The Greek gods are well-known for their ill-fated trysts with each other and with mortals, but a few members of the pantheon eschewed any romance whatsoever. These deities were no less capable of power or compassion than their more amorous counterparts. In many cases, the celibate goddesses represented important aspects of human society, including family, technology, medicine and communication.
Goddess of Hearth and Home
Hestia was the first daughter of the titans Rhea and Kronos, parents of the gods. Kronos swallowed all his children to prevent them from wresting his power away, but Rhea hid her son Zeus, knowing he would one day free her children. When Zeus returned, he freed his siblings, and Hestia was the last to emerge. Hestia told Zeus she wished never to marry, and she continued to serve as goddess of hearth and home. Although Hestia hardly matched the other Olympian gods in terms of dramatic stories and romantic trysts, the Greeks held her in high regard and always invoked her name first when making offerings to the gods.
Goddess of War and Wisdom
Athena emerged from her father Zeus's head, fully formed and armored for battle. Athena, too, declared herself a lifelong virgin and defended herself against anyone who challenged her celibacy. As the goddess of wisdom, she was credited with developing a number of useful devices, including the loom, the plow, the rake and the chariot, and teaching humans skills such as mathematics, navigation and animal husbandry. Though celibate, Athena held a number of male heroes in high regard, and assisted heroes like Perseus and Odysseus in their quests.
Goddess of the Hunt and Healing
The relationship between Artemis, the celibate goddess of hunting, and her twin brother Apollo indicated a sense of mythological dualism. Apollo was the god of the sun and cultivated activities like music, while Artemis was the goddess of the moon and the wilderness. The twins were both expert archers, but while their arrows could cause great harm, humans would also invoke the twins for health and healing. Artemis also balanced her celibacy and independence with her divine responsibilities; while she never married or bore children, she was the goddess of childbirth and was thought to protect female children until they were old enough to get married.
Goddess of Rainbows and Relaying Messages
The virgin goddess Iris served as the messenger of the Olympian gods in general and Hera in particular. Unlike Hermes, a male god who served a similar function, Iris did not fly on winged sandals, although Greek artists often depicted her as having golden wings. Instead, she created a rainbow to run from sender to recipient. As an oceanic goddess, Iris would replenish the rainbow with seawater to ensure she could always call upon it when needed. While she served primarily as a message-bearer, Iris would often advise the recipient independently, and according to Homer she played a major role in helping gods and mortals communicate during the Trojan War.
Since 2003, Momi Awana's writing has been featured in "The Hawaii Independent," "Tradewinds" and "Eternal Portraits." She served as a communications specialist at the Hawaii State Legislature and currently teaches writing classes at her library. Awana holds a Master of Arts in English from University of Hawaii, Mānoa.