Hospitality in the Odyssey

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Jacqueline Medina
World Humanities
Professor Brown
March 13, 2011
Hospitality: Good or Bad?
Hospitality as a theme in any literary work may not seem note-worthy. However, in Homer's epic poem, The Odyssey, it becomes fundamental to the telling of the story. In addition to hospitality in The Odyssey, the question of is it given out of fear of retribution from the gods or out of true generosity, is raised. What is also shown is the form of which it comes in, whether it be unwanted, given too much or taken advantage of. Homer illustrates the theme of hospitality through the actions of Menelaus, the Phaeacians, Nestor, Eumaious and the suitors. Early in, we are shown Telemakhos' hospitality when Athena comes to him disguised as Mentor. He sits Athena beside himself, offers food and drink, and only asks if he has information on his father. Civilized people in The Odyssey and even today demonstrate their quality of human beings in their hospitality, hoping that in return, should they be the arriving strangers or travellers, that they be treated in the same manner. It was also believed that turning away someone and not providing them this hospitality would result in some form of punishment from the gods. She then tells him to go out and find information on his father, Odysseus, and he soon sets sail for Pylos, land of Nestor. Entering Nestor’s palace, the crowd immediately greets him positively. "Nestor appeared enthroned among his sons...When they saw the strangers a hail went up, and all that crowd came forward calling out invitations to the feast" (Book III, 36-40). After feasting and storytelling, they turned towards the ship but Nestor stopped them saying, "Now Zeus forbid, and the other gods as well, that you should spend the night on board, and leave me as though I were some pauper without a stitch, no piles of rugs...I have all these..and while I live the only son of Odysseus will never make his bed on a ship's deck" (Book III, 377-380). Telemakhos then travels to Lakedaimon, land of Menelaus. When Telemakhos and Nestor's son, Peisistros arrive at King Menelaus's castle, one of the king's people saw them and asked Menelaus if he should let them in, or send them on to another lodging. In anger, Menelaus answers, "You were no idiot before, Eteoneus, but here you are talking like a child of ten. Could we have made it home again...if other men had never fed us, given us lodging? Bring these men to be our guests: unhitch their team!" (Book IV, 33-39). What Homer shows here, is that it was expected that everyone be hospitable to those that are travelling/wayfarers. He also illustrates Menelaus as being overly hospitable and having an apparent fondness for Telemakhos. He speaks about how a host should never hold a visitor in the residence, but contradicting himself after telling a story, saying, "Now you must stay with me and be my guest eleven or twelve days more..." (Book IV, 627-629). In Book Fifteen, Menelaus agrees to let him go but is lags in the process and when asked to send him home, Menelaus responded: "If you are longing to go home, Telemakhos, / I would not keep you for the world, not I. / I'd think myself or any other host as ill-mannered for over-friendliness as for hostility. / Measure is best in everything. / To send a guest packing, or cling to him when he's in haste-one sin equals the other...Only let me load your car with gifts and fine ones you shall see..." (Book XV, 91-103). An instance of abused hospitality is that of the suitors and their lack of consideration and respect for Telemakhos, Penelope and Odysseus' estate. These are the individuals that Homer has depicted as taking advantage of the hospitality that was unwillingly given to them to begin with. When Odysseus didn't return from Troy and no news was heard of his whereabouts or death, suitors from all over Ithaka came to the home of Odysseus to court Penelope and plunder his estate....
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