Rome would stand “as long as the pontifex climbs the Capitoline beside the silent Virgin,” the poet Horace said. The “silent Virgin” was a Vestal virgin, a priestess of Vesta, the Roman goddess of the hearth and home. She was an embodiment of the city and citizenry, and her well-being was fundamental to the well-being and security of Rome. A vestal is a woman of the city. Beloved and closely watched by the people. But what usually happens to the woman who is “watched by the people”?
Historians often write them off as mad women. The name Maenad evenliterally translates as the “raving ones”. But these women are much more than that. They are sacred worshippers and holy priestesses to the god of wine, madness and frenzy – Dionysus.
As fire is considered to be an agent of purity and as a symbol of righteousness and truth, a sacred fire is often a place for the offering of sacrifices and prayers. Therefore, those entrusted with tending this flame often held a sacred, important and very demanding role in the culture.