Hospitality in the Odyssey

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Jeremy Worden

Hospitality Illustrated in Homer's The Odyssey
Far removed from our individualistic society today is the ancient Greece portrayed in Homer’s The Odyssey, where hospitality and good will are the main focus of these people. As decreed by Zeus himself, those who wish the favor of the Gods must welcome foreigners and domestic with hospitality. A man was supposed to offer the best of his food, his home, and his knowledge before ever asking for his guest’s name or why he was there. There was a sense that those of high status are the main givers of hospitality, but they were not the only ones commanded to offer hospitality. Homer emphasizes hospitality from everyone during Telemachus’ and Odysseus’ journeys, using a man’s xenos, host/guest relationships, with his guest to infer his integrity and character. If a man isn’t pure, then he doesn’t show hospitality and Homer makes sure that man is put in his proper place through the vengeance of those he has wronged. As far as integrity goes, there is no one that shows this quality greater than Telemachus. He is a moral and virtuous prince, devoted both to his mother and to his father’s house, so when Athena appears in the house of Odysseus, Telemachus does what he can to show hospitality to her, but does not seem to provide for Penelope’s suitors. These men are the scum of the Earth. They have no regard for the xenos between Telemachus and themselves. Thus, they are portrayed as pathetic, dishonorable nobodies. On the other hand, Telemachus is portrayed as an honorable man by the way he conducts himself with Athena. What makes him all the more impressive is that Athena is disguised as the mortal Mentes, so Telemachus isn’t entertaining a goddess; he’s inviting in a complete stranger and offering all that he has even with the nuisance of the suitors getting in the way. Homer makes sure to give us a clear idea of what hospitality is before we begin determining the quality of the hospitality shown towards Telemachus on his journey. Telemachus’ hospitality is the standard by which we can judge the following instances of hospitality or lack thereof. In this way, Homer can subtly teach us the virtues that he believes define a man’s character by giving them good fortune. Athena gives Telemachus hope for his father returning and tells him how to find out more from Pylos and Sparta. They set off together to gain knowledge of his father and to give us a dose of good hospitality. Telemachus’ journey brings him to Pylos, where King Nestor welcomes him with open arms as he “[sits] them down at the feast on fleecy throws” (3. 40-1). King Nestor is instantly acknowledged as a good-hearted man because he has fulfilled the first step in proper hospitality. Next, he asks Telemachus all the questions a good host would care to know, and Telemachus’ questions in return prove that he trusts Nestor to help him in his quest to find his father. Nestor offers Telemachus a comfortable stay, gives praise to Odysseus, and treats Telemachus with all the respect of a fellow king. Homer exemplifies Nestor’s honor, because he and his son welcomed Telemachus without knowing who he was until after the feast. This is most likely why all hospitable hosts will not ask for a name or a purpose until they have met their guests’ needs: it is not proper to do so. An interesting thing to note is Nestor’s insight into Agamemnon’s death. Because Nestor has integrity, we accept his interpretation of why Orestes was justified in taking revenge against Aegisthus. Telemachus also agrees how Orestes should be famous for his actions. It proves that the law of the time was that you had the right to punish those who were inhospitable, even to the extremes of murder. As a final act of kindness, Nestor’s daughter gives Telemachus a bath and Nestor hosts a feast before allowing his guests to leave; for Sparta and the rich, warrior king Menelaus. Upon Telemachus’ arrival, Menelaus “brings [him]...
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