Hospitality in Ancient Greece

Filoxenia and Attitude: meaning "friend to foreigners", it is an important point of pride for the Greek. Most people did not show hospitality merely out of the goodness of their hearts, but for the Gods. Zeus was said to have sometimes dress up as a poor old man and visit people's home's to see how they would treat strangers, teaching the lesson to be kind to everyone because they could turn out to be gods. It was believed that if people didn't show hospitality, they would receive some sort of punishment from the Gods.

Hospitality in Greece could even have been used to "spread" people's names and bring them a sense of fame and to show how wealthy a person was.


Odysseus and Nausicaa

There were two kinds: obviously, good xenia, and bad xenia, and there are examples of both in the Odyssey.

One of the best examples of good xenia is between Odysseus and Princess Nausicaa; When Odysseus' ship wrecked, he ended up on the shore of the Phaeacian island. While Nausicaa's maids ran away and hid, Nausicaa remembered the dream that Athena sent the night before, so she stood there and gave him a chance to explain himself instead of rejecting him for looking all dirty and poor. She called after her maids and told them, "Strangers and beggars come from Zeus: a small gift, then, is friendly." (Homer 105). She used whatever she had available to offer him good xenia on her father's island. She ordered the maids to show him to a river to bathe himself, gave him oils to rub on his skin and fresh clothes. Even after the essentials, she gave him advice and information on how to get home, which wasn't exactly necessary, she just did so out of the kindness of her heart.

Odysseus kept up with his duty of being a good guest; he put to thought about how to approach her without being too forward or disrespectful ("In his swift reckoning, he thought it best to trust in words to please her- and keep away; he might anger the girl, touching her knees." (Homer 103)). He always made request, not demands, because he knew that she didn't really have to help him out. He took her nice advice on how to get home and how to approach her parents (the King and Queen of the Phaeacians.)

Odysseus and Eumaios

Another good example of good xenia is when Odysseus is received kindly by his old swinherd Eumaios, looking like a poor old beggar. Eumaios himself wasn't so rich either, he lived in a small hut with not much in it, but he was a good host because he offered him what he could. "Come to the cabin. You're a wanderer too. You must eat something, drink some wine, and tell me where you are and the hard times you've seen," (Homer 248). He even arranged his own bed as a bench for Odysseus to sit down on.

The Suitors and Odysseus/Telemachus

While Odysseus was gone, his son Telemachus basically became the head of the household, therefore he was the host of the suitors. The suitors came to Odysseus' palace while he was gone, in hopes of marrying his wife Penelope. After missing for 15 years, they really weren't in the wrong. However, what they did do wrong was that they just came running up in his house as if it was theirs, eating his livestock, consuming his wife, disrespecting his son Telemachus constantly, and then refused to leave even when they were let know that their presence was not wanted and they were becoming a burden. They even made a plan to kill Telemachus! That's no way to treat a person who's letting you stay in their house, especially if they're not doing anything to try and run you out of there. Penelope tells the suitors, "Others who go to court a gentlewoman, daughter of a rich house, if they are rivals, bring their own beeves and sheep along; her friends ought to be feasted, gifts are due to her; would any dare to live at her expense?" She's clearly upset because first of all she doesn't want to marry any one of them, but second they have the nerve to try to court her without bearing any gifts, being polite, etc. Just being complete pigs.

Their impudence showed even when Odysseus returned to Ithaca and his palace disguised as an old beggar. Telemachus insisted that the suitors treat him respect because he is his guest, but they don't listen to him and make fun of the disguised Odysseus. Antinous (the main rude suitor) even goes so far as to throw a chair/stool at him. Later when Odysseus shows his true self, he kills all of them, Antinous first of course.

"Now, by my life, mankind again! But who? Savages, are they, strangers to courtesy? Or gentle folk, who know and fear the gods?" (Homer 102).

In ancient Greek culture, Xenia played a role in their daily lives. Displaying good xenia would bring good to you, or at least protect you from harm, while displaying bad xenia always had it's consequences.

Comment Stream