The Domestic Diplomat
Hearth, Home, Bread, Sacrifice, Domestic Arts
Kettle, A flower-wrapped branch
"For without you mortals hold no banquet … where one does not duly pour sweet wine in offering to Hestia both first and last"
Homer, epic poet and historian
Hestia was horrified by the destruction inflicted on the mortal world by the Titanomachy. To aid the mortals cowering in caves she taught them how to build houses and hearths as well as instructing them in the domestic arts. It was Hestia who showed the Greeks how to use fire in their sacrifices to the gods. In doing this she earned their love and ensured widespread worship. She is called the keeper of the hearths and every sacrificial flame is sacred to her. Alongside Demeter, who introduced farming, the two goddesses rebuilt the mortal world.
When Hestia returned to Olympus both Apollo and Poseidon pursued her hand in marriage. The aggressive Apollo and arrogant Poseidon did not interest the goddess and she turned them both down. When her suitors went to Zeus with their objections, he ruled that Hestia and all women were free to choose their own husbands. To reinforce her power, Zeus made his sister the keeper of the Olympic court and responsible for its upkeep and those who serve at it. In this role she has earned the respect of the rest of the Olympians by remaining outside of their squabbling.
Like the other gods, Hestia has a jealous streak and passionately defends the worship she has earned. Once, the priests of Hera in Argos had arrogantly declared that the city give praise to Hera alone. They denied Hestia her rightful share of worship as goddess of the sacrificial flame. An angry Hestia sought to show the priests the price for neglecting the due rights of a goddess. She extinguished the hearth fires of every home in the polis and prevented any new fires from lighting. There was no heat for cooking or light to fend off the dark and for ten days the people ate raw food and feared the night.
On the dusk of the eleventh night an oracle arrived at the city and delivered Hestia’s reckoning. Every household should contribute both fuel and sacrifice for a great pyre to be built in the centre of the city and the population must worship Hestia through the night. Though the priests of Hera tried to stop them, the people built their pyre and prayed through the night. Hestia, pleased at the devotion and sacrifice by the people, removed her curse from the city. Those who took an ember from the great pyre to relight their hearths did not need to add fuel to the fire for ten days.
It is rare for Hestia to come into conflict with the other Olympians, but it has happened. The people of the island of Skyros attracted the greed of Poseidon. He wanted them to declare that he was the most important god and make him their patron. The island's small population did not want to become so involved with Olympian politics and rejected him. This wounded Poseidon's pride and roused his anger. He whipped the sea around Skyros into a frenzy. The water was so rough that the islanders were unable to launch any of their boats and no other boats dared approach. Without fish or trade, the people began to suffer. They prayed to Poseidon to forgive them and to leave them be but the god of the sea was too furious to listen.
Desperate, the people of Skyros prayed to Hestia who heard their pleas for help. She took pity on them and travelled to the coral palace of Poseidon under the Aegean sea to plead for mercy. The goddess argued that the people had suffered enough but Poseidon wished to make an example of Skyros. This forced Hestia to deal with Poseidon on his terms and invoke her power over worship itself. She threatened that if Poseidon killed these mortals for the sake of his pride then no sacrificial flame would light in any Greek temple to him. Without the flame it would be impossible to make sacrifices to Poseidon and in the face of the threat he relented to his older sister. When the seas calmed, the grateful islands built a new civic hearth in Hestia’s honour.
As one of the original six Olympians, Hestia knows she will suffer if the Titans are freed to wreak their vengeance. Her champions work against the plots of the Titans wherever they discover them. Hestia sees the proper ordering of society as key to averting the chaos of the Titans. This starts in the home and she expects her champions to promote order and routine.
Hestia appears as a homely middle-aged woman, wearing a simple toga and sometimes a veil. Mild mannered, her more introverted temperament sets her apart from the other Olympians. She likes to remain neutral in their disagreements, giving her attention to tending her realms. Prone to forgiveness and patience, she is the most merciful of the gods.
Worship of Hestia focuses on her key realm, the hearth. Each hearth in a home serves as a potential place of worship to her. A hearth is the sacred centre of domestic life and it is common for small idols of Hestia to be placed around them. Whenever a hearth is lit a small sacrifice is made to her to ensure it stays hot and bright. The first part of every sacrifice, the primitiae, is offered to her as the goddess of the sacrificial flame.
The goddess of the hearth has few large scale temples dedicated to her alone. The centre of her worship in each polis is the prytaneum, a public hearth at the centre of each community, found in the civic hall. The fire serves as a heart for the community and a place where ambassadors can meet in safety. When a voyage to establish a new colony sets out it takes a piece of the fire with it to form the first piece of the new polis. If the fire ever goes out it cannot be lit again from another fire. Only the use of friction or by using a glass lens to draw the heat of the sun is permitted. During the depths of winter a sacrifice of a cow less than a year old is made at the prytaneum in Hestia's honour.