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The Odyssey: An Underlying Theme Of Xenia

1365 words - 6 pages

In a modern world such as ours, it is sometimes difficult to understand special customs that were most highly respected in ancient cultures. However, some have been able to adapt with the times and transform into decorum that can be still valued today. Xenia can be a perfect example. Coming from the ancient Greeks, xenia was the religious and civic commitment of hospitality that was expected of all guests of people as well as from the hosts themselves. The ancient Greeks held xenia in the highest regard and believed in great consequences if the rules of xenia were abused in any way. Xenia, to them, was much more than guidelines for them to follow; it was a duty that required utmost regard.
The ancient Greeks believed that there were exact rules of xenia that needed to be carried out in order for it to be valid. The requirements of the guest included that the guest must do no harm to the host; they must not steal; they must not rape, seduce, or sleep with their host’s wife, daughters, and servants or slaves; and they must not overstay their welcome at the host’s residence. In turn, the host must provide food, drink, a clean set of clothes, a washing of hands, feet or a bath, and a safe place to sleep; they must do no harm to their guest; and they must not question the guest of their name or business until all the before stated requirements were fulfilled. One straightforward example of proper xenia is when Telémakhos and Nestor’s son pay a visit to Meneláos while on a quest to find news of Odysseus. As soon as Meneláos hears of Telémakhos and Nestor’s son’s arrival, he orders his servants to treat them to all the necessities of xenia, even going so far as to reprimand a companion in arms who had questioned whether to welcome the guests or send them on their way. The description of their treatment is as follows:
“Maidservants gave them baths, anointed them, held out fresh tunics, cloaked them in warm [….] a maid tipped out water for their hands from a golden pitcher into a silver bowl, and set a polished table near at hand; the larder mistress with her tray of loaves and savories came, dispensing all her best, and then a carver heaped their platters high with various meats, and put down cups of gold.” (IV: 53-62).
Telémakhos and Nestor’s son, in turn, made sure to respect all possessions or people under Meneláos and left without abusing the length of allowable time for their stay. When offered by Meneláos to stay longer, Telémakhos replied, “Lord, son of Atreus, no, you must not keep me. Not that a year with you would be too long: I never could be homesick here…” (IV: 635-637). Although Telémakhos flatters the king by saying how wonderful his time was spent at his palace, he makes sure to not impose on him anymore.
When xenia was followed by both the parties, the host and the guests, favorable outcomes were expected of them. The gods were not likely to be angered by these people during such circumstances, although the same could not be...

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