Oikos (οἶκος) is a fascinating Hellenic word meaning (or is the basis of) a multitude of things. Amongst others, Oikos means:
- a house, the material building
- a household
Ancient Hellas wasn't a good place to be if you were a woman; you simply had no rights and were property to the male head of household, who was called 'Kurios' (κύριος). As a result, the whole of the oikos, including any property and land owned, were seen as possessions of the Kurios. This included female members of the family and, of course, the children and concubines the male head of household was entitled to.
Oikos has a clear relation to possession, yet there is also a religious component to it. It's linked to temples and, because it's also linked to the physical structure of the house, to the hearth and Hestia. Religion in ancient Hellas was so ingrained in life that it was hardly seen as religion at all. The Gods were included in nearly every aspect of life and regular offerings to Hestia were a large part of that daily worship. In a modern sense, this makes a home a temple. Of course, every city had a sacred fire dedicated to Hestia as well.
Hestia is the Goddess of the hearth, family and the home. Hestia used to be part of the Big Twelve but when Dionysos claimed a right to one of the thrones, it was Hestia who stepped down. This is also the reason She gets offered the first part of every offering to the Gods. It also means She's the Goddess closest to the people and was a very beloved Goddess in ancient Hellas. Hestia keeps the home fires burning and allows any Kurios to act as a charitable host by offering any guest a place near the fire.
Now, I need to address the obvious patriarchal nature of this topic. Men ruling over women, women as possession, men ruling over a household--implying there is no household without a man, etc. Well, yes, that's how it was way back when. This was the case in many ancient cultures and it's not something that modern Hellenics strive to re-create--simply because it was part of the culture, not of the religion. I do not have children and I'm a gay woman, living with my girlfriend of seven years. As I do the majority of religious practice in our household, traditionally, that would make me Kurios. Yet, I also do most of the housekeeping while my girlfriend brings in most of the money, so does that make her Kurios?
We're not living in ancient Hellas anymore. It's easy enough to view a culture within its historical timeframe and see how it does, or does not, apply to modern day practice and culture. Neither me or my girlfriend is Kurious but we both work hard to bring Oikos into our home and we both do it in a different way. In the end, all that matters is that we both feel like our house is a home and I feel confidant Hestia has no problem with how my Oikos functions.