According to the common tradition, she was the first-born daughter of Rhea, and was therefore the first of the children that was swallowed by Cronus.1 She was, like Artemis and Athena, a maiden divinity, and when Apollo and Poseidon sued for her hand, she swore by the head of Zeus to remain a virgin for ever,2 and in this character it was that her sacrifices consisted of cows which were only one year old. The connection between Hestia and Apollo and Poseidon, which is thus alluded to in the legend, appears also in the temple of Delphi, where the three divinities were worshiped in common, and Hestia and Poseidon appeared together also at Olympia.3
As the hearth was looked upon as the sacred center of domestic life, so Hestia was the goddess of domestic life and the giver of all domestic happiness and blessings, and as such she was believed to dwell in the inner part of every house,4 and to have invented the art of building houses.5 In this respect she appears often together with Hermes, who was likewise a deus penetralis, as protecting the works of man.6 As the hearth of a house is at the same time the altar on which sacrifices are offered to the domestic gods (ἑστιοῦχοι, hestiouchoi, or ἐφέστιοι, ephestioi), Hestia was looked upon as presiding at all sacrifices, and, as the goddess of the sacred fire of the altar, she had a share in the sacrifices in all the temples of the gods.7 Hence when sacrifices were offered, she was invoked first, and the first part of the sacrifice was offered to her.8 Solemn oaths were sworn by the goddess of the hearth, and the hearth itself was the sacred asylum where suppliants implored the protection of the inhabitants of the house.9
A town or city is only an extended family, and therefore had likewise its sacred hearth, the symbol of an harmonious community of citizens and of a common worship. This public hearth usually existed in the prytaneium of a town, where the goddess had her especial sanctuary (Δάλαμος, Dalamos), under the name of Prytanitis (Πρυτανῖτις), with a statue and the sacred hearth. There the prytanes offered sacrifices to her, on entering upon their office, and there, as at a private hearth, Hestia protected the suppliants. As this public hearth was the sacred asylum in every town, the state usually received its guests and foreign ambassadors there, and the prytanes had to act the part of hosts. When a colony was sent out, the emigrants took the fire which was to burn on the hearth of their new home from that of the mother town.10 If ever the fire of her hearth became extinct, it was not allowed to be lighted again with ordinary fire, but either by fire produced by friction, or by burning glasses drawing fire from the sun.
The mystical speculations of later times proceeded from the simple ideas of the ancients, and assumed a sacred hearth not only in the center of the earth, but even in that of the universe, and confounded Hestia in various ways with other divinities, such as Cybele, Gaea, Demeter, Persephone, and Artemis.11 There were but few special temples of Hestia in Greece, as in reality every prytaneum was a sanctuary of the goddess, and as a portion of the sacrifices, to whatever divinity they were offered, belonged to her. There was, however, a separate temple of Hestia at Hermione, though it contained no image of her, but only an altar.12 Her sacrifices consisted of the primitiae of fruit, water, oil, wine, and cows of one year old.13
The Romans worshiped the same goddess, or rather the same ideas embodied in her, under the name of Vesta, which is in reality identical with Hestia; but as the Roman worship of Vesta differed in several points from that of Hestia in Greece, q.v.
In ancient art Hestia is portrayed as a chaste matron clothed in a long robe, veiled, and holding a scepter, torch, or lamp in her hand. Various Greek vases, among which the François vase, depict her. Phidias and Scopas are said to have made sculptures of Hestia but they remain unknown.
- Hesiod. Theogony, 453 ff.; Homer. Hymn to Aphrodite, 22; Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library i, 1.5.
- Homer. Hymn to Aphrodite, 24 ff.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece v, 26.26; x, 5.3; Homer. Hymns, xxxi, 2.
- Homer. Hymn to Aphrodite, 30; Callimachus. Hymn to Delos, 325; Hymn to Ceres, 129.
- Diodorus Siculus, v, 68; Eustathius on Homer, p. 735.
- Homer. Hymns, xxxii, 10: Pausanias. Description of Greece x, 11.3.
- Homer. Hymn to Aphrodite, 31.
- Homer. Hymns, xxxii, 5; Pindar. Nemean Odes xii, 5; Pindar. Cratylus, p. 401, d.; Pausanias. Description of Greece v, 14.5; Scholiast on Aristophanes' Wasps, 842; Hesychius, s.v. ἀφ̓ ἑστίας ἀρχόμενος.
- Homer. Odyssey xiv, 159; Eustathius on Homer, p. 1579.
- Pindar. Nemean Odes xii, 1 ff., with the Scholiast; Parthenius. Erotica Pathemata, 18; Dionysius of Halicarnassus, ii, 65.
- Orphic Hymn 83; Plutarch. De Placitis Philosophorum, 3, 11; Numa, 11.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece ii, 35.2.
- Hesychius, l.c.; Homer. Hymns, xxxi, 3; xxxii, 6; Pindar. Nemean Odes xii, 6.
- Aken, Dr. A.R.A. van. (1961). Elseviers Mythologische Encyclopedie. Amsterdam: Elsevier.
- Smith, William. (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Taylor, Walton, and Maberly.
This article incorporates text from Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) by William Smith, which is in the public domain.