Vesta is an unusual goddess in the mythology of Rome. Both she and her Greek counterpart, Hestia, were counted as being among the greater gods, yet little is known about her, nor does she figure in more than one or two myths, neither myth actually being her own story. It seems Vesta played a larger role in Roman culture than Hestia played in Greek culture.
Vesta is usually shown as sitting in profile next to a hearth or flame of some kind. Sometimes she is shown with a staff, sometimes not. It tends to depend on the artist and the time period. In the image above, Vesta is shown standing in her temple. She is known by the fire or the hearth that is always pictured with her.
Vesta was one of the three main virgin goddesses: Athena/Minerva, Artemis/Diana, and Hestia/Vesta (and yes, I know that these deities do not match up exactly, but these are the common analogies made in the mythological sphere, so for the moment these connections can be left alone). Vesta was the goddess of the hearth, the home, and the sacred flame. She was supposed to be a very well-behaved goddess who didn’t speak much and listened to her father, and who didn’t get involved in the follies or arguments of her fellow gods. This description is analogous to Hestia as well, who was believed to rarely leave the side of her hearth and who was a quiet, peaceful presence among the gods.
In Roman belief, Vesta was the protector of the sacred flame that was supposed to have been brought from Troy. This flame had to be kept alive all year until it was ceremonially relit on March 1st. Vesta had her own priestesses in Rome, the order called the Vestal Virgins. It was a great honor for any woman to be chosen for the Vestal Virgins, who had to remain pure and untouched for the length of their service as priestesses. One of these Vestals, Rhea Silvia, was said in myth to have slept with the god Mars, and conceived Romulus and Remus, future founders of Rome.
The birth of this goddess is unknown, nor any real details of her life. Ovid claimed that “Vesta is the Earth itself, both have the perennial fire…”
Since very little is known about this deity, her light side is more difficult to decipher. Vesta is a protector, and that can be seen as a positive. She protects more than her family, she is also protector for the state and the country. She has a great deal of responsibility in protecting the sacred flame, giver of life. She is also peaceful, more passive. Her counterpart, Hestia, was once thought in the mythology of Hercules to actually give up her seat on Olympus to make room for the new god. In my way of thinking, this could mean that she sees the importance in allowing Hercules to take her seat, and is concerned with more important things than who is allowed to sit where. Vesta is very similar to Hestia, and so her light side consists of protective instincts, responsibility, and peace.
Again, because so little is known of Vesta, her dark side is difficult to ascertain. Too much protection is smothering, so part of Vesta’s dark side is when she protects too closely. Her passivity could also be a negative, as she tends to follow orders instead of do what she wants.