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In Greek mythology, virginal Hestia, (Roman name, Vesta) daughter of Cronus and Rhea, is the goddess of the hearth, of the right ordering of domesticity and the family, who received the first offering at every sacrifice in the household. In the public domain, the hearth of the prytaneum functioned as her official sanctuary. With the establishment of a new colony, flame from Hestia's public hearth would be carried to the new settlement.
In Roman mythology her more civic approximate equivalent was Vesta, who personified the public hearth, and whose cult round the ever-burning hearth bound Romans together in the form of an extended family. The similarity of names, apparently, is misleading: "The relationship hestia-histie - Vesta cannot be explained in terms of Indo-European linguistics; borrowings from a third language must also be involved," Walter Burkert has written, at a very deep level her name means "home and hearth": the household and its inhabitants. "An early form of the temple is the hearth house; the early temples at Dreros and Prinias on Crete are of this type as indeed is the temple of Apollo at Delphi which always had its inner hestia". It will be recalled that among classical Greeks the altar was always in the open air with no roof but the sky, and that the oracle at Delphi was the shrine of the Goddess before it was assumed by Apollo. The Mycenaean great hall, such as the hall of Odysseus at Ithaca was a megaron, with a central hearthfire.
The hearth fire of a Greek or a Roman household was not allowed to go out, unless it was ritually extinguished and ritually renewed, accompanied by impressive rituals of completion, purification and renewal. Compare the rituals and connotations of an eternal flame and of sanctuary lamps.
At the more developed level of the polis, Hestia symbolizes the alliance between the colonies and their mother cities.
See also: Olympian gods