Who is Hestia in Greek Mythology?
HESTIA, in Greek mythology, was the goddess of the hearth, home, and family. She was the firstborn of Cronus and Rhea, sibling to Zeus, Poseidon, Demeter, Hades, and Hera. She also shares a half-brother with her siblings, named Chiron. Hestia’s Roman counterpart was Vesta, who was the goddess of the hearth.
Previously, we’ve discussed Hades, Poseidon, and Demeter, which means out of the original six Olympians, we’re left with Zeus, Hera and Hestia. Today we’ll be examining the most overlooked of these, Hestia, the goddess of the home, the hearth, and family.
That means we can leave the troubled couple of Zeus and Hera until last, as they are responsible for the majority of stories and drama within Greek mythology—something Hestia tends to stay away from, which is why we don’t see her in as many stories as some of the other deities.
As one of the original six Olympians, she was the daughter of Cronus and Rhea. There is some debate as to who the oldest was out of the three sisters, but most poets and historians seem to agree that Hestia was the first product, which also means she was the first to be swallowed by her father.
When the Olympians rose to power, both Poseidon and Apollo were after Hestia’s hand in marriage, but she declined both offers. Instead, she took an oath blessed by Zeus, stating that she would remain an eternal virgin and take her place upon the royal hearth. There is a Homeric hymn that mentions this sequence of events. Hymn 5 is devoted to Aphrodite and names three virgin goddesses: Athena, Artemis, and Hestia.
Explaining the Homeric Hymn on Hestia
It is fairly long, so I’ve just taken the segment’s that mentioned Hestia in particular.
‘She’ being Aphrodite and the three Hearts referring to the Virgin goddesses and Aphrodite’s inability to make them fall in love.
There are more than a few things here that need to be explained! So, Let’s get into it.
It says that ‘she was the firstborn child of Cronus but also the youngest’. This refers to the notion that the Olympians were born twice, once from their mother Rhea and then again when they were expelled from their father.
Hestia was the firstborn, which means she was also the first to be swallowed. When Zeus came and gave his father the potion, which caused him to throw up the rest of the Olympians, Hestia was the last—which I guess makes sense if she was at the very bottom of his stomach.
The hymn goes on to say that ‘even the most powerful deity such as Zeus and Hera are led astray by Aphrodite,’ which in this case means to love and temptation. So, we do get some insight into Hestia’s character. It’s quite selfless to reject love and then take an oath to remain that way so you can dedicate your life to performing your duties.
She was known as the goddess of domestic life, so all happiness and blessings within the home were attributed to Hestia. Some believe she and Hermes are responsible for teaching a man how to build houses, and as a result, a small part of Hestia dwells in every household. It’s also why Hestia and Hermes often appear to get as teachers and protectors of man’s work.
Going back to the hymn, there are still a few things we need to explain. ‘…and she has her place in the midst of the house and has the richest portion. In all the temples of the gods she has a share of honour, and among all mortal men, she is chief of the goddesses.’ —Yet again, some of this at first glance may not make sense.
We’ve just discussed how she governed the home, so saying she has the richest portion of the house, that’s fine. In all the temples of the gods, she has her share of honour, and among all mortal men, she’s the chief of the goddesses—that needs some explaining.
To most people, the chief goddess would either be Athena because of how widely worship she was or Hera, as the wife of Zeus. But if we approach this idea from a day-to-day perspective, the majority of worship and sacrifice would not be made in the temples of the gods. Many religious people today only visit their place of worship once or maybe a few times a week. Instead, the altar in all homes where sacrifices would occur to domestic gods was the hearth.
Hestia being the goddess of the hearth and the sacrificial flame found in all temples, was therefore present in the worship of all deities, often being invoked first. She may not have had the most temples or the biggest cult, but Hestia was a gateway to all other gods’ worship. She took a share of all the sacrifices offered, and to men and women, she was the chief goddess because, without her, there was no worship.
Most towns also had a public hearth in some kind of community building. Because they believed just as Hestia would look after them domestically, a public hearth would create a harmonious town.
There were very few temples dedicated to Hestia, and those that were rarely had her image, merely just an altar. But when you take into account that every hearth was technically a place where she could be worshipped, it’s no surprise the ancient Greeks mostly chose to build temples honouring the other deities.
Hestia’s Depictions and Attributes
On a rare occasion, we see a physical depiction—she appears either a hooded woman wearing a modest cloak or as a woman holding a staff near a fire.
