1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hestia

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HESTIA, in Greek mythology, the “fire-goddess,” daughter of Cronus and Rhea, the goddess of hearth and home. She is not mentioned in Homer, although the hearth is recognized as a place of refuge for suppliants; this seems to show that her worship was not universally acknowledged at the time of the Homeric poems. In post-Homeric religion she is one of the twelve Olympian deities, but, as the abiding goddess of the household, she never leaves Olympus. When Apollo and Poseidon became suitors for her hand, she swore to remain a maiden for ever; whereupon Zeus bestowed upon her the honour of presiding over all sacrifices. To her the opening sacrifice was offered; to her at the sacrificial meal the first and last libations were poured. The fire of Hestia was always kept burning, and, if by any accident it became extinct, only sacred fire produced by friction, or by burning glasses drawing fire from the sun, might be used to rekindle it. Hestia is the goddess of the family union, the personification of the idea of home; and as the city union is only the family union on a large scale, she was regarded as the goddess of the state. In this character her special sanctuary was in the prytaneum, where the common hearth-fire round which the magistrates meet is ever burning, and where the sacred rites that sanctify the concord of city life are performed. From this fire, as the representative of the life of the city, intending colonists took the fire which was to be kindled on the hearth of the new colony. Hestia was closely connected with Zeus, the god of the family both in its external relation of hospitality and its internal unity round its own hearth; in the Odyssey a form of oath is by Zeus, the table and the hearth. Again, Hestia is often associated with Hermes, the two representing home and domestic life on the one hand, and business and outdoor life on the other; or, according to others, the association is local—that of the god of boundaries with the goddess of the house. In later philosophy Hestia became the hearth of the universe—the personification of the earth as the centre of the universe, identified with Cybele and Demeter. As Hestia had her home in the prytaneum, special temples dedicated to her are of rare occurrence. She is seldom represented in works of art, and plays no important part in legend. It is not certain that any really Greek statues of Hestia are in existence, although the Giustiniani Vesta in the Torlonia Museum is usually accepted as such. In this she is represented standing upright, simply robed, a hood over her head, the left hand raised and pointing upwards. The Roman deity corresponding to the Greek Hestia is Vesta (q.v.).

See A. Preuner, Hestia-Vesta (1864), the standard treatise on the subject, and his article in Roscher’s Lexikon der Mythologie; J. G. Frazer, “The Prytaneum,” &c., in Journal of Philology, xiv. (1885); G. Hagemann, De Graecorum prytaneis (1881), with bibliography and notes; Homeric Hymns, xxix., ed. T. W. Allen and E. E. Sikes (1904); Farnell, Cults, the Greek States, v. (1909).