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Hermes - Hestia

Hermes (Roman name: Mercury)

Hermes was the messenger god, a trickster, and a friend to thieves. He was said to have invented boxing and gymnastics. He was the son of Zeus and the constellation Maia. The speediest of all, he wore winged sandals and a winged hat and carried a magic wand.

As messenger and herald, Hermes is involved in many mythological episodes. Perhaps most celebrated was his killing of the many-eyed (some accounts say 100-eyed) monster Argos on the orders of Zeus in order to free Io. Hermes also freed Ares from his year-long imprisonment in a cauldron by the twin Giants Otus and Ephialtes. One of his most famous regular roles was as a leader of souls to the river Styx in the underworld, where the boatman Charon would take them to Hades.

Hermes was also known as something of a trickster, stealing at one time or another Poseidon’s trident, Artemis’ arrows, and Aphrodite’s girdle. He was also credited with inventing fire, dice (and so was worshipped by gamblers in his capacity as god of luck and wealth), musical instruments, in particular, the lyre (made from a tortoise shell), and the alphabet.

Famous for his diplomatic skills, he was also regarded as the patron of languages and rhetoric. Travellers regarded him as their patron, and stone pillars (hermae) with a phallus symbol were often to be seen set up along road sides. In addition, Hermes was regarded as patron of the home and people often built small marble stelai in front of their doors in his honour.

Hestia (Roman name: Vesta)

Hestia was the goddess of the hearth (a fireplace at the center of the home). She was the most gentle of the gods, and does not play a role in many myths. Hestia was the sister of Zeus and the oldest of the Olympians. Fire is among her symbols.

Hestia in Greek religion and mythology, goddess of the hearth; daughter of Kronos and Rhea. Both public and private worship of Hestia were widespread; she represented personal and communal security and happiness. An Olympian goddess, she was thought of as the kindest and mildest of the gods. She was of little mythological importance, appearing in only a few stories. The Romans identified her with Vesta.

Hestia was the goddess of the hearth, the home, and domestic life in the Roman religion (identified with the Greek goddess Hestia). She was the first-born of the titans Kronos and Rhea and, like the others, was swallowed by her father. When her brother Jupiter (the Greek Zeus), who managed to escape their father's appetite, freed his siblings, Vesta was the last to be released (because she was the first swallowed) and so is regarded as both the oldest and the youngest of the gods. She was very beautiful and attracted the attention of both Apollo and Neptune who fought for her hand. Vesta rejected them both, however, and begged Jupiter to allow her to remain forever a virgin. When he consented to this, Vesta was pleased and took care of his home and hearth; thus identifying her with domestic life but, more importantly, with domestic tranquility.

The hearth fire in the home of the ancient Romans was not only essential for cooking food and heating water, but also served as the gathering place for the family and, in time, became associated with the spirit of that particular family gathered around that particular hearth. The Latin word for `hearth' is focus which, of course, is used in English to designate a center or activity of interest. The hearth in Rome was most certainly such a center of activity and the fire which burned there was most important. Sacrifices to the gods of the home were made by the fire and thrown into the flames. When one left home on a business trip, or even on vacation, one carried some of the hearth fire along in order to keep one’s home close even when away. Further, the difficulty of making or transporting fire made the constantly-burning hearth a vital element in the home as well as state buildings. Vesta, therefore, along with the house spirits of the Penates, Panes and Lares, was a goddess revered in every strata of Roman society as she was thought to literally "keep the home fires burning" from the most modest apartment to the grandest villa.

In the shrine of Vesta in the Roman Forum a fire perpetually burned and was tended to by the Vestal Virgins (Latin: Vestales). The fire was renewed annually on March 1 (which was originally the Roman new year) and the sanctuary was not open to the public save during Vesta’s feast days (June 7-15, known as the Vestalia) when matrons were allowed to visit barefoot and in humility. When the Vestalia ended there was a ceremonial sweeping of the sanctuary and it was considered a time of bad luck and unfriendly omens until the sweepings were disposed of in the Tiber River or in a certain spot agreed upon in the city. Vestal Virgins were expected to remain chaste throughout their tenure as servants of Vesta and the punishment for failing to do so was to be buried alive or, in one notable case, to have molten lead poured down the throat.

Vesta is always depicted as a fully-clothed woman accompanied by her favorite animal, the ass. Since Vesta was goddess of the hearth she was also the patron goddess of the bakers of the city and, as the ass turned the millstone to grind the wheat for the bread, the animal became closely associated with the goddess. She is also frequently depicted holding a kettle (a symbol of the hearth) and also cut flowers (symbolizing domesticity). Like the goddess Bastet in Egyptian belief, Vesta was of special service to women but was popular with both sexes. She was the proctectress of Rome in that she cared for and maintained the homes of each of its citizens. Of all the Roman deities, only Vesta was accorded the honor of full time clergy devoted solely to her rites.