The Greek goddess Hestia is one of the original Twelve Olympians, known as the goddess of the hearth. She is the daughter of the Greek Titans Kronos and Rhea. She had five siblings. Her brothers were Zeus, Poseidon and Hades, and her sisters were Demeter and Hera. In Roman Mythology she is known as Vesta.
Hestia is known as both the oldest and the youngest of Kronos and Rhea’s children, because she came into the world twice, almost like being born twice. The first time she was born, she was the first child of Kronos and Rhea. Kronos was not exactly a loving, caring father, though. He was worried that his children would try to take his power and position, so he swallowed them all right after they were born except for Zeus. Zeus fought to free all of his brothers and sisters from his father. When he did, Hestia was the last to come out of her father, this time making her the last born child.
After Zeus lead a war against their father and won, he gave Hestia a place of great honor on Mount Olympus, and early Greek cultures would place great value on the hearth. Early cultures struggled with fire. It was very important to them, but it was also difficult to start a fire and to keep it going. Hestia’s place at the hearth, the main fire of any home or building, meant that she had a very important job.
However, her very important job required constant attention, so she wasn’t able to go out on many adventures. Even though she’s an original Olympian, there are very few stories about her. While the other gods were out on adventures and quests, Hestia was home at Mount Olympus tending the fire and watching over the home. These jobs also lead the goddess to be connected with the peace of the home, hospitality, and architecture.
Hestia is a virgin goddess by choice. She made this choice in order to keep peace on Mount Olympus. At one time, Hestia had two suitors. Both Apollo and Poseidon wanted to marry Hestia, but she was worried that choosing one over the other would cause disagreements and trouble among the gods. In order to keep the peace of their home of Mount Olympus, instead of choosing either suitor for her husband, Hestia instead chose to remain a virgin and dedicate herself to the work of their home on Mount Olympus. To show how dedicated she was, she made a vow of unending virginity while placing her hand on the head of Zeus, the most powerful god on Olympus.
There was only one time when Hestia was in danger of losing her precious virginity, and it was not by choice. One time while the gods were feasting, Hestia was nearly attacked while she was sleeping. Priapus, the god of fertility, was drunk and tried to force himself on her. Thankfully, Hestia and those around her were woken by a braying donkey. Priapus was chased away in disgrace by an angry crowd. To show thanks for the donkey who saved her virginity, donkeys get extra rest and have garlands placed around them on Hestia’s feast day.
Since she wasn’t very active outside of her home and didn’t have many stories about her, it might be thought that Hestia became unimportant to the Greeks. However, she held an important place on Mount Olympus and in the hearts of the Greeks. Because of the importance of her job tending the fire, Zeus said that the first portion of every offering given to every god belonged to her. Every Greek festival remembered to give to Hestia first. She had her own feast in early June, but she was a part of every other god’s feast as well.
Though she has her own feast day, Hestia has very few of her own temples. Only two are mentioned, one in Ermioni and one in Lacedaemonia. However, she is not forgotten. Much like she shares in the feast days of every god, she is remembered in every hearth. Ancient Greeks had their own private hearths in their homes, and there were also public hearths that were centers of community. These were all considered to be sanctuaries to the goddess.
Hestia was also honored every time a new city or town was founded in Greece with a symbolic passing of the torch. Fire was taken from a public hearth in the home city in order to light the first hearth in the new city, and the hearths of the homes in the new city were lit from this first public hearth, symbolizing Hestia and her blessing going into all of the new homes. Because she had to tend her own hearth, fire was her only interaction with humans. Because of her kind and welcoming nature, Aristotle said that the sound of the fire crackling was the sound of the goddess laughing.
Although her importance as a Greek goddess is undeniable, Hestia’s place on Mount Olympus is questioned. There is some debate as to whether or not she is part of the original twelve. Sometimes she is listed as an original, but other times the god Dionysus is shown in her place. One theory is that, in keeping with her habit of keeping the peace at home, Hestia gave up her place on Mount Olympus to the much more irritable Dionysus. There are no accounts of this, but it does fit the personality of her mythology.