Greek goddess Hestia

Roman goddess Vesta

Hestia is the daughter of Cronus and Rhea and the sister of Zeus. She is the goddess of fire, particularly the hearth, the symbol of the house around which a new born child is carried before it is received into the family. She is one of the three virgin goddesses, although both Apollo and Poseidon wooed her at one or another. Her temples were circular and served by virgin priestesses who dedicated their lives to her. Each city also had a public hearth sacred to Hestia, where the fire was never allowed to go out. Although she was rarely depicted in art, and played almost no part in myths, she was held in high honor, by both the Greeks and the Romans.

The Roman worship of Vesta, their name for Hestia, was more elaborate. They believed that her cult was first brought into their country, Latinum, by Aeneas. One of the early kings of Rome, Numa Pompilius, built a temple in her honor, where the famous Palladium of Troy was preserved, brought there by Aeneas and believed to be an image of Athena or a shield that "has fallen out of the heaven." The welfare of the whole city was believed to depend on the preservation of the sacred flame kept in the temple and attended be priestesses called the Vestal Virgins. First there were four Vestal Virgins, later six; they were under the control of Pontifex Maximus, the head of the priestly college which directed the religious affairs in Rome. When there was a vacancy he was the one who elected a new Vestal. The candidate had to be between six and ten years old, perfect in mind and body, and of Italian birth. The training took ten years, another ten were spent in carrying out the sacred duties, and finally, ten more in training the instructing novices. At the age of forty, the Vestal was free to return to the outside world and even take a husband if she wished. The cult of Vesta was observed in Rome until the year 380, when the sacred fire was quenched and the priestesses dispersed by Byzantine Emperor Theodosius.