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Vulcānus

or Volcānus (which is the earlier form of the word). The Italian god of fire. Vulcanus differed originally from Vesta in being the god rather of destructive fire than of the kindly hearth-fire; and it is probable that the Vulcānal as one of the central sanctuaries in an Italian town (e.g. the altar and Area Vulcani in the Comitium at Rome) was originally a place for propitiatory offerings against destructive fire. In this way Vulcanus was connected with the goddess who stayed conflagrations (Stata Mater). That, however, in some places he was at one time also regarded as a god of the hearth-fire is indicated by the story of his son Caeculus (see Caecus), and perhaps by that of Servius Tullius. But another primitive characteristic was his benign influence also as a god of summer heat, which led to his being paired with Maia, the goddess of spring or summer crops fostered by the sun (Gell. xiii. 23; Macrob. i. 12; Varr. L. L. v. 84); and in this aspect he may have been connected with the Italian Venus even before the Greek influence introduced this association from the analogy of Hephaestus and Aphrodité. As regards the connection of the Italian Vulcan with the smith's works of forging and melting, there is no clear evidence. It is asserted that Mulcĭber, a synonym of Vulcanus (and possibly once the name of another deity amalgamated or identified with him), represents this function of Vulcan, and is derived from mulcere, to soften metals; but this is by no means certain, and it is possible that the connection of Vulcanus (or Mulciber) with metal-work and the smithy is merely part of the transference to him of all the attributes of Hephaestus, with whom he is entirely identified in literature. For the myths thus transferred to Vulcanus, see Hephaestus.

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    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 13.23
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