Xenia in the Odyssey
In Homer’s epic poem “The Odyssey,” xenia or hospitality is an important theme to the Greek culture; it is shown by inviting any stranger, or beggar that arrives into their home and offering them food, a bath, and a place to sleep. In the Odyssey, there are several examples of good xenia provided by Telemachus, Nestor, Menelaus and the Phaeacians (Davis). The Cyclops, Circe, Calypso and the suitors do not obey the xenia rules (Davis).
In ancient Greece, Zeus the god of xenia, “guards all guests and suppliants,” and anyone who doesn’t obey will be punished. Many believe that the gods wander, “disguised in every way as they roam and haunt our cities, ...view middle of the document...
Immediately upon their arrival they were greeted by all, Nestor’s son Pisistratus, “grasped their hands and sat them down at the feast,” and “gave them a share of innards, poured some wine in a golden cup” (3.41-45). King Nestor gave them a warm welcome and was willing to help Telemachus find out more about his father’s journey. It was King Nestor who tells Telemachus to visit King Menelaus in Lacedaemon. He tells Telemachus a “team and chariot, my sons at your service too, and they’ll escort you to sunny Lacedaemon, home of the red-haired king” (3.365-67). Telemachus is very grateful for Nestor’s help and he gladly accepts his offer. The next morning Telemachus and Nestor’s son Pisistratus leave for Lacedaemon to talk with King Menelaus.
In Book Four, Telemachus and Pisistratus arrive at Menelaus’ palace. The servant, Eteoneus notifies Menelaus strangers have arrived and wanted to know “should we unhitch their team for them or send them to someone free to host them well?” (4.33-34). Menelaus quickly replies, “Never a fool before, Eteoneus, son of Boethous,…Just think of all the hospitality we enjoyed at the hands of other men before we made it home, and god save us from such hard treks in years to come. Quick, unhitch their team. And bring them in, strangers, guests, to share our flowing feast” (4.36-42). Telemachus and Pisistratus were very well taken care during their stay and when it was time to go, King Menelaus, and the queen sent them off with gifts. Once again Telemachus is shown good xenia and then sent on his journey home.
In Book Nine, Odysseus’ comes to the island of the Cyclops, and it is here that he receives horrible xenia by Polyphemus. When Odysseus and his crew arrive on the island they enter Polyphemus’ cave and immediately take their fill of cheese without permission; they disrespected Polyphemus and his home. The Cyclops arrives home and Odysseus asks him for a “warm welcome, even a guest-gift, the sort that hosts give strangers…Zeus of the Strangers guards all guests and suppliants: strangers are sacred—Zeus will avenge their rights!” (9.301-302). The Cyclops responds with, “you must be a fool, stranger, or come from nowhere, telling me to fear the gods or avoid their wrath!” he snatches up two men and eats them for his meal. The Cyclops behavior was horrific, but maybe Odysseus and his men brought it upon themselves because of their behavior earlier.
In Book Ten, we see Circe invite guests in, but they never leave the same. Odysseus’ and his men once again experience bad xenia from their host. She invited the men in “to sit on high-backed chairs, then she mixed them a potion—cheese, barley and pale honey mulled in Pramnian wine”...