The Homeric Hymn to Hestia

"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." [1]


1. Æstía (Hestia; Gr. Ἑστία, ΕΣΤΙΑ) Pronounced: ĕs-TEE-ah.

Being one of the Dôdækáthæon (Dodecatheon = The Twelve Olympian Gods, Δωδεκάθεον), Æstía is among the most important deities of all Ællînismόs (Hellenismos, Ἑλληνισμός), the ancient Greek religion, a Goddess most high. In the mythology, Æstía is the daughter of Krónos (Cronus, Κρόνος) and Rǽa (Rhea, Ῥέα). Her siblings are the lovely Goddesses Dîmítîr (Demeter, Δημήτηρ) and Íra (Hera, Ἥρᾱ), as well as her mighty brothers, the Three Zefs: Ploutôn (Plutô, Πλούτων), Poseidóhn (Poseidon, Ποσειδῶν), and Zefs (Ζεύς).

The truth concerning Æstía

Æstía is, unquestionably, an Olympian Goddess. It can be found all over the Internet that she gave up her seat among the Olympians to Diónysos (Dionysus, Διόνυσος), but this is not true. It seems that the root of this misconception is the English novelist and classicist Robert Graves. While many of Graves’ ideas are interesting and peculiar, this one reveals a misunderstanding as to the importance of both Æstía as well as Diónysos. His book, The Greek Myths, is relatively popular and has spread this falsehood far and wide, but there is no real substantiation of the idea from antiquity.

The importance of Diónysos can hardly be over-emphasized, for his mission is critical to the very meaning and purpose of our religion, to the extent that it could be said that Orphism is the religion of Diónysos. But Diónysos is not an Olympian; he has another role.

Æstía is Honored First

Æstía is the recipient of the first portion of all sacrifices. In every ritual, Æstía is honored first...always... with the recitation of her Orphic hymn [2]. In addition, it is traditional to offer a libation before and after meals to Æstía. All this in deference to the mythology that represents Æstía as the first-born of the Kronídai (Cronidae, Κρονίδαι), the progeny of Krónos and Rǽa. According to the mythology, Krónos was afraid that one of his children would usurp him, so he swallowed each in turn as they were born. Displeased by this, Rǽa concealed her child Zefs after his birth; she hid the child away and tricked her husband by giving him a rock wrapped in swaddling cloth, which he immediately consumed. This caused him to disgorge the children, emitting them in reverse order. Therefore, while Æstía was the first to be born, she was the last to be disgorged, as if born a second time, so while she is the first-born she is also called the last-born. It is for this same reason that Æstía is called both the youngest as well as the eldest of the Kronídai, the children of Krónos. [3]

The virginity of Æstía

Æstía is a virgin Goddess, signifying a purity, a mystic purity, which has nothing to do with mortal sex, so the mythology is symbolic. According to the Homeric hymn to Aphrodítî (Aphroditê, Ἀφροδίτη), Apóllôn (Apollo, Ἀπόλλων) and Poseidóhn asked her hand in marriage, but she swore an oath to Zefs to remain a maiden (Ὁμηρικὸς Ὕμνος 5 Εις Ἀφροδίτην Line 24). On account of this story, Æstía and Apóllôn and Poseidóhn were worshipped jointly at Dælphí (Delphi, Δελφοί), the great sanctuary of Apóllôn and Diónysos.

The Fire of Æstía

Æstía has a great fire; it is the fire of life and it is at the center of the Kózmos. Since our planetary system is a microcosm of the Kózmos, her fire is at the center of the earth.

Dælphí is the center of the world and the religion. In ancient times the Delphic temple was the home of an eternal flame or hearth representing the fire of Æstía. In like manner, every city had a sacred hearth which ordinarily procured its fire from Dælphí. In each place where they kept an eternal fire, it was protected in the Prytaneion (Πρυτανείον), the seat of government. This fire was thought as so important that when a new colony was initiated, flame was taken from the hearth of the home-city by the founders.

In addition to all this, the fire of Æstía dwells in the hearth of the home. Since the hearth, symbolically, is the center of the home, and the Goddess is its fire, Æstía is the source of all the blessings of domestic life, the very founder and support of the family. Æstía is, therefore, the tutelary Goddess of the home and, by extension, she is the protectress of the safety and concord of the state. Therefore we see that Æstía rules the hearth of home and city; she is the sacred fire which is the support of our entire society.

In the ancient Roman religion, Æstía is called Vesta and there was strong veneration to the Goddess. The Roman King, Numa the Pythagorean, constructed a temple with an eternal fire in her honor.

"It is said, also, that Numa built the temple of Vesta, which was intended for a repository of the holy fire, of a circular form, not to represent the figure of the earth, as if that were the same as Vesta, but that of the general universe, in the centre of which the Pythagoreans place the element of fire, and give it the name of Vesta and the unit; and do not hold that the earth is immovable, or that it is situated in the centre of the globe, but that it keeps a circular motion about the seat of fire, and is not in the number of the primary elements; in this agreeing with the opinion of Plato, who, they say, in his later life, conceived that the earth held a lateral position, and that the central and sovereign space was reserved for some nobler body." [4]

In 394 CE Theodosius I, the Christian Roman emperor, ordered the fire at her principal temple in Rome to be extinguished. The sacred fire of Vesta was symbolic of the divine fire of Æstía, which is ever-burning, and no emperor, regardless of how absolute his mortal power, can interfere with the actual, genuine fire of Æstía. When we light a candle for Æstía, this candle is symbolic of the great fire of the Goddess which can never be extinguished.

