In his intriguing epic Odyssey, Homer focuses on the social, political and spiritual practices of the Greek people. However, through discussing the adventures and social attributes of the characters, Homer highlights the aspect of xenia as per the Greek culture.
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Therefore, a critical analysis of the story enlightens the contemporary society on the aspect of hospitality in relation to the people of Greece. Intuitively, the author highlights that constrained relationship arising from aspects like mistrust, greed, disunity and other ill motives, which can lead to the failure of xenia in the society.
Through focusing on the relationships and elusive interaction of various characters in the story, the next discussion elaborates the theme of xenia as per the Greek culture.
Authentically, xenia is the aspect of an individual/society being courteous or generous to a total stranger. Originating from the Greeks, xenia promotes a social culture more so, hospitality. Initially the relationship between the two parties (guest and host) may run smoothly but after sometime, the partnership either strengthens or weakens.
For instance, Penelope and Telemachus warmly welcome the guest whose main aim is to lure her into marriage. The suitors not only receive a shelter but also hold feasts. However, trouble ensues when Telemachus discovers that the visitors want to marry his mother forcefully.
Due to constant conflicts between Telemachus and the suitors (guests), he decides to seek advice from various people in order to eliminate them.
On one occasion, Telemachus faces a difficult decision because Athena tells him “think it well over in your mind how, by fair means or foul, you may kill these suitors in your own house (Fagles I 81-82). This statement proves that the interaction between the guests and Telemachus has slowly diminished the essence of hospitality.
During the conflict, there is bitter exchange of words between Telemachus and the suitors. For example, to drive them away Telemachus boldly says,” “Shameless,” he cried, “and insolent suitors, let us feast at our pleasure now, and let there be no brawling” (Fagles I 105-107).
In return, Antinous curses him and prays to gods not to give him the throne. Therefore, Homer tries to enlighten the society the issues that led xenia to diminish in ancient Greece. Most of them either eyed for the throne, wealth or had lustful ambitions (to marry Penelope forcefully).
How can a stranger become an enemy with the host? More over, the presentation of the suitors may kill the spirit of hospitality especially when it comes to Penelope, Telemachus and other people who live within their vicinity.
Consequently, in future Telemachus and his mother may decline to welcome any other visitors because of the poor foundation laid down by the suitors. Intuitively, peace would have prevailed if they had decided to return to their homes the moment Penelope declined to heed to their request.
According to the author, the poor spirit of xenia initiated by the suitors promotes unacceptable social skills like hatred and unfriendliness especially towards other strangers. The essence/value of xenia is to promote love and trust amid strangers and not other vices.
In book III, through interaction of Telemachus and Nestor, Homer gives an example of the right way to treat guests. When Telemachus decided to seek Nestor for assistance on how to solve the crisis at home, Nestor and his family treats him and Athena as explicit guests.
The hosts offered Athena and Telemachus comfortable seats, drinks (wine) and meat to eat. Surprisingly, Nestor’s son “gave them their portions of the inward meats and poured wine for them into a golden cup, handing it to Athena first, and saluting her at the same time (Fagles III 12).
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They joined the feast as though they were Nestor’s family members. Amazingly, Nestor only inquires about the identity of the visitors after celebrations and interactions. Furthermore, Nestor readily listens to Telemachus’ problem as though it also directly affects him.
In retaliation, Athena and Telemachus pray for the success and happiness of Nestor’s family. in her prayers Athena says, “we pray God send down thy grace on Nestor and on his sons; thereafter also make the rest of the Pylian people some handsome return for ” (Fagles III 16).
The prayer is a form of thanksgiving Athena and Telemachus offer to Nestor and his family thus, strengthening the relationship of the two groups as guests and hosts. Love, patience, trust and equality are some of the major characteristics, which strengthen xenia as highlighted by Homer.
Similarly, guest should practice the spirit of appreciation especially to their hosts thus contributing to its success. Secondly, through xenia Nestor provides Telemachus with both means of transport and company (Nestor’s son Peisistratos) to enable him seek assistance from Menelaus (Fagles III 25).
For instance, Nestor says, “Still, I should advise you by all means to go and visit Menelaus, who has lately come off a voyage” (Fagles III 20). Thus, this shows that xenia can lead to the development of social, political and economic elements especially in a disputed environment. The value of xenia is to promote companionship among strangers.
Similarly, Homer promotes the element of xenia further, through the character of Menelaus. When Telemachu and Peisistratos visit Menelaus, he gives them a chance to bathe, eat and join the ongoing wedding feast. Initially, Menelaus scolds Eteoneus, who wanted to send away the strangers.
Due to anger Menelaus refutes Eteoneus suggestion by saying, “you never used to be a fool, but now you talk like a simpleton” (Fagles IV 10). Furthermore, he listens to Telemachus’ problem especially with the suitors. Besides mourning the disappearance of his friend Odyssey, he prays that god will punish the suitors.
According to Menelaus, he has been a guest in many homes and this was his chance to retaliate. Therefore, he gives his best to Telemachus and Peisistratos as visitors/friends. Through Menelaus, Homer reveals that the spirit of xenia should be uniform in the society.
For instance, Menelaus accepts Telemachus not only because he is a son of his friend but also because he has been a guest in many homes.
Finally, Homer promotes xenia when Menelaus rebukes hostility in the society by declining Eteoneus move to send away strangers (Fagles IV 10) thus, calling for societal unity/peace, which is a value of xenia.
Furthermore, Homer insists on the value of xenia when he writes, “there are some strangers come here, two men, who look like sons of Jove (Fagles IV 7). This shows the value of xenia is to promote humanity in the society.
In conclusion, Homer highlights that sociopolitical development as the major benefit of xenia (successful). In book three, the dialogue between Nestor and Telemachus proves that friendship is the basis of xenia.
For example, Nestor uses terms like ‘my friend, my dear son/friend’ to refer to Telemachus (Fagles 30) thus, reinforcing the importance of xenia. Through focusing on the relationship of Telemachus and other characters like the suitors, Menelaus and Nestor, he enlightens the society on the importance of social unity.
For instance, by discussing the characters of the suitors, he condemns greed, enmity and lust among guests. Secondly, he reveals that the success of xenia leads to peace especially during social and political crisis.
Fagles, Robert. Homer, the Odyssey. New York: Penguin Books, 1996. Print