Goddess of the hearth, home, domesticity, virginity, family, and the state
|Member of the Twelve Olympians|
|Abode||Delphi or Mount Olympus|
|Planet||46 Hestia, 4 Vesta|
|Symbol||The hearth and its fire|
|Parents||Cronus and Rhea|
|Siblings||Chiron, Demeter, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, Zeus|
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|Ancient Greek religion|
In the Ancient Greek religion, Hestia (/ /,; Greek: Ἑστία, "hearth" or "fireside") is the virgin goddess of the hearth, the right ordering of domesticity, the family, the home, and the state. In Greek mythology, she is the firstborn child of the Titans Cronus and Rhea.
Customarily, in Greek culture, Hestia received the first offering at every sacrifice in the household. In the public domain, the hearth of the prytaneum functioned as her official sanctuary, and, when a new colony was established, a flame from Hestia's public hearth in the mother city would be carried to the new settlement. The goddess Vesta is her Roman equivalent.
Hestia's name means "hearth, fireplace, altar", This stems from the PIE root *wes, "burn" (ult. from *h₂wes- "dwell, pass the night, stay"). It thus refers to the oikos: the domestic, home, household, house, or family. "An early form of the temple is the hearth house; the early temples at Dreros and Prinias on Crete are of this type as indeed is the temple of Apollo at Delphi which always had its inner hestia". The Mycenaean great hall (megaron), like Homer's hall of Odysseus at Ithaca, had a central hearth. Likewise, the hearth of the later Greek prytaneum was the community and government's ritual and secular focus.
The worship of Hestia was centered around the hearth. The hearth was essential for warmth, food preparation, and the completion of sacrificial offerings to deities. It was a common practice that she was respected by being offered the first and last libations of wine at feasts. Pausanias writes that the Eleans sacrifice first to Hestia and then to other gods. Xenophon in Cyropaedia wrote that Cyrus the Great sacrificed first to Hestia, then to sovereign Zeus, and then to any other god that the magi suggested.
The accidental or negligent extinction of a domestic hearth-fire represented a failure of domestic and religious care for the family; failure to maintain Hestia's public fire in her temple or shrine was a breach of duty to the broad community. A hearth fire might be deliberately, ritually extinguished at need, and its lighting or relighting should be accompanied by rituals of completion, purification, and renewal, comparable with the rituals and connotations of an eternal flame and of sanctuary lamps. At the level of the polis, the hearths of Greek colonies and their mother cities were allied and sanctified through Hestia's cult. Athenaeus, in the Deipnosophistae, writes that in Naucratis the people dined in the Prytaneion on the natal day of Hestia Prytanitis (Ancient Greek: Ἑστίας Πρυτανίτιδος).
Responsibility for Hestia's domestic cult usually fell to the leading woman of the household, although sometimes to a man. Hestia's rites at the hearths of public buildings were usually led by holders of civil office; Dionysius of Halicarnassus testifies that the prytaneum of a Greek state or community was sacred to Hestia, who was served by the most powerful state officials. However, evidence of her priesthood is extremely rare. Most stems from the early Roman Imperial era, when Sparta offers several examples of women with the priestly title "Hestia"; Chalcis offers one, a daughter of the local elite. Existing civic cults to Hestia probably served as stock for the grafting of Greek ruler-cult to the Roman emperor, the Imperial family, and Rome itself. In Athens, a small seating section at the Theatre of Dionysus was reserved for priesthoods of "Hestia on the Acropolis, Livia, and Julia", and of "Hestia Romain" ("Roman Hestia", thus "The Roman Hearth" or Vesta). At Delos, a priest served "Hestia the Athenian Demos" (the people or state) "and Roma". An eminent citizen of Carian Stratoniceia described himself as a priest of Hestia and several other deities, as well as holding several civic offices. Hestia's political and civic functions are further evidenced by her very numerous privately funded dedications at civic sites, and the administrative rather than religious titles used by the lay-officials involved in her civic cults.
Every private and public hearth or prytaneum was regarded as a sanctuary of the goddess, and a portion of the sacrifices, to whatever divinity they were offered, belonged to her. A statue of her reportedly existed in the Athenian Prytaneum:
Homeric Hymn 24, To Hestia, is a brief invocation of five lines:
Hestia, you who tend the holy house of the lord Apollo, the Far-shooter at goodly Pytho, with soft oil dripping ever from your locks, come now into this house, come, having one mind with Zeus the all-wise: draw near, and withal bestow grace upon my song.
