Hospitality in The Odyssey by Homer

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Homer’s The Odyssey is filled with so many clues to what ancient Greek life was like and what the culture valued. One thing that stood out in this historic work was the amount of hospitality that was shown to Odysseus and his men while they were on their long journey home. They traveled to many places, met different groups of people, and different gods and goddesses. In very place they traveled to, they were met with some level of hospitality and respect. In some places, the hospitality they were initially met with was to conceal a dark ulterior motive, but in most places the people seemed to be genuine in their gifts and hospitality. This hospitality was vital to Odysseus’ journey because the people he came in contact with often fed him and his men and gave them a safe place to sleep and rest before continuing their journey, often only asking for Odysseus to tell the story of how he ended up so far from home in payment for their kindness. 

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The people Odysseus met on his journey were so eager to help him for many reasons, but the two most important ones were that it was a cultural norm to invite a weary stranger into your house and give them food and a place to rest or wash up, and the people thought that the gods may have sent this person to them, the gods may be testing them or that the stranger may actually be a god in disguise. While some people showed Odysseus kindness throughout his stay in their lands, others became hostile towards him after their initial warm greetings and felt that he must be cursed or out of favor with the gods to endure so much hardship and so many trials. 

One of the first displays of hospitality seen in The Odyssey Is when Athena (Disguised as a young man) and Telemachos are on a journey to discover what became of Odysseus. They journey too Valley of Lacedaimon, where king Meneaos is hosting a celebratory feast for both his son and his daughter, as they were both engaged to be married; his daughter to the son of Achilles, and his son to the daughter of Alector. A servant saw Athena and Telemachos coming and went to Meneaos to see if he should invite them to the celebration. Meneleaus’ response was as follows. 

“…but what you say now is a child’s foolish prattle. How often have we eaten the food of a stranger, you and I, in other parts of the word, on our long journey home, praying that Zeus might somewhere give us rest and peace at last. Go and take their horses, and bring them in to share the feast.” 

Meneleaus is so taken aback and offended that the servant even asked whether or not to invite the men in to dine with them that he responds in anger. He also mentions that while traveling, others have taken him in to give him food and a place to rest, implying that this was a popular thing to do in ancient Greek culture. Not only were Athena and Telemachos welcomed, but they were bathed, rubbed with oils, and given wool robes to wear. When it was time to be seated for the feast they were seated beside their hos Meneleaus, Presumably a place of honor. It is also mentioned hat no expense was spared or withheld from them. Only after they are fed and washed are they asked to share their story and what they are in search of. This also says something about what the idea of moral character was in this ancient world. Thy did not know who these men were, or if they had ill intentions, but they welcomed them in because they saw that they were tired from their travels and needed a place to rest. Another example of hospitality can be seen on the island of Aiolia. Odysseus and his men spend a month on this island living in the city. They where shown hospitality throughout their visit and were even given gifts when they departed. 

“When I at last spoke of leaving, and asked him for help on our way, he was glad to consent, and did everything he could. He gave me he skin of a nine year ox, which he flayed for us and made into a bag; and in this he bottled up the blustering winds. For Cronion had appointed him to be manager of the winds, to hold them or to et them go as he liked. On board my ship he tied up the bag with wire of shinning silver, o tight that not a breath could blow out: but he left the west wind free to blow, that it might carry our ship along.”

Aiolos, the man who had given Odysseus the winds, was a friend to the immortal gods, and had been granted the gift of the winds. This was a great honor and he in turn gave it to Odysseus to help him on his journey, thus once again proving how hospitable these people were. Of course, while on their journey, Odysseus’ men opened the bag, hoping to find gold or riches, and blew them off of course and back to the floating Island of Aioli. When Odysseus returned to Aiolos, he was sent away because Aiolos was sure that he must be an enemy of the gods to encounter so many misfortunes.

Hospitality was obviously very important to the Greeks. It seemed to be a way in which they honored the gods, by taking in these refugees. They wanted to cover their bases in case they were being tested, or if the person they were taking in was actually a god. They also seemed to have the mindset that if it was them on a long journey, they would want a kind stranger to take them in and help them, so they should do the same thing. This gives an inside look at what was important to the Greeks during this time. It says a lot that no matter where Odysseus landed, he was met with some form of hospitality.

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