Hospitality in the Odyssey

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One could argue that part of the reason that it takes Odysseus ten years to return to his homeland after his victory in Troy is that he is subject to the obligation of accepting the welcoming hospitality of people he meets along his path. Hospitality is a very important part of social exchange and honour in the Odyssey and this essay will aim to examine a few such instances and comment on the various means of friendliness and the punishments resulting from unfriendliness in the Homeric society. The first instance of the role of hospitality that will be examined is when Telemachus sets off from Ithaca to seek out Nestor, followed by Odysseus’s encounter with the Phaeacians and Princess Nausicaa. These instances of hospitality in The Odyssey were used as an instrument to tell the reader who were the protagonists and who were the antagonists. All of the good characters immediately took Odysseus or his son Telemachus into their homes and fed them. None of the antagonists in the story ever exhibited any form of hospitality towards Odysseus or Telemachus, such as the instance in which Odysseus and his men land on the island of Polyphemos, the one-eyed son of Poseidon.

The first instance demonstrating the importance of hospitality comes early in the story when Telemachus lands in Pylos in order to speak with King Nestor. When he lands he is greeted by Nestor’s son, Peisistratus, and is invited to a banquet at the palace that is going on that night, without any questions about who he was and what he was doing there. It was not until after they had feasted and made themselves comfortable in the palace that they were asked questions about their origins and their means of visiting Nestor. “As soon as they saw the strangers, all came crowding down, waving them on in welcome, urging them to sit.”(Homer, Book 3) This demonstration of good will towards Telemachus and Athena indicates to us, the readers, that it seems to have been a fairly common practice in ancient Greek...