Every story has a hero who demonstrates moral fiber, physical strength, and mental prowess to the fullest. This hero is often viewed as a perfect soul, incapable of making mistakes or committing an injustice toward another. Because the reader develops a strong sense of admiration for their hero, it is shocking when the storyteller reminds his audience that their champion is only human, and, like every human being, has a tragic character flaw. In the Odyssey, Odysseus’ flaw is commonly thought of as his unrelenting slaughter of the suitors in his house. When he finally returns home to Ithaca after years of hardship to find the wicked suitors in his household, he strings his bow and executes every one of them, despite their plea for mercy and their offer to repay everything they take and more. Although many view Odysseus’ rage as a departure from heroism, his actions are justified because the intruders in his household violate xenia, a custom that the Ancient Greeks hold in high esteem.
The Ancient Greeks believe in numerous concepts that the honorable man must live by, one of which is xenia. Xenia is the relationship between guest and host. The guest-host relationship is so significant to the Ancient Greek culture that Zeus, the king of gods, is its patron. In xenia, the host must always accept a stranger into his household if he needs a place to stay. After inviting the guest into his house, the host is obligated to offer the guest food and drink, as well as any other luxuries he might require. It is considered poor manners for the host to question his guest before he is provided for. But the responsibility does not only rest on the host; the guest must also honor xenia. The guest is obligated to respect the host and to not be a burden on his household. After the guest’s stay is over, it is customary for the host to present the guest with a parting gift, showing he is honored to host him.
The importance that the Ancient Greeks place on xenia can be seen in their history. The events of Homer’s Iliad are the direct result of xenia being violated. Paris, Prince of Troy, is a guest in Lord Meneláos’ household when he steals Meneláos’ wife Helen and returns to Troy with her. Meneláos honors xenia by welcoming Paris into his house, but Paris does not return the hospitality. Instead, he takes what belongs to Meneláos and dishonors him in the process. This action has a momentous effect. Meneláos seeks to regain his honor by gathering the entire Greek army and following Paris back to Troy. The Greek nation fights the Trojan War because of Paris’ disregard for xenia. They hold xenia in such high value that they will risk the lives of thousands over it.
Not only is xenia a foundation of the Ancient Greek culture, it is responsible for the entire story of Odysseus. If Paris does not violate xenia, then Odysseus has no reason to leave his family. The story of the Odyssey, the tale of Odysseus’ homecoming, depends on...