbyn Bernson as Vulcan!

It’s been tested and proven that Vulcan Vents keep out fire and dangerous embers. If there is one thing to be learned from this article, it’s that. 

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