Don’t Go Breakin’ My Hearth

As goddess of the hearth, Hestia was a quite important deity in ancient Greek and Roman society, but there is very little mythology pertaining to her. It’s strange how the phrase “hearth and home” is still pretty commonly used, even though most homes no longer have them. Most of the houses I’ve lived in didn’t even have fireplaces, which I guess would be a problem for Santa Claus as well as Hestia. For much of human history, however, the hearth was central to a household, being used heating, cooking, and burnt offerings. Since Hestia was the guardian of the sacrificial fires themselves, she was traditionally the first deity who would receive an offering during religious rituals. Reflecting this, she was the first-born child of Kronos and Rhea, and hence the first member of the Olympian generation. Since Kronos swallowed all of his children but Zeus, however, she was the last to be disgorged by her father, and hence could be considered the youngest as well. Her role was significant but not glamorous, and she attended to her duties without participating in the struggles and schemes of her fellow Olympians.

Like some other goddesses, she was a perpetual virgin. One of the few myths regarding her is about how she got drunk at a party and was almost raped by Priapus, Aphrodite’s ugly son with giant genitals and a permanent erection. (Dude, you’re supposed to contact your physician if it lasts more than four hours.)

She woke up before he could act due to the braying of a donkey, however, and scared off the lecherous fertility god. Hestia was originally considered one of the twelve main Olympians, but was later removed from the group in order to make room for that lush Dionysus.

Not only is Hestia worshipped in the home, but in temples and town halls as well. When a metropolis colonized surrounding areas, people would take fire from the city to light their own hearths. The Roman equivalent of Hestia is Vesta, who had an eternal flame in the Forum kept by the Vestales, priestesses colloquially known as Vestal Virgins. These priestesses were required to remain celibate for a period of thirty years, and anyone who violated the vow was buried alive. Good thing modern religion doesn’t require anyone to abstain from sex in order to hold certain positions, right? :P

Based on this picture, it looks like Hestia might now be working as the patron deity of air traffic controllers.

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2 Responses to Don’t Go Breakin’ My Hearth

  1. vilajunkie says:

    From what I can tell, the hearth was not the same as a fireplace, at least not the same as a fireplace from the last 200-300 years in urbanized homes. For one thing, apparently the stone base in front of the actual fireplace was much bigger. And the opening of the fireplace was large enough to contain a spit or a cauldron (I think historic homes still in use have these bigger openings as well). The hearth wasn’t just used for cooking, heating, and burning offerings; it was also where people hung out in the same way that today we sit in front of the TV. I don’t know if it’s just a Hollywood thing, but I guess you took your bath in front of the hearth too because it was a lot easier to dump the hot water in the tub directly from the fireplace than to carry it to a different room.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Hestia became the goddess of air traffic controllers. It’s a lot like Pharamond, a god from a culture no one remembers who presumably patronized travel, starting a travel agency in Sandman and Anoia, a former volcano goddess, becoming the goddess of Things Stuck In Drawers and Weird Kitchen Utensils in Discworld.

  2. Pingback: Another Virgin Mother | VoVatia

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