The Value of Xenia on a Hero’s Journey
A centralized idea in Ancient Greek society was the value of Xenia. Xenia was the Greek word for what we know as hospitality. Hospitality played a vital role in the way a person went about life and lived. In Homer’s epic poem the Odyssey, both Odysseus and his son Telemachus’ journey’s include frequent encounters of hospitality. Hospitality signifies the host and guest relationship. Honoring a guest was important to a host because it meant pleasing the Gods and Goddesses, establishing a notable reputation, and creating bonds with families and cities. Good hospitality was displayed with giving lavishing gifts that a guest would return home with and share stories of his stay with that host. Nevertheless, cases of unpleasant hospitality were rare, but did occur with Odysseus and Telemachus’ adventures. Alongside hospitality came the essential of storytelling with each of the character’s journey. Storytelling was not only a form of entertainment, but a way of communication between the guest and host. In many instances Telemachus hears stories as a guest while Odysseus tells stories to his hosts. Odysseus’s determination and Telemachus’ maturation reunite father and son from their journeys that were influenced by hospitality and storytelling.
In most cases, Telemachus is seen as a guest but with his father’s absence he must exemplify being a noble host in their halls. The goddess Athena plays the role of a protector over Odysseus with his journey home. She also provides guidance for Telemachus as he begins his transition. Athena appears in disguise as Mentees who is an old friend of Odysseus. She is welcomed as a guest who gives the driven advice that Telemachus needs. Telemachus greets this old friend of his fathers by seating the guest in a high chair of honor, provides an astounding feast, and washing the guest’s hands with the golden pitcher. Once they feast they would then move onto the traditional questions asked. Where do you come from or what is the purpose of your travels? Athena convinces Telemachus to set off on a journey to Pylos and Sparta. Telemachus’ passage will gather the news about his father’s condition and location, or whether Odysseus is still alive. The purpose for Telemachus’ journey would be to initiate the transition from a boy to a man. Telemachus greatly thanks the guest for the advice. Telemachus persists his guest to stay longer and offers desirable gifts, just as any good host would do. “But come, stay longer, keen as you are to sail, so you can bathe and rest and lift your spirits, then go back to your ship, delighted with a gift, a prize of honor, something rare and fine as a keepsake from myself. The kind of gift a host will give a stranger, friend to friend” (Book 1, 355-360). The quote signifies the friendly relationship that a guest and host establish. By Telemachus offering gifts he hopes to keep the reputable name of his father’s land and draw recognition from the Gods to bring Odysseus home.
As Telemachus sets off on his journey, he transforms from a host to a guest. Telemachus arrives in Sparta with King Nestor’s son Pisistratus. They go to King Menelaus’s palace with anticipation of news about Odysseus. Upon arriving at the palace, there are celebrations of weddings taking place, but that does not stop the king from welcoming these two strangers into his halls. At first, the servant of Menelaus is unsure of taking these men in and asks King Menelaus. The king is outraged by such a conception. King Menelaus utilizes the sacred code of xenia in his halls as a host. He supplies the best care to them with baths, rubbed down with oils, warm fleeces and robes. King Menelaus values his guests without even knowing the identity of Telemachus or coming from such an eminent family background. “Quick, unhitch their team. And bring them in, strangers, guests, to share our flowing feast.”(Book 4, 41-42). Menelaus’s eager response to strangers...
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