Interestingly enough, it became a superstition for those who move towns to take the fire that burned from their mother town to their new town, believing this would bring good fortune. If we do go back to hymn five briefly, it was Zeus who granted Hestia her position. And given that it is Zeus, you’d assume there would be some benefit for him behind everything.
If you will have someone maintain the fires of the Olympian hearth all day, then who better than the goddess of the hearth herself. If you’re also going to have more affairs than warm dinners like Zeus, you may need all the domestic blessings you can get when you get back home to Olympus.
To maintain and keep the fires of the Olympian hearth burning, Hestia would use fat from animals sacrificed by mortals to the gods. If the supply ran dry, then the fire would no longer burn, and as a result, the fires on earth would also die. So, there was quite a big emphasis placed on burning a portion of your food as an offering when cooking to keep both fires burning.
The cult of Hestia, much like Demeter, was governed by women, as they were the ones in control of domestic activity. In most households, she acted as the woman’s guide. There is a Homeric hymn to Hestia, but it’s one of the shortest.
This reinforces the notion of how reliant mortals were on Hestia. Without her, there is no food, there is no fire, and there is no connection to the gods. The second half of this hymn refers to Hermes, who alongside Hestia was man’s two greatest teachers and allies among the gods.
Stories Featuring Hestia — Hestia and Priapus
When it comes to stories featuring Hestia, only a few come to mind. You, of course, have the story of Cronus swallowing his children, but we’ve already discussed that.
You also have the time Zeus was dethroned, and the likes of Poseidon, Apollo, and Athena argued over which of them should rule. Hestia was among the few deities who showed no interest. And while the others put their names forward, she continued tending the hearth.
The most eventful story she appears in involves the god Priapus—in Greek religion, Priapus was a minor fertility god in Greek mythology, who was also the protector of livestock, fruit plants, and male genitals. He was depicted as having an oversized and permanent erection.
It begins at a great feast held by Rhea. All the gods and goddesses were invited and the nymphs and the satyr except Silenus, but he came anyway. All who attended had a great time and consumed so much wine that the entire party was intoxicated. Everyone was stumbling around and laying on the grass, trying to sober up. Hestia decided she would take a nap outside.
Priapus was stalking around the garden, looking for some nymphs to get frisky with, when he came across Hestia asleep on the grass. He approached her quietly as not to wake her but stumbling by on his donkey came Silenus. As Priapus began to get heavy-handed, the donkey led out of bellowing Brae, which woke Hestia from sleep. She brushed off Priapus and alerted the other gods, who came swiftly and gave him the beating he deserved.
It does make you wonder if the reaction would have been the same if it was a random nymph or not one of the Virgin goddesses, especially one valued as highly as Hestia.
The Roman Counterpart of Hestia
The Roman iteration of Hestia was known as Vesta, also the goddess of the hearth, home and family. She occasionally appeared in human form, but the fire in her temple more commonly represented her.
The 7th of June until the 15th of June marked a holiday in her name known as the Vestalia Festival. During this period, her female followers would walk her temple barefoot and present to Vesta offerings of food. Like Hestia, the Romans valued Vesta extremely highly, and her holiday was one of the most important.
To summarize, Hestia is one of those deities from a storytelling standpoint who doesn’t appear in Greek mythology. But if you look at the more practical religious side, she played a large part in the ancient Greeks daily life.
Whenever I cover Greek mythology, I do always tend to lean towards the storytelling element, and that’s because that’s what I find most interesting. But with some deities, that just isn’t possible, and honestly, it does make a welcome change from time to time.
So, this is where I throw it over to you; how much of Hestia did you know before this article? Do you prefer the more practical deities with less of the crazy stories, or are you in it mostly for the stories?
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Hestia the god of?
Hestia, in Greek mythology, was the goddess of the hearth, home and family. She was the firstborn of Cronus and Rhea, sister to the original Olympians Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, Hades, and Demeter.
Why did Hestia never marry?
When the Olympians rose to power, both Poseidon and Apollo were after Hestia’s hand in marriage, but she declined both offers. Instead, she took an oath blessed by Zeus, stating that she would remain an eternal virgin and take her place upon the royal hearth.
What are the Symbols of Hestia?
Hearth, the Fire and the Kettle were the symbols of Hestia
What Animals were Sacred to Hestia?
Hestia’s sacred animals were the Pigs and baby Cows.
What did Hestia rule over?
Hestia ruled over the Home, the Architecture, the Fire, the Domesticity, the Family and the Hearth.
What does Hestia look like?
She appears either a hooded woman wearing a modest cloak or as a woman holding a staff near a fire.