2006 Bernice L. Fox Writing Contest Winner
CARTER AND HESTIA: FAITHFUL SERVANTS
by Mary Caroline Miller (Midlothian High School; Teacher: Mrs. Sue Robertson)
Over the past 200 years, America Has had its share of diverse presidents, each with his own distinct political policies, personality, and background. As a nation, we have elected a variety of leaders, all of whom the population has come to respect, judge and look to for guidance in times of need. From steadfast George Washington to intellectual Thomas Jefferson, from kind Abraham Lincoln to controversial Bill Clinton, the United States has truly seen everyone and everything in the Oval Office. Similarly, the ancient Greeks worshipped an equally diverse group of gods and goddesses. Although they did not technically elect these figures, they were nonetheless respected, judged, and revered as sources of knowledge. Mighty Zeus ruled both the heavens and the earth, beautiful Aphrodite inspired all around her to love, and tactful Athena looked for peaceful ways to solve conflicts. These Olympians, along with the other minor gods and goddesses, all had their own individual quirks, as have all of our American presidents.
Many obvious connections can be drawn between various presidents and gods and goddesses. For example, President Clinton, like unfaithful Zeus, showed his inclination to stray from his wife, entering into tawdry affairs. President Ulysses S. Grant greatly enjoyed drinking as a pastime, just like Dionysus. However, there are also under-the-surface connections between particular presidents and mythological gods which, although seemingly unlikely, prove accurate as well. One such comparison between America’s 39th president, James Earl Carter, commonly called Jimmy, and the Greek goddess of hearth and home, Hestia. At first glance, these two figures have little in common. Serving only one term in office and failing to win reelection, Jimmy Carter is most usually remembered for the unfortunate Iranian hostage crisis. Heista meanwhile, was the gentle goddess on Olympus who rarely left her place by the hearth. However, if one digs a little deeper and looks past the obvious differences between the two, such as gender, he or she will find two extremely kindhearted people with a great concern for the well-being of the common man.
First and foremost, Jimmy Carter and Hestia share many common personality traits. Carter is, just as Hestia was, extremely humble. He and his family opted to walk after his inauguration instead of taking a limo, and when he first addressed the nation publicly on television, he decided to wear a cardigan sweater and open neck shirt instead of the traditional button up dress shirt and tie. He was just “the common man”, and did not place himself on a pedestal simply because he had been elected President of the United States of America. Hestia also lacked the pride of the other gods and goddesses. Instead of flaunting her authority by having multiple affairs and wearing extravagant clothing, she chose to live a humble life, remaining unmarried and donning plain robes. As president, Carter was also a dedicated leader, as was Hestia on Mt. Olympus. He rose at five-thirty every morning, and was in the Oval Office by six, ready and eager to help his beloved nation. Hestia, too rose early each morning in order to attend to the great hearth on Mt. Olympus. This humility and dedication continued to influence Carter’s administration along with Hestia’s reign as the goddess of hearth and home.
Although the Iranian hostage crisis casts a gloomy shadow over Carter’s presidency, he did, in fact, accomplish much in his four years in office. For starters, he dealt with the country’s energy crisis head on by successfully creating a national energy policy. Because the United States’ dependency on foreign oil supplies had grown to nearly 50% of the nation’s entire consumption, he knew that it was necessary for everyone in America to conserve energy by using less heating oil and driving more energy efficient cars. Besides simply establishing a new department of energy to deal with the crisis, Carter himself set an example for the American people by having the White House thermostat set at 65 degrees during the day and 55 degrees at night. Although the Greeks were not in the middle of an energy crisis, Hestia set the example as well by constantly tending to the hearth on Mt. Olympus. Unlike the other gods and goddesses who had messengers and attendants to do their busy work, Hestia did not mind tending the fire by herself all day. Like Carter, she was not afraid to “sink down” to the level of the common people. Just as he sacrificed his own warmth and comfort to help America, Hestia put aside her own agenda to make sure her fellow Olympians were warm and comfortable. Jimmy Carter is also famous for appointing record numbers of women to significant government posts. Vesta, the Roman equivalent of Hestia, also had a role in “appointing” women to prominent roles in society. The vestal virgins, numbering six, were the virgin holy priestesses whose job was to constantly tend to the sacred fire of Vesta. These women enjoyed special privileges, including front row seats at the gladiator games and numerous feasts. For the first time, women were truly respected and admired in Roman society, just as Carter, for the first time, elected women to important government positions. Like Hestia, Jimmy Carter’s kindheartedness and generosity continued to play a large role in his presidency, and further helped make his loss to Ronald Reagan in the election of 1980 both graceful and diplomatic.
Unmatched to Reagan in both popularity and personal style, Jimmy Carter fell short in competition to his Republican opponent in the 1980 election. However, Carter did have some major concerns on his mind seemingly more important than reelection to the presidency. When he publicly declared his decision to run for reelection, he simultaneously announce that he would not be spending much time campaigning, for he wanted to remain in the White House ready to respond to any message concerning the Americans held hostage in Iran. Partly because of this lack of campaigning, along with the Iranian situation in general, Carter sadly lost the election. Instead of sulking and criticizing Reagan, he merely smiled, accepted defeat, and graciously gave up the presidency. Hestia also found herself in a similar situation. When Dionysus, the son of Zeus and the god of wine and revelry, was welcomed onto Olympus, the gods were presented with a small problem: there were only twelve thrones on the mountain. Not wanting a quarrel to erupt and genuinely concerned for the well-being of her family, Hestia peacefully gave up her throne so that young, vibrant Dionysus could have a place to sit. Like Carter, she put the needs of others before her own and knew when it was time to step down peacefully. Just because she had removed herself from her throne on Mt. Olympus, however, did not mean that Hestia ceased to care for her family of gods and for mortals down below. She continued to tend the hearth and look after the mortal families, while Jimmy continues to play an active role in organizations such as Habitat for Humanity. Besides building houses for the needy, Carter also won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 for striving to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts. Just as Hestia did not seek the “party life” of the other gods and goddesses, Carter, unlike other past presidents, does not waste time using his “fame” to attend fancy dinner parties and banquets. His continuing mission to help people, both economically and politically, compares to Hestia’s compassionate need to act as the peacemaker of the gods and the caretaker of the mortals.
Making the connections between past and present figures in history will always be an interesting study. Even though the times, cultures, and general societies have changed, people have not. Americans still look for the same qualities in a president that the Greeks looked for in their gods and goddesses. Just as the presidents represent the political strength and unity of America’s power, the Olympians represented the religious strength of the Greek people. Both Jimmy Carter and Hestia used (and in Carter’s case, continue to use) their powers to spread warmth and compassion to all. Although other elements of their lives contrast, it is this general warm-heartedness that is at the core of both Carter and Hestia, connecting the two.