The Goddess Hestia the Significance of Hestia in Greek Mythology the Worship of Hestia

Hestia is one of the major Greek goddesses in classical mythology, but has often been overlooked by the other gods, such as Zeus, Poseidon, Athena and Artemis etc. In this article I will examine her origins and significance through literary and archaeological sources.

The first mention of Hestia is by Homer in the Hymn to Aphrodite, and he goes on to explain the goddess’ role as goddess of the hearth. When Hestia was born (in the Hymn to Aphrodite, Hestia is called both the eldest and the youngest daughter of Kronos), she was courted by Poseidon and Apollo. The goddess, however, rejected their proposals and vowed to remain a virgin. So Zeus designate her a different role; Hestia was to sit in the middle of the house where she was given the fatty part of the sacrifices offered to the gods so that she could keep the fireplace burning. Because of her integration to the hearth, she was thought to be present in all temples where something was offered to deities. She is the hearth fire where family intimacy is protected and where, once strangers receive “a family’s hospitality, they are honour-bound to respect their hosts. A sacred and enduring social bond was forged before the hestia. Men became oikeiotes, members of the same ‘house'” (Thompson, p.46).

From the mention of Hestia in Homer’s Hymn to Aphrodite, which was written sometime in the 9th century BCE, we can determine that the goddess played a vital part of ancient Greek religions long before the Hymn to Aphrodite was composed. Homer would have used terminology, names and places that were familiar to his audience in order for them to understand the message that was underlined in the Hymn to Aphrodite.

In hymns sung to her, Hestia is accorded the highest honour and is to hold her seat in the houses of gods and men forever. Without Hestia, humankind would have no feasts or religious rituals, since no one could take the first or last drink without an offering to her.

According to Greek mythology, Hestia alone remains in the house of the gods, while the rest of the ‘number of twelve’ (the Olympians) take the leads of the roles they were given (Slaveva-Griffin, p.247). Other myths featuring Hestia include her birth by Rhea and Kronos (also spelt Cronus); the choose given to Anchises (not unlike that of the Judgment of Paris) and within the play Alcestis. However, with all of these myths, and others, she does not play a large role; she seems to be the personification of an ideal, rather than that of a goddess.

Hestia, unlike that of the other major Olympians, was never worshipped in large masses; indeed, she rather became an abstract and barely conceptualized figure whose representations in art are not particularly frequent. Scholars have been in debate to whether Hestia was served by priesthoods; only one inscription has been found in Athens that refers to the restoration of a priesthood to Hestia, but this has not been established to scholars’ satisfaction (Kajava, p.3).

Another point worth remembering is that Hestia’s public significance was closely bound with the political, not the religious, world. Though “hearth” and the pertinent offerings would have mostly provoked religious experiences as well, the fireplace was primarily the political centre of a Greek community, the ‘koine hestia’ of a state usually taking the place of what had been a monarch’s hearth. As is well known, the “public hearth” became the symbolic centre of a Greek community, and it is certainly significant that it was normally housed in a prytaneum (Kajava, p.2).

Although the goddess Hestia is not as well know as the other Olympians or lesser deities within Greek mythology, her role within the ancient Greeks’ lives can offer us great insight to the beliefs, both religious and social, of the classical world, as well as still inspiring us all.

Bibliography:

Kajava, Mika (2004) Hestia Heart, Goddess and Cult, Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, Department of the Classics – Harvard University.

Slaveva-Griffin, Svetla (2003) Of Gods, Philosophers, and Charioteers: Content and Form in Parmenides’ Proem and Plato’s “Phaedrus”, Transactions of the American Philological Association,The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Thompson, Patricia J. (1994) Dismantling the Master’s House: A Hestian/Hermean Deconstruction of Classic Texts, Hypatia, Indiana University Press.