Zeus is commonly described as the most powerful Olympian. I suppose this could be an accurate description, but it depends upon one’s definition and understanding of power. Personally, I consider Hestia to be a far more powerful deity than Zeus. She has a truer power, the power of self-control. Hestia may not be the only Olympian with self-control, but she arguably displays more of it than her peers. She certainly displays more than does Zeus.
On the surface, the flash and thunder of Zeus seems more powerful, but one who closely examines his behavior and still considers him a powerful god must have a pretty skewed view of what power is. The thing about Zeus is that he was almost utterly incapable of controlling himself. He was forever flying into rages and doing things he would afterward regret. Or raping women, and feeling sorry afterwards (or perhaps not), until the next time he felt like doing it again. Beneath his overt displays, behind his bullying, there is a very weak, pathetic character in Zeus.
Why do the poets and historians ascribe this trait to him? Perhaps just as a means of demonstrating that humans often are unable to protect themselves from the will of any higher power, or as a means of making sense of the way that patriarchy had spread and overtaken areas that were once devoted solely to Goddess worship and matriarchal rule. Or perhaps there truly was a time when the gods walked the Earth undisguised, and Zeus was in fact prone to raping women. Anyway, I do not see this as the act of a powerful being. Rape is something that weak, despicable people do to make themselves feel more powerful, not realizing that true power is power over yourself and not power over others.
Zeus also had a tendency to lose his temper, to rage and thunder. Read enough of the stories about Zeus, and his lack of self-control becomes evident. Hestia, on the other hand, is–among many other things–the embodiment of self-control. Her temperance was renowned. It is widely known that she was the only Olympian able to resist taking sides during the Trojan War (in which tensions rode high and the gods participated as fervently as men), for example. Hestia was the goddess of many positive traits and aspects, but is almost always described in any mention of her as being gentle, mild, self-contained, self-disciplined, and always in control of herself, her emotions, and her actions.
Hestia was also clever enough to use Zeus’ power-hungriness against him. She wanted to remain a virgin (can’t say I’d blame her, as two of her main suitors were notorious rapists Apollo and Poseidon), and when that choice was threatened by certain gods, she swore upon the head of Zeus to remain a virgin. Zeus, who came by his throne by deposing his father, had an exaggerated fear of meeting the same end. Thus, Hestia was able to thwart those who would claim her and take away her autonomy by playing to Zeus’ fears of the downside–from his perspective–of the patriarchy that also propped him up.
The power of Hestia, as I humbly understand it, is the truer power–the quiet, dignified, self-possessed power. Hers is the life free from rash mistakes, regrets, guilt, and foolish actions; in short, rather than being self-indulgent, spoiled, immature, vain, violent, and bullying, Hestia was a truly powerful being.
So many seek power by means of attempting to control others, violate others, exploit others, dominate others. It is a foolish and ultimately unnatural obsession that probably stems from living in an unbalanced, patriarchal society that equates violence, material wealth, and titles with power.
Hestia is sometimes called “the forgotten goddess,” because she isn’t as showy as other Olympians. Some people dismiss her as not really having any personality or interesting traits. But when I think about Hestia, I see a truly admirable woman–one who doesn’t have to rely upon outward shows of power, because she is confident that she has it from within.