The Greek hearth goddess Hestia does not feature in many myths, but the few myths that do mention this goddess focus on her oath of virginity. When the gods Poseidon and Apollo courted her, she refused to marry either of them. Zeus, the father of the gods, granted her the leading place in domestic worship as a compensation.
Hestia in the Homeric Hymns
Hestia has her own hymn in the collection of ancient sacred poetry called the Homeric hymns, but it is very short and does not go into detail about her mythology. One of the only myths about Hestia is found in the Homeric hymn to Aphrodite, the goddess of love, where Hestia is mentioned as one who was indifferent to Aphrodite's power. When Poseidon and Apollo ask to marry her, she not only refuses, she puts her hand on Zeus's head and swears to remain a virgin forever.
The Source of Her Power
The Homeric hymn to Aphrodite states that Hestia's high status was granted to her by Zeus because of her oath to remain a virgin and never marry. As the goddess of the hearth fire, Hestia was central to daily religious life in the ancient pagan world. The hymn says that Zeus gave Hestia the honor of being at the center of every house and entitled to a share of every sacred offering made by the ancient Greeks. Hestia's refusal to marry Poseidon or Apollo is the source of her great power as a goddess.
The Homeric hymn to Aphrodite describes Hestia as the first-born of the Titan Kronos, who preceded the gods. This is echoed by the Greek writer Hesiod, who states in his "Theogony" that Hestia was actually eaten by Kronos before later being rescued. The only other myth about Hestia is found in is Ovid's "Fasti," where he says that Priapus "had wanton hopes" about Vesta, the Roman name for Hestia. He tried to creep up on her while she was sleeping, but ran off in shame when a nearby donkey brayed.
Hestia or Vesta's Roman priestesses were the Vestal Virgins. Members of this religious order tended an eternal flame in Vesta's honor, but they were required to maintain strict chastity for their 30 years of service. Just as Zeus granted Hestia high status because of her vow of virginity, the Vestal Virgins had more political influence in Rome than they could ever have had as married women. However, Vestal Virgins who broke their vows could be buried alive.
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