|“||Hestia, in the high dwellings of all, both deathless gods and men who walk on earth, you have gained an everlasting abode and highest honor: glorious is your portion and your right. For without you mortals hold no banquet,--where one does not duly pour sweet wine in offering to Hestia both first and last.||„|
|~ Formal hymn of Hestia|
Hestia is the goddess of hearth and home of ancient Greek mythology. She is the eldest of the Olympian gods and one of the few Olympians never to indulge in petty or selfish behavior. Worship of Hestia was required in every single temple of ancient Greece for she was beloved by all her family and no god or goddess would acknowledge prayers or offerings at their temples unless praise was given to Hestia first. In addition to having a shrine in every major temple Hestia had a main temple in every town throughout Greece tended to by the Vestal Virgins, her devotees. Though hedonism was extremely common in ancient Greece they also valued virtue and purity and so Hestia was highly venerated.
Hestia was the first child born to he Titans Cronus and Rhea. Her father Cronus, had heard it prophesied that one of his children would overthrow him as he had done to his father and so to make sure the prophesy never came true Cronus ate his children as Rhea gave birth to them. Hestia was the first of her siblings to be swallowed whole by their father, over time Rhea became pregnant again and again and each baby met the same fate as Hestia. Finally Rhea was able to save one of her children, the youngest one Zeus, by replacing young Zeus with a rock in swaddling. Zeus would be raised in secret by his grandmother Gaea until he was old enough to take his vengeance on Cronus. When Zeus was old enough to depose Cronus he returned and confronted Cronus. Zeus freed his siblings from Cronus's stomach (some accounts say by cutting it open, others say by poisoning him until he vomited them up); whichever the case was, Hestia was the last of Zeus's siblings to be freed. Once freed Hestia joined Zeus with her fellow siblings in defeating Cronus, after the initial defeat Cronus called the Titans to his aid and so the battle for dominance began with the Gods versus the Titans. Details about each god and goddess's role in the Titanomachy are sketchy and not all together a solid story but Hestia, Poseidon, Hades, Demeter, Hera and Zeus all fought as one against the much stronger individual Titans and eventually won.
Goddess of the Hearth
Hestia's aid in the great battle against the Titans was both the first and last time she would ever resort to violence. Hestia took a vow of virginity shortly after the battle and Zeus was so impressed by Hestia's responsibility and will-power at the prospect of eternal virginity that he gave her the duty of watching over Olympus. Zeus gave his siblings their own realms to rule, Poseidon god of the sea was given the vast oceans to rule, Hades god of wealth received the Underworld, Demeter goddess of flora was given the wilderness and Zeus took his youngest sister Hera goddess of marriage as his wife, to rule over the heavens and earth with him. Hestia had no real authority nor desired any and continued to simply maintain Olympus as Zeus's headquarters. Zeus established twelve positions of power by his side as vassals on Olympus, Hades was the only one not to take up one of the twelve seats, Poseidon accepted patronage as one of the Twelve Olympians subject to Zeus but still maintained control over the oceans as his own power (this would cause many conflicts between him and Zeus) unlike their brothers though Hestia and her sisters submitted as vassals to Zeus though without condition.
Zeus had many children and they all filled in positions of power one by one as the Twelve Olympians. Zeus eventually sired the god of wine, Dionysus; Dionysus had been orphaned on earth when his mortal mother gazed upon Zeus's true form and burst into flames and he was raised by nymphs until he was old enough to reveal himself to his father to claim his heritage. Dionysus marched to Olympus with his troop of nymphs behind him and arrived in a burst of music and gaiety. Zeus welcomed Dionysus to Olympus but Hera, who was not fond of her illegitimately conceived step-son, pointed out that the Twelve Thrones of Olympus had been filled and there was nothing left for Dionysus to claim. The music died down and Dionysus became dismayed as Zeus confirmed that he could not just add a new position of power just because Dionysus had arrived. Much to everyone's surprise without warning Hestia silently left her throne and presented it to Dionysus. Dionysus gladly took the seat of power and though Hestia had given up her position as major deity, held hand in hand with Zeus, she was from that point on admired by all her siblings and their children for her selflessness.
Hestia never left the halls of Olympus and far as she was concerned she never needed to, instead she spent her days cleaning, cooking and maintaining security for the home of the gods. At the center of the halls of Olympus was a great hearth called the Flames of Olympus, the Flames were a symbol of security and purity granting heat, light and cooking. Because fire was valuable at the beginning of societies and the temples of Hestia all maintained 24/7 lit hearths Hestia became considered one of the most important and sacred gods in every City-State. As time passed improved architecture and learning lead to having fire becoming less important however the elder values of society had ingrained reverence for the Hestia's priestess and the fires they kept burning in Hestia's honor.
