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For other uses, see Hestia (disambiguation).
Goddess of the hearth, home, domesticity, family, and the state
The Giustiniani Hestia in O. Seyffert, Dictionary of Classical Antiquities, 1894
Abode Delphi or Mount Olympus
Symbol The hearth and its fire
Consort None
Parents Cronus and Rhea
Siblings Demeter (sister)
Hera (sister)
Hades (brother)
Poseidon (brother)
Zeus (brother)
Chiron (half-brother)
Roman equivalent Vesta

In Ancient Greek religion, Hestia (/ˈhɛstiə/; Ancient Greek: Ἑστία, "hearth" or "fireside") is a virgin goddess of the hearth, architecture, and the right ordering of domesticity, the family, the home, and the state. In Greek mythology, she is a daughter of Cronus and Rhea[1] and the eldest of the Olympian Gods.

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. With the establishment of a new colony, flame from Hestia's public hearth in the mother city would be carried to the new settlement. Her Roman equivalent is Vesta.[2]

Origins and cults[edit]

Hestia's name means "hearth, fireplace, altar",[3] the oikos, the 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"[4] The Mycenaean great hall which had a central hearth – such as the hall of Odysseus at Ithaca, a megaron. Likewise, the hearth of the later Greek prytaneum was the community and government's ritual and secular focus.

Hestia's name and functions show the hearth's importance in the social, religious, and political life of ancient Greece. It was essential for warmth, food preparation, and the completion of sacrificial offerings to deities; in the latter, Hestia was the "customary recipient of a preliminary, usually cheap, sacrifice". She was also offered the first and last libations of wine at feasts.[5] Her own sacrificial animal was a domestic pig.[6] 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. Hestia's nearest Roman equivalent, Vesta, had similar functions as a divine personification of Rome's "public", domestic, and colonial hearths, and bound 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.[7]

Responsibility for Hestia's domestic cult usually fell to the leading woman of the household, sometimes to a man. Her public rites, at the hearths of public buildings, were usually led by holders of civil office, and their assistants. 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.[8] Evidence of her specialist priesthoods 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 Romaion" ("Roman Hestia", thus "The Roman Hearth" or Vesta). A priest at Delos 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.[9]

Myths and attributes[edit]

Hestia is a goddess of the first Olympian generation. She was the eldest daughter of the Titans Rhea and Cronus, and sister to Zeus, Poseidon, Demeter, Hera, and Hades. Immediately after their birth, Cronus swallowed all his children (Hestia was the first who was swallowed) except the last and youngest, Zeus, who forced Cronus to disgorge his siblings and led them in a war against their father and the other Titans.[10] As "first to be devoured . . . and the last to be yielded up again", Hestia was thus both the eldest and youngest daughter; this mythic inversion is found in the Homeric hymn to Aphrodite (700 BC).[11] Hestia rejects the marriage suits of Poseidon and Apollo, and swears herself to perpetual virginity. She thus rejects Aphrodite's values and becomes, to some extent, her chaste, domestic complementary, or antithesis. Zeus assigns Hestia a duty to feed and maintain the fires of the Olympian hearth with the fatty, combustible portions of animal sacrifices to the gods.[12] In all the temples of the gods she had a share of honour, and among all mortals she was chief of the goddesses.[13] Hestia was one of the three Goddesses (the other two were Athena and Artemis) whose "hearts" Aphrodite could not affect.[13]

"Hestia full of Blessings", Egypt, 6th century tapestry (Dumbarton Oaks Collection)

Hestia's Olympian status is equivocal. At Athens "in Plato's time," notes Kenneth Dorter[14] "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 illustration of her passive, non-confrontational nature – by allegedly giving her Olympian seat to Dionysus she prevents heavenly conflict. Hestia was known for her kindness, but no ancient source or myth describes such a surrender or removal.[15] "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.[16] Her mythographic status as first-born of Rhea and Cronus seems to justify the tradition in which a small offering is made to Hestia before any sacrifice ("Hestia comes first").[17]

The ambiguities in Hestia's mythology are matched by her indeterminate attributes, character, and iconography. She 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.[18] In classical Greek art, she is occasionally depicted as a woman, simply and modestly cloaked in a head veil. She is sometimes shown with a staff in hand or by a large fire. She sat on a plain wooden throne with a white woollen cushion and did not trouble to choose an emblem for herself.[1] In some stories, Hestia did not have a throne at all. In others, she gave up her throne for Dionysus.

