In the Odyssey, the reader is presented to many rituals from the ancient Greek world and the hospitality ritual is one of the most important and complex. This ritual is composed by many element that vary throughout the narrative, creating events that engage the characters in different ways. The distortion of the hospitality rituals and the variation of its elements is what prevents Odysseus and Telemachus from going home.
Hospitality in the Ancient Greek world was not only a tradition, but a sacred ritual. Being hospitable was a way of honoring the gods and respecting the patron of strangers, the god of gods itself, Zeus. Besides, it was believed that the gods would sometimes come to earth to test people’s hospitality and they would often leave without being recognized. The reader is presented to this possibility right in the first book, when Athena, disguised as Mentes, goes to Ithaca and advises Telemachus on learning about his father’s fate. The prince receives the goddess with great hospitality, even though she looks like a stranger:
Pausing beside her there, he clasped her right hand
and relieving her at once of her long bronze spear,
met her with winged words: ‘Greeting, stranger!
here in our house you’ll find a royal welcome.
Have supper first, then tell us what you need. (1.142-146)
The hospitality scenes also set a tone to characters and to the episode being described. Here, Telemachus is immediately recognized as a generous man, worthy of his status as prince of Ithaca and victim of the suitors, that doubt of the stranger’s credibility, an attitude that contrasts to that of the royal prince. Hospitality is also an essential part of what the greeks understood as civilization, receiving a guest properly showed that guest and host share the same beliefs and respect for the same gods. Being hospitable could also be the host’s way of building a reputation and be regarded as one of honorable behavior. Therefore, there is always an expectation from a guest to meet a friendly host.
A traditional hospitality scene from the Odyssey can be observed in the scene between Telemachus and Nestor, in Pylos. The king of Pylos is very much concerned with the ritual of hospitality “all according to ancient custom” (3.51). Athena is said to be pleased with Nestor’s son, Psistratus, “sense of tact” (3.59) in giving her first the gold cup used for libation, reinforcing how important the details of the ritual are important to the divinities. In Telemachus’s stay in Pylos, other elements that are frequent in hospitality scenes can be observed too and they follow a relevant order: first, the then strangers, Telemachus and Athenas, disguised as Mentor, are greeted by the Pylians and the royal family. Then, they seat, pray, feast and “once they’d put aside desire for food and drink”(3.75), they are asked to identify themselves and they exchange information. Mentor and Telemachus, then, prepare to leave as they state that “it’s wrong to linger at the god’s...