In the Homeric world the theme of hospitality has been used in a rather obsessive manner with the author raising it very more often, in this writing the social world is complicated and confused.Within the society comprising Homer’s world are the hospitable and noble people on one side and the exploiters on the other side.
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The exploiters are ungrateful of the favors extended to them and they grab every chance that comes their way to wreck havoc amongst their host, they hold their host ransom at their own backyard. It’s prudent to say that majority of the Homeric world as portrayed in the first book is a socially spoilt world.
None the less the Homeric world gives a glimpse of the noble men and women who live within that society, they appreciate and acknowledge the little favors and hospitality extended to them and in some instances they returned this favors to their fellow honorable men of the society.
When Minerva visited Ithaca ,after descending from Olympus to Ulysses house disguised as a visitor she found Penelope’s suitors seated on hides of skins from oxen which they had slaughtered and eaten ,the suitors were so comfortable and felt at home within Penelope’s and Telemachus’ (Ulysses son)house.
As Homer put it, they were cutting great chunks of meat and mixing wine while the servants were waiting upon them (8:13)1, that was the scope of Penelope’s hospitality. However, the suitors were themselves inhospitable; they could not extend the kindness shown to them to other people as they don’t take notice of the visitor at the gate (Minerva).
Telemachus is a great host and he is kind to his visitor, he is surprised that a stranger could be kept for long without being welcomed. Telemachus is socially upright, he first welcomes his guest to partake of food before he engages her in any conversation (9:9)1, he receives her spear and sets it up on the bearing post and set up a “richly decorated seat for her” and her feet away from the annoying suitors(10:1)1.
Further, the extent of Telemachus hospitality has been portrayed when the suitors were served with “good things” by men servant and maids (12:4)1. Unfortunately, they exploited this hospitality, for instance when they had finished eating they forced Phemius to sing and as Minerva soon observed “singing come cheap to those who do not pay for it” (13:2)1.
Minerva is disgusted by the unreasonable behavior of the suitors and criticizes them as being atrocious. On the other hand Minerva is offered a gift but he modestly declined but promises to accept it the next time they meet and in return he will give him another of no less value. The behavior of these two characters in this epic indicates the hospitability that existed in this society especially in relation to the host (Telemachus) and the responsiveness of the guest.
In the third book when Minerva and Telemachus go to Pylos to look for odyssey they were received well by their hosts, Homer writes that Nestor’s son offered them a hand (Minerva and Telemachus) and sat them on soft sheep skin. The Pylos society is a religious society as is indicated in their insistence that the guest pray for the drinks that they were about to partake.
Their excellent religious believes are also reflected in their good social behavior especially for their being great hosts, they offered dinner to the guests without even inquiring who they were. This shows as how they use hospitality as away of worshiping their gods.
When night came the guest were given drinks and they as much as they could. As they were heading to their ship Nestor made them to stay exclaiming that heaven and the immortal gods forbad their leaving of his house and going to sleep on board a ship. Nestor is an excellent host and he rebukes the guests attempt to live, informing them that he had the means and ability to not only get beddings for his guests and himself but also clothes for them as well.
When they had agreed to come back, they were mixed the best wine (eleven year old wine) they were put to bed comfortably by their host and when morning come their host extended his hospitality to the remaining crew, he sent for the remaining crew of the ship to come so that they can merry for he ordered that a heifer be slaughtered. Hospitality in this instance is a way of offering respect to their gods.
In book three we are told how hospitality plays a big role in fostering the relationships that exists between the gods and the people. The Homeric society has a lot of respect for their gods as it was illustrated by Nestor upon realizing that Minerva was a goddess, she pampered her guest with food and excellent boarding which culminated in him sending Telemachus on a tour of the country with his son, giving him with a chariot and provisions of wine, bread and other things for their journey (4:2, 3)4
Hospitality plays a big role in fostering peace and tranquility in the Homeric world, when Pisistratus and Telemachus got to Menelaus house and Eteoneus informs him of the strange visitors and how he should deal with them, Menelaus rebukes him for failing to invite the visitors and showing kindness to them, he acknowledges that he himself has been shown kindness before in the places that he visited and he states that that’s gods way of bringing a peaceful coexistence in the society henceforth.
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The suitors disregard the hospitality given to them and this time they take it higher by being completely ungrateful and having a plot to completely bring down Telemachus, the servant Medon tells her mistress ,Penelope, that the suitor s were plotting something more dreadful against Telemachus on his way home from finding out what befell his father (69; 1)4.
The suitors portray these society badly but they defend their action by blaming Penelope for keeping them waiting instead of choosing one of them or going back to her father where she will be bestrode to another mate, they accuse her of spinning a loom in the day and when the night came she undid it and thus keeping them waiting for the day she will finish spinning the loom for she had promised that on finishing she will choose a suitor amongst the men. To them they use inhospitality is a revenge tactic.
Much of the Homeric society is a fine society especially in regard to hospitality; most of them treat their visitors in the most excellent way. They do not ask any questions to the visitors until they have been welcomed, washed and given food and drinks to their full.
However, the suitor bring a rather heavy contradiction on this noble vise that the society in Homer’s world has portrayed, they exploit, reciprocate in a rather mischievous way and want to do something dreadful to their host.
In the first book we are told of how they tell Telemachus to his face that they won’t get out of his fathers house. Hospitality plays many roles in this society and is the pillar stone of that society as it has been demonstrated in the ways to which they grab every opportunity to extend hospitality to their visitors.
Homer, The Odyssey, Butler, S. ed,United States: Orange Street Press Classics,1998.pdf.