Where did they obtain the flame to initially light an eternal fire? The ancient method is described here by Ploutarkhos (Plutarch, Πλούταρχος):

"In Greece, wherever a perpetual holy fire is kept, as at Delphi and Athens the charge of it is committed, not to virgins (ed. as in Rome), but widows past the time of marriage. And in case by any accident it should happen that this fire became extinct, as the holy lamp was at Athens under the tyranny of Aristion, and at Delphi, when that temple was burnt by the Medes, as also in the time of the Mithridatic and Roman civil war, when not only the fire was extinguished, but the altar demolished, then, afterwards, in kindling this fire again, it was esteemed an impiety to light it from common sparks or flame, or from anything but the pure and unpolluted rays of the sun, which they usually effect by concave mirrors, of a figure formed by the revolution of an isosceles rectangular triangle, all the lines from the circumference of which meeting in a centre, by holding it in the light of the sun they can collect and concentrate all its rays at this one point of convergence; where the air will now become rarefied, and any light, dry, combustible matter will kindle as soon as applied, under the effect of the rays, which here acquired the substance and active force of fire." [5]

It is possible to have a lamp burning continuously in the home, an Æstía lamp, if done safely, but the usual custom is to dedicate a candle to the Goddess just before performing ritual. All other candles may be lit taking flame from her candle; you may recite a simple prayer such as this as you do so:

"Come, Æstía Vasíleia, Goddess of the hearth! Accept the offerings we are soon to give. Bless our homes and especially bless our families. Bring our souls close to the blessed deathless Gods and preside over this holy ritual!"

Æstía teaches us ritual and presides over ritual

It is the fire of Æstía which burns on the altar and she presides over the divine work (θεουργία) of ritual. Æstía is emblematic of the very act of worship and her veneration is at the center of all religious life.

More characteristics of Æstía

As oaths are sworn to Zefs, so they are also sworn to Æstía.

Traditional offerings to Æstía are the firstlings of fruit and wine and oil, libations of water, and cakes in the shape of a calf, as cows younger than a year were sacrificed to the Goddess in antiquity.

Æstía in Iconography

In iconography, Æstía is depicted as mature, with a gentle but grave countenance. She holds a flowered branch or a scepter. Symbolic of her mystic virginity, Æstía is never portrayed nude, and she wears a veil and is adorned in long flowing robes. A kettle may be in her proximity.

"The ruling principle of the power of earth is called Hestia, of whom a statue representing her as a virgin is usually set up on the hearth; but inasmuch as the power is productive, they symbolize her by the form of a woman with prominent breasts." [6]

The Orphic Hymn to Æstía

Epithets of Æstía


[1] Ὁμηρικὸς Ὕμνος 24 Εις Ἑστίαν, trans. Hugh G. Evelyn-White, 1914.

[2] Sôkrátis (Socrates, Σωκράτης): "What may we suppose him to have meant who gave the name Hestia?...that which we term οὐσία is by some called ἐσία, and by others again ὠσία. Now that the essence of things should be called ἑστία, which is akin to the first of these (ἐσία = ἑστία), is rational enough. And there is reason in the Athenians calling that ἑστία which participates in οὐσία. For in ancient times we too seem to have said ἐσία for οὐσία, and this you may note to have been the idea of those who appointed that sacrifices should be first offered to Ἑστία, which was natural enough if they meant that ἑστία was the essence of things. Those again who read ὠσία seem to have inclined to the opinion of Heracleitus (Ἡράκλειτος), that all things flow and nothing stands; with them the pushing principle (ὠθοῦν) is the cause and ruling power of all things, and is therefore rightly called ὠσία." (Κρατύλος Πλάτωνος 401, trans. Benjamin Jowett, 1892.

[3] Θεογονία Ἡσιόδου 457-506. The story is told somewhat differently in the Orphic theogony, where there is no mention of the order of which the deities are swallowed and disgorged. If we had the original text, it is likely that this detail was present, but the fragments do not tell that story.

[4] Βίοι Παράλληλοι Πλουτάρχου· Numa Pompilius, Chapter 11, trans. by John Dryden/A. H. Clough.

[5] Βίοι Παράλληλοι Πλουτάρχου· Numa Pompilius, Chapter 11, trans. by John Dryden/A. H. Clough.

[6] Περὶ ἀγαλμάτων Πορφυρίου Frag. 6, excerpt, translated by Edwin Hamilton Gifford.

The story of the birth of the Gods: Orphic Theogony.

We know the various qualities and characteristics of the Gods based on metaphorical stories: Mythology.

Dictionary of terms related to ancient Greek mythology: Glossary of Hellenic Mythology.

Introduction to the Thæí (the Gods): The Nature of the Gods.

How do we know there are Gods? Experiencing Gods.

What are the Orphic Fragments? The Orphic Fragments of Otto Kern.

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The story of the birth of the Gods: Orphic Theogony.

We know the various qualities and characteristics of the Gods based on metaphorical stories: Mythology.

Dictionary of terms related to ancient Greek mythology: Glossary of Hellenic Mythology.

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