Homeric Hymn 29, To Hestia, is another invocation for the goddess and to Hermes:
Hestia, in the high dwellings of all, both deathless gods and men who walk on earth, you have gained an everlasting abode and highest honor: glorious is your portion and your right. For without you mortals hold no banquet, -- where one does not duly pour sweet wine in offering to Hestia both first and last. And you, slayer of Argus (Hermes's epithet), Son of Zeus and Maia, the messenger of the blessed gods, bearer of the goldenrod, the giver of good, be favorable and help us, you and Hestia, the worshipful and dear. Come and dwell in this glorious house in friendship together; for you two, well knowing the noble actions of men, aid on their wisdom and their strength. Hail, Daughter of Cronos, and you also, Hermes, bearer of the goldenrod! Now I will remember you and another song also.
The Hestia tapestry is a Byzantine tapestry, made in Egypt during the 6th century AD. It is a late representation of the goddess, whom it identifies in Greek as Hestia Polyolbos; (Greek: Ἑστία Πολύολβος "Hestia full of Blessings"). Its history and symbolism are discussed in Friedlander (1945).
Hestia is a goddess of the first Olympian generation. She is the eldest daughter of the Titans Rhea and Cronus, and sister to Chiron, Demeter, Hades, Hera, Poseidon, and Zeus. Immediately after their birth, Cronus swallowed all his children (Hestia was the first who was swallowed) except the last and youngest, Zeus. Instead, Zeus forced Cronus to disgorge his siblings and led them in a war against their father and the other Titans. As "first to be devoured . . . and the last to be yielded up again", Hestia is thus both the eldest and youngest daughter; this mythic inversion is found in the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite (700 BC). Throughout mythology, Hestia rejected the marriage suits of Poseidon and Apollo, and swore herself to perpetual virginity. She thus rejected Aphrodite's values and becomes, to some extent, her chaste, domestic complementary, or antithesis, since Aphrodite could not bend or ensnare her heart.
Zeus assigned Hestia a duty to feed and maintain the fires of the Olympian hearth with the fatty, combustible portions of animal sacrifices to the gods. Wherever food was cooked, or an offering was burnt, she thus had her share of honor; also, in all the temples of the gods, she has a share of honor. "Among all mortals she was chief of the goddesses".
Hestia's Olympian status is equivocal to her status among men. However, at Athens, "in Plato's time," notes Kenneth Dorter "there was a discrepancy in the list of the twelve chief gods, as to whether Hestia or Dionysus was included with the other eleven. The altar to them at the agora, for example, included Hestia, but the east frieze of the Parthenon had Dionysus instead." Hestia's omission from some lists of the Twelve Olympians is sometimes taken as an illustration of her passive, non-confrontational nature – by giving her Olympian seat to the more forceful Dionysus she prevents heavenly conflict – but no ancient source or myth describes such a surrender or removal. "Since the hearth is immovable Hestia is unable to take part even in the procession of the gods, let alone the other antics of the Olympians", Burkert remarks. Her mythographic status as firstborn of Rhea and Cronus seems to justify the tradition in which a small offering is made to Hestia before any sacrifice ("Hestia comes first").
There was a tradition where Hestia received a small offering before any sacrifice, however this was not universal among the Greeks. In Odyssey 14, 432–436, the loyal swineherd Eumaeus begins the feast for his master Odysseus by plucking tufts from a boar's head and throwing them into the fire with a prayer addressed to all the powers, then carved the meat into seven equal portions: "one he set aside, lifting up a prayer to the forest nymphs and Hermes, Maia's son."
Hestia is identified with the hearth as a physical object, and the abstractions of community and domesticity, but portrayals of her are rare and seldom secure. In classical Greek art, she is occasionally depicted as a woman, simply and modestly cloaked in a head veil. At times, it shows her with a staff in hand or by a large fire. She sits on a plain wooden throne with a white woolen cushion and did not trouble to choose an emblem for herself. Her associated sacrificial animal was a domestic pig.
Her Roman equivalent is Vesta; Vesta has similar functions as a divine personification of Rome's "public", domestic, and colonial hearths, binding Romans together within a form of extended family. The similarity of names between Hestia and Vesta is, however, misleading: "The relationship hestia-histie-Vesta cannot be explained in terms of Indo-European linguistics; borrowings from a third language must also be involved," according to Walter Burkert. Other mythology and religion show similar goddesses or figures. Herodotus equates the Scythian Tabiti with Hestia. And, the Zoroastrian holy fire (atar) of the Sasanians in Adhur Gushnasp was also equated with Hestia by Procopius.
|Hestia's family tree |
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