November 19,2018Professor Linda LuiWHUM 10100
XeníaEvery culture treats its strangers and guest in different ways, some greet with a plate of food and other with a simple greeting. But one of the most hospitable cultures to ever live, were the Ancient Greeks. The Ancient Greek men were supposed to offer their best services to any guest whether rich or poor. They started by offering food, shelter and drinks before starting any conversation; about their reason for coming .The Odyssey by Homer demonstrates Xenia can be seen as a good or bad thing depending on whether you are the guest or the host.
There have been events in The Odyssey where the theme of xenía has been explored. We see elements that make up a good host, where they make a good first impressions and are able to install confidence in the guest and make them feel comfortable. Being hospitable can also be seen as a trust game, where the guests, can see to what extent their host will be hospitable to them depending on their economic status.
Homer demonstrates an excellent example where Odysseus, a wealthy war hero, was is in need of help. Odysseus was naked and in distress, we can see him “breaking off with his great hand a single branch of olive whose leaves might shield him in his nakedness” (VI:l.139). Odysseus approaches Naussikka and she remembered the rule of xenía and helped him out. ” You know Zeus metes our fortune to good and bad men as it pleases him”( VI: line. 202). Naussikka did not just proceed to immediately help Odysseus but she took care of all his needs as he will “not lack for clothing, or any other comfort” (VI: line 205). Odysseus also played an important role in being the guest, because apart from the good treatment he was receiving, he was treating Naussikka with respect too. He didn’t ask for anything, just the directions to his home. He carefully waited for the right moment to ask because he did not want to insult Naussikka, by leaving the hostess house too early. It is clear to see the results for good hospitality that Odysseus received from Naussikka. We can also conclude that by treating the guest well, the host was also being treated with respect.
Xenía sounds like a good deed to do, but the Gods perhaps did not always enjoy being so hospitable. With being hospitable you have to be extremely welcoming, the host has to be able to tend to the needs of the guest and it could sometimes feel like a baggage to the host. In the Ancient Greek society, xenía was extremely important as well as in The Odyssey. However, Homer was also able to introduced bad examples of xenía. When one is familiar to only following certain tradition, where they tend to stick to it; and when they immigrate to a different area that specific tradition might not always be followed, or even heard of.
One of the examples of failing in xenía was when Odysseus and his men end up in a cave with the Cyclops. The first thing done wrong by the Cyclops Polyphemus was to ask Odysseus, were him and his man came from or who they were. Odysseus response was “we are from Troy, Akainans, blowen off from course by shifting gale on the great south sea; as custom is to honor strangers”(IX: line 280, 290). As it is known when a stranger needs a place to stay they should never be asked why they are there, but to be welcomed with open arms. On another note, Polyphemus offended the Gods by saying “or else you come from the other end of nowhere; we kyklopes care not a wistle for your thundering Zeus”. Odysseus was not too happy with the way he was treated in the cave; he demanded hospitality in the name of Zeus. Since he was war hero he should have been treated with a lot of respect, but Odysseus told them his name was “Nohbdy” to protect his identity and was treated like an nobody. When Odysseus landed in the land of the Cyclops, he was not assured to be treated well, and was not. Polyphemus failed to take on the role of a host and failed to protect the men as he proceeded to kill some of Odysseus men.
On another note, with Odysseus lost at sea, and Penelope at home with their son Telemachus they had to welcome all the suitors with open arms. With the suitors wanting to marry Penelope, they over extend their stay because they believe Odysseus was dead. They spend all of Odysseus money, ” spend days around the house killing the beeves and fatted goats, carousing, soaked up the good dark wine”(II: line 59-61). They were simply horrible guest, who act poorly on their behavior, but because they come from different places they knew about the tradition of xenía and they abused it. The suitors had no interest in being good guests, but with bad behavior, comes bad consequences. Once Odysseus returned home he decided to put a stop to them as he deliberated “fight your way out, or run for it, if you think you’ll escape death – he’ll shoot from the big door stone there until he kills us to the last man” (XXII: line 70-71,76-77).
Furthermore, when a person is seeking shelter it will be most likely a beggar going to seek in a wealthy place, or if a nobles seeking shelter in a commoners place with an ideal circumstance. When Odysseus arrived in Ithaca, he seeked shelter with Eumaios. Odysseus looked like a homeless man and even with that appearance, Eumaios welcomed him with open arms and gave him food, drinks, and a bed to sleep on. Odysseus did not tell him who he was either and it was a good thing because he probably will have been treated differently. It did Odysseus good to be disguised as a beggar in order for him to witness the perspective of a beggars seeking for xenía.
In the modern world hospitality is not something we think about the first thing that comes to mind is giving someone a place to stay. But for the Ancient Greeks it was more than giving someone a room, it was their way of life, it was their customs and a set of rules that defined the type of relationship the guest and the host were going to have. It can also be seen that by honoring the guest, they are also honoring Zeus, and it was a good way to develop relationships with each other and with different cities. Homer first introduced to us the theme of hospitality with the suitors, and it comes to show that being the host isn’t always an easy task to do, because you have to provide food and shelter for as long as the guest wants to stay, you also have to treat them respectfully or else there will be consequences. With all of the examples The Odyssey has to offer, we see that xenia can be a good or bad thing depending on whether you are the guest or the host.
Homer. The Odyssey. Homer.; Robert Fitzgerald. 1961.