Portal: Seeking Wisdom
Salve Regina University
Hospitality: Odysseus & Polyphemus
Good hospitality is an expected practice in Greek culture. The King of gods, Zeus, supports proper hospitality. “Zeus of the Strangers guards all guests and suppliants:
strangers are sacred—Zeus will avenge their rights!” (Odyssey, 9.304-5)
The encounter between Odysseus and Polyphemus, also known as “the Cyclops”, showed a great example of poor hospitality when Odysseus and his men were guests in the giant’s lair. Good hospitality and etiquette were explained well by Nestor in The Odyssey, Book 3. It was a teaching moment between Nestor and Telemachus about the proper guest-host relationship. He taught Telemachus to respect his elders, give libations to the gods, and that guests should be fed first, questioned later, and assisted along their journey. Odysseus arrived at the land of the Cyclops, and had prepared a goatskin filled with wine to bring along. If guests were able to arrive bearing gifts, it was looked upon very well. Guests often brought gifts for trade, or as a token of gratitude for good hospitality. Polyphemus was not present when they arrived in his lair. Odysseus’ crew had initially begged to take some goods and leave at once, but Odysseus wanted to see the man and receive his gifts. (Brann, 2002). They helped themselves to the giant’s cheeses, and Odysseus expected that upon the giant’s return, he could offer the wine. Polyphemus, however, does not follow the ruling of the gods. “‘Stranger,’ he grumbled back from his brutal heart,
‘you must be a fool, stranger, or come from nowhere,
telling me to fear the gods or avoid their wrath!
We Cyclops never blink at Zeus and Zeus’s shield
of storm and thunder, or any other blessed god—
we’ve got more force by far.” (Odyssey, 9.306-11)
Upon returning to his lair, Polyphemus was angry, and ate 6 of Odysseus’ men. In return for his gift of wine,...