The Greeks said that it was Hestia who first taught men how to build houses. As their houses were so very different from the ones in which we live, perhaps you would like to know something about them. In the days when these old Greeks were so brave and noble, and had such beautiful thoughts about the world, they did not care much what kind of houses they lived in. The weather in their country was so fine that they did not stay in-doors very much. Besides, they cared more about building suitable temples for the gods, and putting up beautiful statues about the city, than they did about building fine houses for themselves.
So their houses were usually very small and plain. They did not have a yard around the houses, but built them close together, as we do in some of our large cities. Instead of having their yard in front, or at the sides of the house, they had it in the middle, with the house built all around it. That is the way many people in other lands build their houses even now; and this inner yard they call a court-yard. Around three sides of the court-yard the Greeks had pleasant porches in wh8ich the boys and girls could play when it was too hot for them to be out in the open yard And opening off on all sides from the porches were the rooms of the house.
In the middle of one of the largest of these rooms, there was always an altar to the goddess Hestia. This was a block of stone on which a fire was always kept burning. The Greeks did not have chimneys to their houses, so they would leave a square hole in the roof just over the altar to let the smoke out. And as they had no stoves, all the food for the family was usually cooked over this fire on the altar.
Whenever there was any change made in the family they offered sacrifices to Hestia. If a baby was born, or if there was a wedding, or if one of the family died, they must sacrifice to Hestia. Also whenever any one set out on a journey, or returned home from one, and even when a new slave was brought into the family, Hestia must be worshiped, or else they were afraid some evil would come upon their home.
The Greeks thought that the people of a city were just a larger family, so they thought that every city, as well as every house, must have an altar to Hestia. In the town-hall, where the men who ruled the city met together, there was an altar to the goddess of the hearth; and on it, too, a fire was always kept burning. These old Greeks were very careful never to let this altar fire go out. If by any chance it did go out, then they were not allowed to start it again from another fire, or even to kindle it by striking a bit of flint and piece of steel together, - for of course they had not matches. They were obliged to kindle it either by rubbing two dry sticks together, or else by means of a burning-glass. Otherwise they thought Hestia would be displeased.
The Greeks were a daring people, and very fond of going to sea, and trading with distant countries Sometimes, indeed, part of the people of a city would decide to leave their old home, and start a new city in some far-off place with which they traded. When such a party started out, they always carried with them some of the sacred fire from the altar of Hestia in the mother city. With this they would light the altar-fire in their new home. In this way the worship of Hestia helped to make the Greeks feel that they were all members of one great family, and prevented those who went away from forgetting the city from which they came.
The Legend and Myth about Hestia, Goddess of the Hearth
The Myth of Hestia, Goddess of the Hearth
The story of Hestia, Goddess of the Hearth is featured in the book entitled Greek Gods, Heroes and Men by Caroline H. Harding and Samuel B. Harding, published in 1906 by Scott, Foresman and Company.