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Vesta, or the earth, has often been confounded by mythologists with Ceres, Cybele, Rhea, Ops, Bona Dea, &c.; she was worshipped with great solemnity by the Romans, who, in the time of Numa, erected a temple to her honour, where the sacred fire, kindled by the rays of the sun, was kept perpetually burning under the direction and guardianship of the Vestal virgins, who were noble maidens, chosen from the first families in the empire, and devoted to the service of the Goddess of Fire for thirty years, during the first ten of which they studied the duties of their office, the second ten were by them employed
in the performance of those rites, and the last ten years were dedicated to the instruction of novices. If the sacred flame were permitted to expire, the event was regarded as portending national calamities, and fasts were ordained to avert the evil.
Vesta is generally represented sitting, to indicate that the earth is firmly placed; her robe signifies the vegetation with which the earth is invested, flowers and herbs voluntarily twine around her head, and form a coronal, because they spring spontaneously in several places; at her right hand stands a drum, intimating that the earth is hollow, and animals of various kinds are feeding fearlessly around her, because they have the free range of the pastures of earth.
Virgil finely introduces the ghost of Hector appearing to Æneas, and presenting him with his household gods, from the temple of Vesta, while he thus conjures him to leave Troy, as the city was fated to destruction.
Could be defended, 'twas by mine alone.
With ancient Vesta from the sacred choir,
The wreaths and relics of the immortal fire.
Eneid, book 2.
Ceres, the benevolent goddess, who instructed Triptolemus in the art of cultivating the earth, presided over corn and harvests; she was the daughter of Saturn and Cybele, but is often confounded with her mother, by the earlier mythologists, on account of the appellations Magna Dea, and Bona Dea, being common to both as benefactresses of mankind. Ceres was also known as Alma, Mammosa, &c., and was called Thesmophora, or the law-giver, because she gave to the inhabitants of Sicily, her favourite island, those salutary laws
which taught them to affix bounds to their possessions, and to avoid trespassing on their neighbours' ground. Her name, Ceres, signifies metaphorically, bread and corn. Proserpine, the daughter of Ceres, was one day gathering flowers in the plains near Enna, when Pluto appeared and forcibly carried her away to share with him the dominion of hell; the nymph Arethusa, informed the goddess, who was distracted at the loss of her daughter, of the place of her concealment, and she immediately implored the monarch of Olympus to restore her, which he promised to do if she had not eaten any thing during her residence in the regions of Pluto; unfortunately she had been observed by Ascalaphus to eat some grains of a pomegranate as she crossed the Elysian fields, which prevented her entire return to earth, but she was permitted to spend six months alternately, with her mother and her husband.
During the search of Ceres for her daughter, the cultivation of the ground was entirely neglected, and it was after her return that she gave her protegé, Triptolemus, her chariot drawn by winged dragons, with the command that he should travel over the world, and impart to mankind the knowledge he had lately acquired; he obeyed, and afterwards instituted the Eleusinian mysteries to her honour, which were celebrated by the Greeks every fifth year, and so much secrecy was