"Daughter of Saturn (Cronus), venerable dame,
Who dwell'st amidst great fire's eternal flame;
In sacred rites these ministers are thine,
Mystics much-blessed, holy, and divine
In thee the Gods have fix'd their dwelling place,
Strong, stable basis of the mortal race."
― Orphic Hymn to Hestia (Translated from Greek by Thomas Taylor)
Hestia (Roman: Vesta
) was the Goddess of Home and Hearth in ancient Greek mythology. In particular, she presided over the fire, burning round the hearth. Because sacrifices held an important place in ancient Greek religion, fire was considered to be the holiest of the five fundamental elements of nature. Hestia was the goddess of this sacred fire, and therefore, her presence within premises inhabited by humans and gods was highly valued. No home or temple was sanctified until Hestia made her way into it. In other words, the very first ritual in the sanctification of a home or temple was the establishment of sacred fire in its center. This fire, not only gave illumination and warmth, but also provided heat for cooking food. Owing to this, Hestia was, more often than not, represented symbolically by sacred fire or flaming hearth. She occupied the most prominent position in the daily lives of the ancient Greeks, as the first share of every sacrifice was offered to the goddess, and the first prayer of every ritual was aimed to invoke her presence.Index
▶ Virgin Goddess
▶ Hestia and Priapus
▶ The Domain
▶ Rituals and Symbolism
▶ Hestia and Hermes
▶ The Cult of Hestia
Myths Involving Hestia
Because Hestia is the Goddess of the Hearth, her place is essentially inside the household. So, unlike the other gods and goddesses of ancient Greek pantheon, she was not concerned with the affairs of the outer world. Owing to her confined nature, her mythological presence seems to be limited than that of the other deities.
According to Olympian mythology, Hestia was the eldest daughter of the Titans (elder gods), Cronus
. Cronus' father, Ouranos
(Father Sky), had made a prophecy that one of his own sons would usurp the Titan's rule. Worried by this, Cronus swallowed all his children one by one, immediately after they were born. But Rhea managed to hide her youngest son Zeus
, who tricked Cronus into drinking a potion, so that he disgorged all his children out of his stomach. Because Hestia was the eldest, she was the first one to be swallowed by her father, and the last one to come out of his mouth, Hence, according to the 7th century BCE Greek poet, Homer
, in the ancient Greek mythology, Hestia is considered to be both, the eldest as well as youngest of the Olympian divinities.
The Virgin Goddess
Yet another Homeric hymn dedicated to Hestia sheds light on the goddess' status as a virgin. Aphrodite, the Greek Goddess of Love, once made Apollo
(the god the music, healing, and the Sun) and Poseidon
(the god of the sea), fall in love with Hestia. Both of them tried to persuade her, but when nothing worked, they went to Zeus, seeking the goddess' hand in marriage. When Hestia discovered this, she refused to marry either of them and told Zeus that she eternally wished to remain a virgin. Zeus agreed to her request and gave her a place at his royal hearth. Since then, Hestia has been one of the three virgin goddesses of ancient Greek mythology; the other two being Athena (the Goddess of War) and Artemis (the Goddess of Hunters and Wilderness).
Hestia and PriapusOvid
―the 1st century BCE Roman poet―in his treatise, the Fasti
, narrates―quite comically―an incident that happened during Rhea's banquet. After a session of eating, drinking, and merrymaking, all the invited guests were tired and retired to the foot of Mount Ida for some relaxation. Hestia lied down on the smooth green grass and fell asleep. Priapus
, one of the minor fertility gods of the Greek mythology, spotted the goddess as she was sleeping and wanted to lie down with her. However, just then, a sudden, untimely bray of a donkey disturbed Hestia's sleep, and she woke up, startled. Seeing this, all the other gods crowded around her, and poor Priapus had to flee from the spot.
Some ancient Greek and Roman sources say that Hestia gave up her position as one of the Olympians, in favor of Dionysus (the god of wine and merrymaking), who took her place. This is perhaps, the reason why Hestia does not appear in many myths.
Facts about Hestia
Hestia, as mentioned before, was the Goddess of Hearth and Domestic Fire. Owing to this, she presided over all activities related to kitchens, cooking, and banquets.▶
Her association with households was so strong that the ancient Greeks also regarded her as the inventor of house building.▶
Hestia was also the patroness of the civic hearth, a sacred flame that symbolized the ancient Greek city states.▶
She was also the Goddess of the Sacrificial Flame and presided over all the sacred altars. She had her fixed share in sacrificial offering, irrespective of which god the sacrifice was meant for.
Hestian Rituals and Symbolism▶
Hestia's presence was extremely essential to turn a house into a home. This is why, in order to consecrate a new household, the first ritual involved the ignition of the hearth.▶
Even after marriage, when the couple went to their new home, the bride's mother gave the bride a torch, lit at her own household fire. It was with this torch that the first fire in the new house was lit.▶
Another Hestian ritual involved carrying a 5-day-old child around the hearth. This ritual symbolized the admission of a new member into the family.▶
Every Greek city state had a common communal hearth, which was kept continuously lighted. This was where Hestia was believed to be present as the Goddess of Civic Life.▶
Whenever a new colony was established, sacred fire was carried from the parent colony to the new one. Hestia, thus, symbolized continuity, stability, and common identity.▶
During the Roman period, when Hestia became Vesta, the constancy of her sacred fire got a new meaning. The sacred fire of Vesta looked to unite all the Roman citizens into one family.
Hestia and Hermes▶
According to the ancient Greek tradition, Hestia and Hermes
(the god of travelers, crafty speech, traders, and thieves) were often related to each other.▶
While Hestia's fire provided warmth and sanctity to the household, Hermes guarded its entrance and brought fertility and good luck.▶
Notably enough, though the two divinities were linked to one another, they were worshiped separately. Hestia's domain began only when Hermes greeted a person inside the house/temple.▶
We often find the temples of Hestia and Hermes placed in the vicinity of each other. But, Hermes' statue is never found within Hestia's sanctuary.
The Cult of Hestia▶
Very few temples, as such, have been dedicated specifically to Hestia. This is because she was more of a household deity, and there was no need for a separate temple in order to worship her.▶
She presided over the hearth in each house, in each sacrificial altar, and in each communal hearth. Thus, every Greek and later, each Roman citizen worshiped Hestia, by default.▶
The 2nd century CE Greek geographer, Pausanias
, in his travelogue, the Description of Greece
, mentions that in the town hall of Athens, a statue of Hestia was installed right next to the communal hearth.▶
Pausanias also tells us that in the town of Hermione in Southern Greece, there was a sanctuary dedicated to the goddess with only a sacrificial altar and no image.▶
A 5th century BCE Greek lyric poet, Bacchylides
mentions Hestia being worshiped in the city of Larissa in the Thessaly region of ancient Greece. Here, she was worshiped at the public hearth as the Goddess of Plenty.▶
―another 5th century BCE Greek lyric poet―in his Nemean Ode
, describes how Hestia was worshiped in the Tenedos island in the Aegean region as the guardian of parliaments.
As compared to the other gods and goddesses of the pantheon, there are only a few Hestian sanctuaries. However, there is no denying the fact that she had a huge cult, as each and every citizen seemed to pray to her, before all the other deities.
Hestia presides over the inner sanctity of the temple, the house, and thus, the soul. Owing to this, her anthropomorphic representations in art are very few. She was worshiped, more symbolically, in the form of altars and hearths.