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Vesta (mythology)

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Vesta was the virgin goddess of home and hearth in Roman mythology, analogous to Hestia in Greek mythology.

Vesta was introduced in Rome by King Numa Pompilius. It is considered indeed as an original Roman deity (some authors suggest received from the Sabin cults), presumably the daughter of Saturn and Opi[?] (or Rea). However, the similarity with the cult of Greek Hestia is notable. Vesta too protected the familiar harmony and, extensively, the State.

Apollo and Neptune had asked her in marriage, but she refused both, preferring to preserve her virginity, which symbol was the eternally lit fire in her temple.

One of her priestesses was Rea Silvia, who with Mars conceived Romulus and Remus (see founding of Rome).

In her temple in Rome, below the Aventine Hill (also called Tempio della Fortuna Virile), in which the sacred fire of the Roman state burned, maintained by the Vestal Virgins[?]. Every March 1, the fire was renewed and it burned until AD 394.

The Vestales, her priestesses[?], practiced a sacred prostitution, initating to ars amandi (the art of loving) the boys that turned 17, after the first tonsura[?]. The priestesses (Vestales), practically her clergy, before turning adolescents into adults, had to respect 30 years of absolute chastity (they were also called the Vestal Virgins). They could not show an excessive care of their person, and obviously they could not let the fire extinguish. If a Vestal infringed the vote of chastity before the 30 years, she was condemned to be buried alive in the Campus Sceleris (camp of damned people); this is what probably happened to Rea Silvia too.

The Vestales were allowed to (or perhaps were forced to) wear a special tunica, a sort of simple habit that they use for the temple and for the everyday's life (while in Rome usually there was a habit for the house and another for the outdoor). By this habit is named the dressing-gown (in italian Vestaglia) and the more generic veste (dress).

Vesta was celebrated at the Vestalia[?], June 7 to 15. On the first day, the penus Vestae, (the sancta sanctorum[?] of her temple) was opened, for the only time during the year, for women to make sacrifices in.

See also: Hestia

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