Hospitality in the Odyssey

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Homer’s Odyssey can teach us about culture in ancient Greece through Odysseus’ voyage home. In the epic poem hospitality, or “xenia,” is expressed as a reoccurring theme. Throughout the epic poem, there are different examples of hosts and guests.

Firstly, the poem presents bad hosts such as Calypso and Laistrygones. Calypso is considered a bad host because she held Odysseus prisoner in her home for several years. In Book Five, Athena said to Zeus, “Now he’s left to pine on an island, racked with grief in the nymph Calypso’s house -- she holds him there by force. He has no way to voyage home to his own native land, no trim ships in reach, no crew to ply the oars and send him scudding over the sea’s broad back” (Odyssey, Book 5, lines 12-19) . While he is held there, Calypso sleeps with him and offers him immortality if he will stay with her. When Zeus tells Calypso to release him, she is enraged. She says, “I’ll send him off, but not with any escort. I have no ships in reach… But I will gladly advise him—I’ll hide nothing—so he can reach his native country all unharmed” (Odyssey, Book 5, lines 156-157, 159-160). Her hospitality is not the respectful type that guests are supposed to receive; another example of bad hospitality is Laistrygones. Odysseus and his men find their way to an island and seek shelter in a cave that seems to be the home of a giant. Expecting the normal kindness that guests would receive, they let themselves in and offer wine to the gods and then drink some themselves. When Laistrygones returns home and finds strangers there, he is not the type of host they suspected he would be. He greets them by saying, “Stranger, you must be a fool, stranger, or come from nowhere, telling me to fear the gods or avoid their wrath! I’d never spare you in fear of Zeus’s hatred, you or your comrades here, unless I had the urge” (Odyssey, Book 9, lines 306-308, 312-3113). After their introduction, he attacks the men, Homer says, “Lurching up, he lunged...
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