I stumbled upon this blog today, and I have to reconsider this myth completely.
Once again, I am fascinated by how little is known about Hestia.
There is a story floating about the internet and even some modern texts on Hellenic mythology that Hestia gave up Her throne to Dionysos.
Apparently, this is an ancient myth, and the ancient Hellenes would have believed this as well. It’s a story so frequently told, one that is so common-knowledge, that very few people bother to check the source.
Well, the source is Robert Graves‘ ‘The Greek Myths’, written in 1955. From that book (27.12):
“Finally, having established his worship throughout the world, Dionysus ascended into Heaven, and now sits at the right hand of Zeus as one of the Twelve Great Gods. The self-effacing goddess Hestia resigned her seat at the high table in his favour; glad of any excuse to escape the jealous wranglings of her family, and knowing that she could always count on a quiet welcome in any Greek city which it might please her to visit.”
Graves provides two sources for this story:
Apollodoros’ Bibliotheka 3.5.3, and
Pausanias’ Hellados Periegesis 2.31.2.
As you can read for yourself, there is no mention what so ever of Hestia giving up Her throne.
In fact, the sources only address the part of Graves’ text that follows afterwards, about Dionysos bringing His mother Semele up to Olympos as well.
So, did Graves lie?
Well, yes and no.
Graves is a storyteller; he spun stories based on facts he could find. If he could not find a fact, he made it up to fit the story. Because of this, his books are a great read, but they are not reliable as far as ancient mythology goes.
As for The Twelve; there was never a set grouping of Them in ancient Hellas. What mattered was that there was a council of twelve, the Dodekatheon, at all. Who resided on the golden thrones was subject to debate and varied per location.
The most canonical version of the Dodekatheon is represented in the relief above, currently located at the Walters Art Museum. The relief dates back to the 1st century BC to the 1st century AD and depicts the Twelve Olympians carrying their attributes in procession: from left to right, Hestia (scepter), Hermes (winged cap and staff), Aphrodite (veiled), Ares (helmet and spear), Demeter (scepter and wheat sheaf), Hēphaistos (staff), Hera (scepter), Poseidon (trident), Athena (owl and helmet), Zeus (thunderbolt and staff), Artemis (bow and quiver), and Apollon (cithara). No mention of Dionysos.
Obviously, Theoi who were held in high regard in a certain city-state would have held the thrones, according to the people who lived in that city-state.
This means that it’s quite likely there were people in ancient Hellas who firmly believed that Dionysos occupied one of the thrones of the Dodekatheon.
Most likely, there were also people who believed Hestia did not occupy one of the thrones. It’s entirely possible that some people–perhaps even the same people who believed Dionysos was part of the Dodekatheon, but not Hestia–believed that Hestia gave up Her seat to Dionysos.
The problem is that there are no ancient sources to support this, and there was most certainly not a wide-spread myth to this effect that held sway in ancient Hellas.
As a Traditional Hellenist, I place Hestia on Her throne, where she belongs, but this does not mean I do not welcome Her into my home, that I feel She does not occupy the heart(h) of the house, that I do not tend Her flame, or that I do not offer to Her first and last whenever I make a sacrifice; She walks amongst mortals for sure, but that does not mean She does not voice Her opinions to the other Theoi from Her golden throne on Mount Olympos.
It also does not mean that I feel Dionysos is in any way a lesser deity; He is a beautiful Theos with a wide domain, who was of vital importance to the ancient Hellenes. Just look at the Anthesteria.
Which position you take is up to you, of course, but I feel it is important to know where your beliefs find their base.
I believed Graves’ version of the Dodekatheon for years before discovering it was a modern invention. For me, that was enough to change my views. For others, it might not be. The ancient Hellenes did not have a consensus on this, so I see no reason for us to come to one either. Still, the facts matter, so here they are.
I’d be really interested to hear what other people who have been immersed in honouring Hestia have to say.
I’m inclined to reconsider the idea of Hestia giving up Her Throne on the basis of this, as much as there are aspects to that idea that I love.
Sooo.. I think this means I need to consider a re-write of some of the prayers I have written already. I think that might involve a note and a link to this blog, I’m not sure of a more elegant but still transparent way of communicating a change in thought and reflecting a new learning. This, to me, is the extraordinary thing about doing a sustained devotional, I have done them before, but never shared them like I have with this one.
Both illumination by the flickering hearth,
And secrets in the perfumed shadows,
Smoke with a hint of incense.
Open my eyes,
Open my heart,
Open my mind.
Let me know you.
Accept my prayers.
Bless me with your sacred gifts.
Prayer written by Fabienne S. Morgana August 08th, 2023.