Tuesday, April 13, 2021

A Hymn to Hestia

Hestia I turn to; Muses, let
My mouth be chaste and pure as she is -
Let me dress in white wool garments
And bind my brow with myrtle-leaves
Before I sing the inviolate goddess,
Hestia, bringing riches in her train.
She is oldest of gods, youngest too:
First to be born to lovely Rhea,
Last to issue forth from the belly
Of crooked-minded Cronus
Through black-cloud Zeus’s clever trick.
And so when men fend off hunger-pangs
They pour libations in Hestia’s name
Both first and last - as they sit at table
And as they rise, heavy with wine,
To totter home in half-dawn light.
Such was the will of Zeus the king
On the day he handed out rights and fiefdoms
To all the gods. None there was,
Lesser or greater, who did not long
To claim the hand of lady Hestia:
Apollo the shining sought to court her
And bade her share his bed of sheepskins
At Pytho, where of late he slew the serpent.
But though he was comely, with golden locks
And well-oiled skin, Hestia fled him
And crouched in supplication at Zeus’ knees -
Nor would she rise, until the Thunderer
Granted her wish that she never know
Aught of love, aught of desire.
To Apollo, in lieu of Hestia’s hand,
The son of Cronus with his close-packed counsels
Granted the first of blazing hearths,
And to this day it burns at Delphi
Deep within the innermost shrine,
Nor will the shrine-maidens let it go out
Lest they anger the veil-draped goddess.
Tell me, Muses, when do men
Who eat bread and toil on the rich black earth
Most revere the name of Hestia?
When winter comes, and icy sleet
Beats against the outer walls
Of every cottage, every farmstead.
Shrieking winds probe every chink
Between the boards - the husband hurries
To patch them tight with sticky clay.
His children huddle tight around
Their mother’s knees, as she tosses kindling
Onto the hearth. Orange and gold
It blazes up, and, mesmerized
By dancing flames, she calls upon
Rhea’s daughter to defend the household.
Nor is Hestia heedless.
From the corner where she sits
She stretches out her hand in blessing,
Warding off the deadly frost.
Through her power children grow strong,
Bear children of their own; the name
Of household, clan, even of city
Is not extinguished, so long as men
Are wise enough to tend her flame.
Hestia, defend my line,
My hearth and home; and in return
My hymn will keep your fame undying
Even as I turn to another song.

One of the "Homeric" Hymns, translated by The Lion of Chaeronea

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