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.[19]

The Hestia Tapestry[edit]

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" (Hestia full of Blessings). Its history and symbolism are discussed in Friedlander (1945).[20]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Graves, Robert. "The Palace of Olympus". Greek Gods and Heroes. 
  2. ^ Hughes, James. (1995). Larousse Desk Reference Encyclopedia, p. 215. Larousse/The Book People.
  3. ^ R. S. P. Beekes, Etymological Dictionary of Greek, Brill, 2009, p. 471.
  4. ^ Burkert, p. 61.
  5. ^ Homeric Hymn 29, tr. Evelyn-White, Hugh G.
  6. ^ Bremmer, Jan. N., in Ogden, D. (Ed). (2010). A Companion to Greek Religion, Wiley-Blackwell, googlebooks preview, p.134, ISBN 978-1-4443-3417-3
  7. ^ Burkert, p. 415, 3.3.1 n. 2.
  8. ^ Kajava, p. 5.
  9. ^ Kajava, pp. 1, 3, 5.
  10. ^ Hesiod, Theogony 453 ff.
  11. ^ Kereny, p. 91
  12. ^ Kajava, pp. 1–2.
  13. ^ a b "Homeric Hymns, To Aphrodite". 
  14. ^ Dorter, K. (1971). Imagery and Philosophy in Plato's Phaedrus. Journal of the History of Philosophy, 9 (3), 279–288 (July 1971).
  15. ^ Kereny, p. 92: "there is no story of Hestia's ever having taken a husband or ever having been removed from her fixed abode."
  16. ^ Burkert, p. 170.
  17. ^ Not so for every Greek in every generation, however: in Odyssey 14, 432–436, the loyal swineherd Eumaeus begin 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." (Robert Fagles' translation).
  18. ^ Kajava, p. 2.
  19. ^ Hymn 24 to Hestia.
  20. ^ Friedlander, Paul. (1945). Documents of Dying Paganism. University of California Press.
  21. ^ This chart is based upon Hesiod's Theogony, unless otherwise noted.
  22. ^ According to Homer, Iliad 1.570–579, 14.338, Odyssey 8.312, Hephaestus was apparently the son of Hera and Zeus, see Gantz, p. 74.
  23. ^ According to Hesiod, Theogony 927–929, Hephaestus was produced by Hera alone, with no father, see Gantz, p. 74.
  24. ^ According to Hesiod, Theogony 886–890, of Zeus' children by his seven wives, Athena was the first to be conceived, but the last to be born; Zeus impregnated Metis then swallowed her, later Zeus himself gave birth to Athena "from his head", see Gantz, pp. 51–52, 83–84.
  25. ^ According to Hesiod, Theogony 183–200, Aphrodite was born from Uranus' severed genitals, see Gantz, pp. 99–100.
  26. ^ According to Homer, Aphrodite was the daughter of Zeus (Iliad 3.374, 20.105; Odyssey 8.308, 320) and Dione (Iliad 5.370–71), see Gantz, pp. 99–100.


  • Burkert, Walter. (1985). Greek Religion. Harvard University Press.
  • Gantz, Timothy, Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996, Two volumes: ISBN 978-0-8018-5360-9 (Vol. 1), ISBN 978-0-8018-5362-3 (Vol. 2).
  • Hesiod, Theogony, in The Homeric Hymns and Homerica with an English Translation by Hugh G. Evelyn-White, Cambridge, MA., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1914. Online version at the Perseus Digital Library.
  • Homer, The Iliad with an English Translation by A.T. Murray, Ph.D. in two volumes. Cambridge, MA., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann, Ltd. 1924. Online version at the Perseus Digital Library.
  • Homer; The Odyssey with an English Translation by A.T. Murray, PH.D. in two volumes. Cambridge, MA., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann, Ltd. 1919. Online version at the Perseus Digital Library.
  • Kajava, Mika. "Hestia Hearth, Goddess, and Cult", Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 102 (2004): 1–20.
  • Kerenyi, Karl. (1951). The Gods of the Greeks.
  • Stephenson, Hamish. (1985). The Gods of the Romans and Greeks. NYT Writer.
  • Friedlander, Paul. (1945). Documents of Dying Paganism. University of California Press.

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