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Vesta

Vesta is the virgin goddess of the hearth, home, and family in Roman religion. She was rarely depicted in human form, and was more often represented by the fire of her temple in the Forum Romanum. Entry to her temple was permitted only to her priestesses, the Vestal Virgins, who guarded particular sacred objects within, prepared flour and sacred salt (mola salsa) for official sacrifices, and tended Vesta's sacred fire at the temple hearth. Their virginity was thought essential to Rome's survival; if found guilty of inchastity, they were buried or entombed alive. As Vesta was considered a guardian of the Roman people, her festival, the Vestalia (7–15 June), was regarded as one of the most important Roman holidays. During the Vestalia privileged matrons walked barefoot through the city to the temple, where they presented food-offerings. Such was Vesta's importance to Roman religion that following the rise of Christianity, hers was one of the last non-Christian cults still active, until it was forcibly disbanded by the Christian emperor Theodosius I in AD 391.

Ovid derived Vesta from Latin vi stando – "standing by power". Cicero supposed that the Latin name Vesta derives from the Greek Hestia, which Cornutus claimed to have derived from Greek hestanai dia pantos ("standing for ever"). This etymology is offered by Servius as well. Another etymology is that Vesta derives from Latin vestio ("clothe"), as well as from Greek έστἰα ("hearth" = focus urbis). None, except perhaps the last, are probable.

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