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Who is Hestia?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 17, 2024
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Hestia is a goddess in Greek mythology who gets comparatively little attention when compared to her fellow gods and goddesses, although she was actually a rather interesting figure. As the goddess of home and hearth, Hestia had an altar in every home in the form of the kitchen hearth, which was constantly kept burning. The Greeks and later Romans revered her as a symbol of community endeavor, and she was described as the most gentle, charitable, and kind of the residents of Mount Olympus.

According to legend, Hestia is the daughter of Cronus and Rhea. Originally, she was among the 12 principle deities on Mount Olympus, but she gave up her seat to Dionysus to avoid conflict, and because she preferred the life of tending the sacred fire on the mountain. Hestia also pledged herself as a virgin after Poseidon and Apollo fought over her, leading Zeus to put her in charge of sacrifices. As a result, people were expected to pay homage to her at the start of every sacrifice, to ensure that the event would go smoothly and have a pleasant outcome.

All major cities had a central civic fire dedicated to Hestia, and branches from this fire would be taken to new settlements and colonies to bring the goodwill of the goddess to these locations. Individual households also dedicated their hearths to Hestia, and traditions such as carrying new babies around the fire to invoke her blessing were common in many regions. In Roman times, the household fire dedicated to Vesta, as she was known in Rome, could not be extinguished without the proper rituals, and it could not be reignited without purifications and prayers.

While Hestia is sometimes marginalized as an unimportant domestic goddess and minor deity, she is an interesting figure in Greek and Roman history. Since every home had an altar to Hestia, many people prayed more frequently to her than they did to other gods and goddesses, and she was a familiar figure, unlike the remote and sometimes terrible figures like Zeus. The hospitality and civic cooperation which she symbolized were very important, and continue to be so in that region of the Mediterranean today.

One interesting story about Hestia is the legend of her birth. According to the stories, she is the first and last daughter of Cronus and Rhea, because she was born first and then swallowed by her father, along with her siblings, due to his concern about the possible outcome of a prophecy. When Rhea tricked Cronus into regurgitating the children, Hestia was the last one out, since she had been the first one in, and as a result she was both first and last.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

By anon1001522 — On May 01, 2019

This was really useful info for my project on Hestia! Thank you so much!

By alex94 — On Nov 19, 2010

@stormyknight: Hestia was said to have been a very sweet and modestly dressed young lady. Often times, she is shown wearing a veil. Her strengths were that she was calm, gentle, constant, and very supportive of the home and family.

It was said that she was courted by Apollon and Poseidon but she chose to remain a virgin. She often had to fend off sexual advances made by Priapus.

Her hearth was called the prytaneion. She was one of the three goddesses that were immune to the influence of Aphrodite. She could not be forced to love anyone at all.

By StormyKnight — On Nov 19, 2010

I loved this article! Does anyone have any more info on Hestia?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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