previous next


Ἑστία; Ionic, Ἰστίη). The goddess of the hearth, which is the emblem of the settled home. She was deemed the founder and maintainer of the family and the State, of civic concord and of public reverence for the gods. She was the daughter of Cronus and of Rhea; sister of Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Heré, and Demeter; one of the twelve Olympian deities, from the rest of whom she was distinguished by the fact that, as the abiding goddess of the household, she never left Olympus. In Homer, although the sanctity of the hearth is indeed recognized, as yet we find no mention of the goddess. It is a matter of discussion whether this was by accident, or because in that period the personification of the worship of the hearth had not attained its full perfection. Having been wooed by Apollo and Poseidon, she took an oath of perpetual virginity; so Zeus granted her the honour of being worshipped, as a tutelary goddess, at every hearth, in human habitations as well as in the temples of the gods, and of being called to mind amid libations at the beginning and end of every sacrifice and every festal entertainment.

Vesta Giustiniani.

Hence it was that every sacrifice began and ended with a libation to Hestia, so that she had a share in all festivities; and in every prayer, as well as in all the public forms of solemn oaths, her name was recited before the name of any other god. Just as in the home her consecrated hearth formed the central point of family life, at which family festivals were celebrated and where both strangers and fugitives found a hospitable asylum, so also in the prytaneum, or town hall, where the sacred fire was ever burning, her hearth was the centre of the life of the city, indeed of the whole State, and of the colonies which had gone forth from it. Here, as representative of the State, the highest officials sacrificed to her, just as in every private house the father or mother of the family provided for her worship. Here also were held the public deliberations, and the public banquet given to deserving citizens and to foreign ambassadors. Hither repaired all who besought the protection of the State. Hence also the colonists, bound for distant shores, took the fire for the public hearth of their new community. In some respects, the centre of the religious life of Greece was the fire on the hearth of Hestia in the Delphic temple, where was the sacred ὀμφαλός (navel), which the Greeks considered to be the central point of the inhabited earth. Hestia stands in close connection with Zeus as the guardian of the law of hospitality and of the oath. She was also much associated with Hermes and often invoked in conjunction with him; Hestia, as the goddess of quiet domesticity, and Hermes, as the restless god of trade on the public streets and roads, representing between them the two principal varieties of human life. According to a view that afterwards became current, under the influence of philosophers and mystics, she was regarded as personifying the earth, as the fixed centre of the world, and was identified with Demeter and Cybelé. The corresponding deity among the Romans was Vesta (q.v.). The statues placed in the prytanea represented her, in accordance with her nature, as a being with grave and yet gentle expression, sitting or standing in an attitude of rest, with a sceptre as her attribute. She is never represented as nude, whence perhaps so few statues of her have been found. The most celebrated of her existing statues is known as the Vesta Giustiniani, in the Torlonia collection at Rome, and ascribed conjecturally to Calamis—a form robed in simple drapery, with hair unadorned and wearing a veil; her right hand rests on her hip, and her left hand, which is pointing upwards, once held a long staff as her sceptre. It represents the earlier Greek conception of divinity, austere and rigid, yet stately and imposing, blending simplicity and severity with grace and tenderness. See Preuner, HestiaVesta (Tübingen, 1864).

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: