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Vesta

Vesta

In Roman mythology, Vesta was the virgin goddess of the hearth. Worshiped in every Roman household, Vesta served as a symbol of home and family as well as the guardian of the sacred fire in her temples. As keeper of this flamea source of life and immortality the goddess played a prominent role in Roman culture.

Vesta was an important figure in Greek mythology as well. Known as Hestia, she was the daughter of the Titans Cronus* and Rhea and the sister of the gods Zeus*, Poseidon*, Hades*, Demeter*, and Hera*. The Greeks kept her sacred fire burning in their capital cities and took it with them when they founded new colonies.

immortality ability to live forever

Titan one of a family of giants who ruled the earth until overthrown by the Greek gods of Olympus

The Romans believed that their legendary ancestor Aeneas* had brought the sacred fire to Italy from Troy*. They thought that if Vesta's fire went out, Rome would experience a great disaster. Virgin priestesses known as the Vestals kept the fire burning constantly in the Temple of Vesta in Rome. Vestals who lost their virginity, and thus dishonored the goddess, were buried alive. Each year on March 1, Vesta's fire was renewed during a ceremony, and on June 9, the Romans held a festival in her honor called the Vestalia.

See also Fire; Greek Mythology; Roman Mythology.

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Vesta

Vesta in Roman mythology, the goddess of the hearth and household. She was worshipped in a round building in the Forum at Rome, probably an imitation in stone of an ancient round hut. Her temple in Rome contained no image but a fire which was kept constantly burning and was tended by the Vestal Virgins.
Vestal Virgins virgins consecrated to Vesta and vowed to chastity, sharing the charge of maintaining the sacred fire burning on the goddess's altar; there were originally four, and later six, of these priestesses.

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Vesta

Vesta (Rom. myth.) goddess of the household XIV; one of the minor planets XIX; kind of wax or wood match. — L., corr. to Gr. Hestíā, personification of hestíā hearth, house, household.
So Vestal, v. virgin one of the priestesses having charge of the sacred fire in the temple of Vesta in ancient Rome XV; pert. to, chaste as, a priestess of Vesta XVI; sb. vestal virgin, chaste woman. — L. vestālis; see -AL1.

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Vesta (in Roman religion and mythology)

Vesta, in Roman religion and mythology, hearth goddess. She was highly honored in every household from early times to the beginning of Christianity. Her public cult maintained a sacred building in which her priestesses, the vestal virgins, tended the communal hearth and fire, which was never allowed to die out. Vesta was identified with the Greek Hestia.

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Vesta

Vesta The third largest (after Ceres and Pallas) solar system asteroid (No. 4), diameter 526 km; approximate mass 3 × 1020 kg; rotational period 5.342 hours; orbital period 3.63 years. It was imaged in 1995 by the Hubble Space Telescope and appears to have a basaltic crust overlying an olivine mantle, indicating that differentiation has occurred.

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Vesta

Vesta In Roman religion, goddess of fire and purity, supreme in the conduct of religious ceremonies. Her priestesses were the vestal virgins. Vesta was the guardian of the hearth and the patron goddess of bakers.

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vesta

vestaabetter, begetter, better, bettor, biretta, bruschetta, carburettor (US carburetor), debtor, feta, fetter, forgetter, getter, go-getter, Greta, Henrietta, letter, Loretta, mantelletta, operetta, petter, Quetta, setter, sinfonietta, sweater, upsetter, Valletta, vendetta, whetter •bisector, collector, connector, convector, corrector, defector, deflector, detector, director, ejector, elector, erector, hector, injector, inspector, nectar, objector, perfecter, projector, prospector, protector, rector, reflector, rejector, respecter, sector, selector, Spector, spectre (US specter), vector •belter, delta, helter-skelter, melter, pelta, Shelta, shelter, swelter, welter •pre-emptor, tempter •assenter, cementer, centre (US center), concentre (US concenter), dissenter, enter, eventer, fermenter (US fermentor), fomenter, frequenter, inventor, lamenter, magenta, placenta, polenta, precentor, presenter, preventer, renter, repenter, tenter, tormentor •inceptor, preceptor, receptor, sceptre (US scepter) •arrester, Avesta, Chester, contester, ester, Esther, fester, fiesta, Hester, investor, jester, Leicester, Lester, molester, Nestor, pester, polyester, protester, quester, semester, sequester, siesta, sou'wester, suggester, tester, trimester, vesta, zester •Webster • dexter • Leinster •Dorchester • Poindexter • newsletter •genuflector • implementer •experimenter • trendsetter •epicentre (US epicenter) •typesetter • jobcentre • photosetter •Cirencester • interceptor • Sylvester

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Vesta

VESTA

VESTA . The name Vesta, with the archaic suffix-ta, is derived from the root *a 1eu, "to burn." It encompasses two stems: stem 1, *a 1eu-s, is found in the Greek heuo and the Latin uro, "I burn"; stem 2, *a 1u-es, lies at the base of the Latin Vesta and most probably also of the Greek Hestia. The intrinsic bond between the goddess and fire, ignis Vestae ("fire of Vesta"; Paulus-Festus, ed. W. M. Lindsay, 1913, p. 94 L.), was understood perfectly by the ancients, even though they were sometimes tempted to propose fanciful etymologies; Festus, for example, in order to explain Vesta's round sanctuary identifies her with the round earth (Paulus-Festus, ed. W. M. Lindsay, 1913, p. 320 L.). The semantic connection between the Latin goddess and the Greek goddess was conceded by Cicero (De natura deorum 2.67), who also believed that Vesta had been borrowed from the Greeks.

Although the cult of Vesta was known throughout the Italic regions, evidence of it comes above all from Latium. The cult of Vesta was established at Lavinium, so that it is possible that her worship with colleges of virgins in attendance was at one time more widespread throughout Latium. The goddess is clearly listed in the famous catalogue of Sabin divinities introduced in Rome in archaic times (Varro, De lingua Latina, 5.74). The tradition that the virgines Vestae, like most other Roman religious institutions, were instituted by king Numa is given by Livy (1. 20.3), Gellius (1.12.10) and Ovid (Fasti 6.259) but may be no more than a reconstruction from the established connexion between Numa and the nymph Egeria who inspired him: the Vestals drew water from the well of the Camenae, where Numa and Egeria met (Plutarch, Numa 13). Another origin, Romulean or Alban, may be infered: according to Livy (1.3.11), Ovid (Fasti 3.1152), and Plutarch (Romulus 3), Rhea Silvia, daughter of Numitor and mother of the twins Romulus and Remus, was consecrated to the cult of Vesta by King Amulius, who wanted to deprive her of descendants. Tarpeia, who betrayed the Romans during the war between Romulus and Titus Tatius, was also perhaps a Vestal Virgin (Livy 1.3.11).

Since the cult of Vesta goes back to the origins of the Latin city, it escaped the anthropomorphism of the Etruscan and Greek environments, as evidenced by Ovid, who writes that even in his time the ignis Vestae was sufficient by itself and had no cultic statue (Fasti 6.295298). When Cicero (De natura deorum 3.80) tells of the episode in which the pontifex maximus Q. Mucius Scaevola was slain in 82 bce in front of "the statue of Vesta" he must be referring to an honorific statue located in the vestibule or outside the sanctuary.

Situated near the via Sacra in the Forum, in front of the Regia and linked with the Atrium Vestae ("house" of the Vestals), the goddess's round sanctuary (rotunda aedes; Paulus-Festus, ed. Lindsay, 1913, p. 321 L.; Ovid, Fasti 6.267) was differentiated from a four-sided temple oriented to the four cardinal points. This contrast, which the ancients attempted to explain by gratuitously comparing the goddess with the earth, becomes clear in the light of comparative studies. Vedic religion distinguished "the fire of the master of the house," which is "this world and, as such, is round," from "the fire of offerings," the smoke of which "carries men's gifts to the gods: this is oriented to the four cardinal points and is thus four-sided" (Dumézil, 1974, p. 320).

Vesta's influence was upon the altars and hearths (Cicero, De natura deorum 2.67). The recommendation that Cato (De agricultura 143) made to the farmwife (vilica), who held the same place in the country as did the mistress of the house (domina) in the city, was appropriate for anyone responsible for the hearth: "Let the hearth be maintained by being swept each day before bedtime."

Since the goddess also watched, "as it were, over the hearth of the city" (Cicero, De legibus 2.29), she was designated Vesta publica populi Romani Quiritium in the official religion. At her service there were the six Vestal Virgins, whose principal task was to maintain the fire (Cicero, De legibus 2.29). This fire was renewed once a year on March 1, the beginning of the ancient year (Ovid, Fasti 3.135144). "If by chance this fire were extinguished, the virgins would be flogged by the pontiff. Custom then obliged them to rub on a piece of 'fertile' wood [felix materia ] until the fire thus produced could be carried by a Vestal in a bronze sieve to the sanctuary" (Paulus-Festus, ed. W. M. Lindsay, 1913, p. 94 L.). Although the Vestals were directed by a superior, the virgo Vestalis maxima, they were placed under the authority of the pontifex maximus, who was to flog them in case of carelessness. They had to maintain absolute chastity for the entire duration of their service (Ovid, Fasti 6.283ff.). The loss of virginity meant capital punishment: the guilty Vestal was buried alive in the Campus Sceleratus ("field of crime") near the Porta Collina. Cicero (De legibus 2.8.20) gives two reasons for the virginity of the priestesses. The first is a practical one: married women have others duties. The second is inspired by Roman morality, and Cicero imagines the Vestals as setting a public example for all women. The preparation of the various items needed for sacrifices was also entrusted to the Vestals. The muries, a brine produced by adding water to oven-cooked coarse salt (Festus, p. 152 L.), and the mola salsa, baked wheat flour sprinkled with salt (p. 124 L.), which was spread over the heads of the victims (immolare) before they were slain (mactare), were both prepared by the Vestals (Paulus-Festus, ed. W. M. Lindsay, 1913, p. 97 L.). Scholars have defined the duties of the Vestals as a kind of housekeeping at the state hearth, and there is a debate as to whether they represent, in the cult, the king's daughters or the king's wife.

The girls chosen to be "priestesses" of Vesta were said to be "seized" (capere ) by the pontifex maximus, and this "capture" had important juridical consequences: from that moment, the girl was no longer subordinate to the patria potestas (Gellius, Noctes Atticae 1.12.9; Gaius, Institutiones 1.130), nor to a tutor (Gaius, Institutiones 1.145); she may, of her free will, dispose of her fortune, and she also may appear in court as a witness (Gellius 7.7.2). So the Vestals Virgins enjoyed a number of civil rights that originally a Roman woman did not possess. From the beginning, this female priesthood was endowed with outstanding rights (civil rights and not only cultic honors), which led some scholars to regard the Vestal Virgins as forerunners of the "emancipation" of Roman women (Guizzi, 1968, p. 200). Some scholars pretend that there was cooperation and solidarity between Vestal Virgins and Roman women (Gagé, 1963). But only "presence" is attested and there is no proof for an act of solidarity (Cancik-Lindemaier, 1990, 1996).

The goddess's feast, the Vestalia, was held on June 9. From June 7 to 15, her sanctuary was open exclusively to women, who were allowed to enter only with bare feet. On the last day it was cleaned. The end of this operation was noted in the calendars by the letters Q(uando) ST(ercus) D(elatum) F(as) (literally, "Once the dung is removed, the day is profane"). This archaic notion, which marks the specific moment at which the day changes from being a dies nefastus ("forbidden or holy day," a day on which no public business could be transacted) to being fastus ("profane"), recalls the time "when a pastoral society in camp had to clean away the stercus [dung] of its flocks from the site of its sacred fire" (Dumézil, 1974, p. 320).

