The Odyssey is a celebrated epic filled with many different themes, motifs, styles, and characters that could be examined in vast detail, but the theme of hospitality is a reoccurring one throughout the entire narrative. Homer writes about examples of both great hospitality and very inhospitable characters in his epic poem. Hospitality in The Odyssey creates definition of how individuals are either punished or rewarded by the gods.
In the time of The Odyssey, not only large tracts of land separate civilizations, but also natural barriers and mythical obstacles. People could not have made the journeys that they made if they were not able to rely on other peoples for food, shelter, protection, and supplies. There are several examples of people showing hospitality because of their sincere desire to serve the gods. There are also those who show hospitality only because they fear the punishment of the gods.
Early in the epic, Telemakhos is shown hospitality by both Nestor and Menelaos as he searches for his long lost father. At Nestor's palace Telemakhos was given a place to sleep for the night and a large feast for him and his crew. This is an example of not only where the basic elements of hospitality are given, but also honor to is given to Telemakhos by offering even the choice cuts of meat and the finest clothes. He also provided transportation and company (his son) to King Menelaos' palace. When Telemakhos arrived at his palace, a wedding feast was already in progress. They were given seats of honor and the king's portion, "a chine of beef" (310) before even knowing their names. These two examples of hospitality where shown out of a sincere desire to serve the gods. Their rewards were protection on their travels and journeys, great wealth, and peaceful kingdoms.
Another example of generous hospitality is when Odysseus landed on the shores of Skheria, land of the Phaiakians. They give him a boat full of supplies and send him sailing home, but Poseidon had not finished teaching Odysseus a lesson. Zeus, not wanting to interfere with his brother, allowed him to destroy the Phaiakians and their boat while allowing Odysseus to live. They were punished because the dared to interfere with the gods' punishment of Odysseus.
In Book Fourteen, the swineherd shows very generous hospitality to a disguised Odysseus. He gives him food and wine to drink. Although the food he is served is " the pork of slaves," the swineherd gives him plenty to quench Odysseus' hunger (448). He is pleased with the swineherd at the courteousness that he shows. Odysseus tells him, "May Zeus and all the gods give you your heart's desire for taking me in so kindly, friend (447)." The swineherd is blessed by the mighty king and will surely be rewarded greatly for his kindness.
When hospitality was...