Skills and Abilities
It was said that Hestia had the power to create flames so hot that the Titan's themselves, who were elemental embodiments, burned, melted and crumbled before Hestia's power. The precise limitations and details of Hestia's powers are unknown, however she was considered on par with Zeus and the rest of her siblings and was venerated as the oldest of the gods so she may well have had the most raw power of all her siblings. Because of Hestia's choice to never employ her abilities for violence after the Titanomachy her powers can never be accurately gauged against those of her more famous siblings. Hestia focused her powers on controlling and taming fire rather than using it as a weapon, she used it to warm Olympus and all homes that had hearths, every lit fireplace or stove was said to be a small piece of her power. Hestia had a variety of skills the ancient Greeks considered appropriate to women such as cooking and cleaning, these skills were what came to define the stereotypical skills of women. Odd enough though Hestia was a symbol of a raw power like fire she was seen as a healer where her flames would heal the sick or weak, this is likely based on the early discovery that fire could be used to cauterize wounds and stop infections so Hestia was given a position as the medic of Olympus.
Hestia cooked Ambrosia the food of the gods which was so miraculous a mere bite was said to be able to bring the dead back to life or make a mortal temporally immortal. To drink, Hestia brewed the gods Nectar, a drink sweeter than honey and more refreshing than spring water, it was said that if any mortal took taste of Nectar they were instantly refreshed, invigorated and became mystically adept. Zeus gave Hestia the keys to Olympus, whether these keys were literal or not is subject to debate but what this meant was that the gates, doors windows and very walls of Olympus were at Hestia's command even above Zeus. More miraculous than any of her other abilities or all of her fellow gods put together was Hestia's charisma. Hestia was empathetic to all her siblings and their children, she consoled, healed, cheered, advised and supported every single god and goddess in the Greek pantheon and is the only god to get along with every other god. For example Ares and Athena fought like cat and dog all day everyday, the one thing they had in common, other than Zeus as a father, was their love for their aunt Hestia.
Ambrosia/Nectar: Hestia cooked the food of the gods that granted and renewed immortality and divine power.
Divine Healing: Hestia could instantly mend and purify wounds even those inflicted by other gods. Hestia tended to injured gods that were wounded in scuffles with each-other.
Keys of Olympus: The halls of Olympus responded to Hestia's wishes.
Pyrokinesis: Hestia had omnipotent control of all fire everywhere. In the Titanomchy she could create flames so hot the Titans themselves were burned.
Sanctuary: Hestia's influence protected any mortal that entered one of her temples from the wrath of the gods, and none of the gods could fight in her presence on Olympus.
Star Control: Hestia was the one who hung constellations in the sky for Zeus by moving the stars.
Teleportation: Hestia could call back any Olympian on earth to the halls of Olympus. This was usually done when the god in question was either lost or too weak to make the journey themselves.
Hestia was a complete pacifist and because she stayed at home all day and simply maintained house-work she was not involved in many myths or adventures like the others gods. Hestia was mainly used as a paragon of what a Greek woman should strive to be, kind, quiet and supportive of her family. Hestia's reserved and demure demeanor may have allowed her to get overshadowed by her more wild and adventurous relatives but it is also what bequeathed her their unconditional love. The gods' love of Hestia was how the ancient Greeks provided leverage for showing her reverence. Because Hestia was completely non-violent her-self one didn't have to worry about angering her by disrespecting her, what one had to worry about was angering all the other gods at once by disrespecting her.
- Hestia's Roman name was "Vesta" and unlike a handful of Greek gods adopted into Rome "Vesta" was represented precisely as the original "Hestia" was.
- Hestia's title "First and Last" was reference to her birth, since she was the first born she was said to be "first", but because she was the last of the gods freed from Cronus's stomach she was also said to be the given to the world as a goddess "last".
- To honor Hestia's position as First and Last of the elder gods, a brief prayer was given to her before prayer to the other gods as a precursor to the main prayer and deity, and then a second short prayer was offered to Hestia after the main prayer was done similar to the later Judeo-Christian closing prayer "amen".
- During the reign of the mad Roman Emperor Caligula, who had delusions of god-hood, Caligula desecrated the temples of all other Roman gods, replacing statue heads of all the male gods with busts of his own head and all female goddesses with busts of his sisters, who each doubled as Caligula's lovers. The only temples not desecrated were the temples of Vesta, whether this was out of fear of rebellion, divine retribution or just respect is unknown.
- Even hardy and loyal Roman Centurions would not shed blood on the steps of a temple of Vesta or attack one of the Vestal Virgins for fear it would bring a curse to them, their families and their entire city. This put Vestal Virgins above the reproach of any authority unless they broke their vows.
- Many descriptions of Hestia, from her delicate features, to hooded statues, to the reverence payed to her as a virgin divinity sync up to the modern conceptualization of the Virgin Mary in Catholicism. Early Christianity was pitched to the Roman Emperor Constantine, who made it requisite for all Romans. Some gods were done away with or assimilated into positions of Christian dogma. Most anthropologists hold that Vesta's traditions and worshipers were encouraged to assimilate to Christianity by making the Virgin Mary like unto Vesta to ease the transition.
- The story of Hestia giving up her spot to Dionysus was actually added later to validate Dionysus's appearance in the Pantheon. The age prior to the Hellenistic Period (ancient Greece) was a dark age, and prior to that was the Mycenaean period, though many had different roles. Most gods were conceived in the Mycenaean Period but as most records had not survived the Ancient Greeks needed to validate why some gods were in different positions of power than their own with only a couple of reference materials and the story of Hestia giving up her throne was used as such validation.