The Art of Hospitality - the Greeks and the Odyssey

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Each culture treats strangers and guests with distinct differences from every other culture. One of the most hospitable cultures was that of the ancient Greeks, exemplified in Homer's The Odyssey by both gracious hosts and guests. In Greece and The Odyssey, not only was good hospitality etiquette expected, but the added pressure from the conviction that the gods would punish the host if guests were treated without respect (whether they were poor or rich) further compelled excellent manners. The Odyssey illustrates the proper etiquette when dealing with guests.

Whether friend or stranger, when a guest of any sort arrived the host would greet them and offer them food and drink before any further conversation or engagement of any kind would occur. If the host had considerable wealth, a maid would bring out a basin of water in a "graceful golden pitcher" to rinse their hands, seen in Book I (line 160) when Athena visits Telemachus, again in Book 4 (60) when Menelaus takes Telemachus and Athena as guests, and also in Book 7 when the King of the Phaeacians greets Odysseus. Appetizers, meats, and wines are all brought out and laid before the guest, as their coming is seen as a celebration, as seen when Telemachus is hosting Athena, "A staid housekeeper brought on bread to serve them,/appetizers aplenty too, lavishwith her bounty./A carver lifted platters of meat toward them,/meats of every sort…" (Book 1, 163-166) On several occasions, a particularly hospitable host offer the guest the choicest meet, even when they are entitled to it themselves: "… he passed them a fat rich loin with his own hands,/the choicest part, that he'd been served himself." (Book 4, 74-75) This occurs regardless of wealth; while Menelaus is rich, Odysseus' swineherd is not, yet gives Odysseus the best of the roast, "…to Odysseus he presented the boar's long loin/and the cut of honor cheered his master's heart." (Book 14, 496-497) It is not until after the guest has had their fill that the...
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