In Book 5 of Laws, Plato is singling out Hestia, Zeus and Athena while describing the ideal city:

The next thing to be noted is, that the city should be placed as nearly as possible in the centre of the country; we should choose a place which possesses what is suitable for a city, and this may easily be imagined and described. Then we will divide the city into twelve portions, first founding temples to Hestia, to Zeus and to Athene, in a spot which we will call the Acropolis, and surround with a circular wall, making the division of the entire city and country radiate from this point.

Source Laws, by Plato. Translated by Benjamin Jowett.

Why this particular triplet? And why does Hestia come first?

1 Answer 1


Both Zeus and Athena were deities who were associated with Athens, and important philisophic concepts, while a city needed Hestia's flame at its sacred centre to be complete.

Hestia, goddess of the hearth, was more important than you would think from the small part she plays in myths. Every home had a hearth shrine to Hestia, and each city had a public "hearth" in the form of her temple. When colonists left to found new cities they took fire from their native city's shrine to Hestia with them, to kindle their own fire when they settled. She received the first offering at a sacrifice.

Zeus was king of the gods, and although we don't tend to think of him that way, he was also the god of law, destiny and fate while Athena was the goddess of wisdom, also likely to appeal to a philosopher. She was also the goddess of Plato's city, Athens.

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    How is Zeus associated with Athens (more than any other city)? Also, Hestia had no use for temples, she was - as you mention - present in every hearth and offering fire. Why is Plato giving her a temple? And why is she mentioned first, before the king of gods.
    – yannis
    Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 5:55
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    Athens had its prytaneum, where the sacred fire was kept, like any other Greek city, which would have been sacred to Hestia. She was given the first offering from every sacrifice, and she was the first-born of the Olympians, which might explain why Plato mentions her first. For more on Hestia, see "Hestia, Hearth Goddess and Cult" by Mika Kajava. (On JSTOR or Scribd)
    – solsdottir
    Commented Sep 20, 2017 at 22:41
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    You might also want to look at this page Homer's Gods, Plato's Gods, which looks at the place of gods, especially Zeus, in Plato's philosophy.
    – solsdottir
    Commented Sep 20, 2017 at 22:48
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    I appreciate the information on Hestia, but I still don't see why she is preferred by Plato over the rest of the Olympians. I am not asking why Hestia was important to the Greeks, I'm asking why Plato considered her more important than the rest. How is Hestia crucial to the success of his ideal city? And why does his version of the goddess gets a temple, a significant departure from tradition.
    – yannis
    Commented Sep 20, 2017 at 22:51
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    @yannis possibly it has to do with Zeus not being so much of a benefactor to man as a sometimes nemesis, the criticality of fire to man's survival, and Hestia being the keeper of the hearth flame. The position of her temple might be related to the idea of the hearth being the "center" of the home, and the extension of that concept to the city-state.
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 19:28

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