The sanctuary also contained some talismans that served as pledges of Rome's perpetuity. Among these was the Palladium, the statue of Pallas Athena, reputedly of Trojan origin (Servius, Ad Aeneiden 7.188; Livy, 27.27.14; Cicero, Pro Scauro 48). In contrast to the sacrificial ingredients preserved in the anterior part of the sanctuary (penus exterior), these "pledges of destiny" (pignora fatalia; Ovid, Fasti 6.445) were kept in the "holy of holies" (penus interior) that was closed off by a tapestry (Festus, p. 296 L.) and accessible only to the Vestals. This gave rise to the anecdote about the pontifex maximus L. Caecilius Metellus, who in 241 bce, after having saved the Palladium from a fire, penetrated to the forbidden place and was struck blind (Pliny, Natural History 7.141) Thus, the symbolism of the "eternal fires" of Vesta (Ovid, Fasti 3.421) was reinforced by the presence of these "pledges of destiny."

The importance of Vesta is evident in the liturgy. The goddess was invoked at the end of every prayer and sacrifice (Cicero, De natura deorum 2.67), paralleling the opening invocation of Janus, who led the sequence of divinities. (This liturgical rule was the opposite of the Greek practice, which prescribed "beginning with Hestia."). Esteem for the Vestals followed naturally. Once a year they appeared before the rex sacrorum ("king of sacrifices") and said to him, "Vigilasne rex? Vigila!" ("Are you watchful, king? Be watchful!"; Servius, Ad Aeneidem 10.228). In a solemn ceremony at the Capitol, the pontifex maximus officiated along with the chief Vestal (Horace, Odes 3.30.8). One can thus understand Cicero's statement (Pro Fonteio 48): "If the gods were to scorn the Vestal's prayers, it would be the end of our power."

In the third century bce Vesta did not entirely escape a syncretism that made her the homologue of Hestia: during the lectisternium of 217 bce she was coupled with Vulcan/Hephaistos. Thus the beneficial fire, kept inside the city, was uncustomarily associated with the harmful fire, relegated to outside the pomerium, the religious and ritual boundary of the city (Vitruvius, 1.7.1). Another innovation started with Augustus, who upon becoming pontifex maximus in 12 bce, even while respecting the old sanctuary of the Forum, had a chapel of Vesta (Aedicula Vestae) built on the Palatine near his palace and adorned it with a cultic statue (Corpus inscriptionum Latinarum, Berlin, 1863, vol. 1, no. 317).

Bibliography

Brelich, Angelo. "Vesta." Albae Vigiliae 7. Zurich, 1949.

Dumézil, Georges. La religion romaine archaïque. 2d ed. Paris, 1974. This work has been translated from the first edition by Philip Krapp as Archaic Roman Religion, 2 vols., Chicago, 1970.

Cancik-Lindemaier, Hildegard. "Kultische Priviligierung und gesellschäftliche Realität." Saeculum 41, no. 1 (1990): 116.

Cancik-Lindemaier, Hildegard. "Priestly and Female Role in Roman Religion. The uirgines Vestae." Hyperboreus 2, no. 2 (1996) 138150.

Cornell, Tim, "Some Observations on the crimen incesti." In Le délit religieux dans la cité antique (Collection de l'Ecole française de Rome, 48), Rome, 1981, pp. 2737.

Fraschetti, Augusto. "La sepoltura delle Vestali e la città," in Du châtiment dans la cité. Supplices corporels et peine de mort dans le monde antique (Collection de l'Ecole française de Rome, 79), Rome, 1984, pp. 97129.

Gagé, Jean. Matronalia. Essai sur les dévotions et les organisations cultuelles des femmes dans l'ancienne Rome (coll. Latomus LX). Brussels, 1963.

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Wissowa, Georg. Religion und Kultus der Römer. 2d ed., Munich, 1912, pp. 153161.

Robert Schilling (1987)

Charles Guittard (2005)

Translated from French by Paul C. Duggan

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