Xenia Hospitality in Iliad and Odyssey by Homer
According to the Greek culture, Xenia is an ancient concept of friendship and hospitality. The ancient culture translates Xenia as an aspect of institutionalized friendship rooted in exchanging gifts, acts of generosity, and reciprocity. Iliad and Odyssey books portray the theme of Xenia throughout the journeys. Acts of generosity were essential to both strangers and travelers because it was believed to have been sent by God. This paper will argue similarities in how hospitality is a mandatory element within the society, how the acts of hospitality are influenced by Gods and its revelation of good and bad features of the characters. In addition, it will give a contrast in how characters experience Xenia and the results of disobeying hospitality in both books.
In both books, Xenia hospitality is mandatory, and everyone is obligated to show respect to strangers and travelers. Hospitality was associated with gods’ acts and punished whoever acted contrary. In the book of the Iliad, the Achaeans respected the virtue, and the Trojan war is believed to result from violating Xenia. When Zeus and Achilles fought, there was a violent encounter, friendship, and Xenia was being broken; hence if the act was not stopped, the evil actions of the Trojan were not to be put aside (Pope, 86). Violation of Xenia resulted in the suffering and loss of many souls. In the Odyssey, Phaeacians reflected their hospitality nature. They agreed to take Odysseus home; the brides welcomed and bathed him. In the Odyssey, Telemachus shows the acts of Xenia when he welcomes Athena (Homer, 335). Athena was seated with other suitors having his dad in mind while nursing their sorrows when he approached and welcomed her to his home and gave her food.
In both Iliad and Odyssey epics, hospitality revealed both good and bad elements of the characters. In Iliad, Helen, the daughter of Zeus, is abducted and taken to Troy against her will; Zeus required the Achaeans to revenge by entering into a trojan war to bring her back (Pope, 80). Trojans left for Priam, the rescue for Helen led to the loss of lives for many Achaeans who were not close to their homeland. Iliad also reflects how everyone abides by the rule of Xenia as they needed help from the Gods, who were believed to be the sign of Xenia. In book II Iliad Xenia is respected when Patroclus dies, many ceremonies are held, people feasted (Pope, 454). Although Achilles refuses the gesture, he is also allowed to bathe and shave his hair as a ritual until Patroclus is buried.
In the epic of the Odyssey, the evil character of the suitors is described. The suitors are portrayed to be rude to themselves, they also watch Athena without a word, but Telemachus welcomes her. In book 1, Penelope did not take a longer time to identify the dark intentions of the suitors (Homer, 380). They ate and feasted, but they went away without telling their names when Polyphemus returned. The excellent Xenia in the Odyssey is reflected when the women in the Menelaus give Telemachus a nice bath; he was treated like a baby and wrapped in a warm fleece all through the night (Homer, 342). Another scenario where hospitality reflects good elements of the characters in the Odyssey is when two strangers presumed to be in the line of Zeus walked into the palace (Homer, 365). They unyoked their horses and welcomed them for feasting as a hospitality gesture.
In both the books, hospitality is influenced by gods. In Iliad, strangers and guests are offered hospitality; Achilles welcomes visitors and travelers and gives them food and drinks as a sign of Xenia. In addition, in the Greek culture, it was believed that gods would come through guests and travelers. Odysseus also faces challenges when trying to abide by the hospitality rules. Telemachus adopts the concept of welcoming visitors to eat and drink before asking for their identities as an act of hospitality.
Disobeying Xenia was expressed differently in the books. In the Iliad, disobeying Xenia would result in a Trojan war. Instances of the Trojan war are witnessed in the journey. When Paris kidnaps Helen, conflicts arise, and war is spurred to rescue the princess. When Chryses came to Agamemnon searching for her daughter, he was sent back rudely (Pope, 92). He then prays for Apollo, who angrily punished them by sending a plague; this later caused a Trojan war. In the Odyssey, individuals who disobeyed Xenia were killed for their foolish behaviors. When Ajax was sailing in the ships, he talked ill and boasted that he had made it deep even without the gods (Homer, 376). Poseidon heard him boasting, and through his disobedience and lack of Xenia, he struck the Gyrae’s boat with which he fell and perished in the gulf.
There was a difference in the way characters received and experienced Xenia in Iliad and Odyssey. In the Odyssey, the cyclops are seen to express their feelings; in the Greek culture, it was rude to ask guests and travelers their names before feeding them first. However, the cyclops broke their rituals by asking Odysseus his name during the first meeting before offering him food (Homer, 380), showing that the cyclops did have much respect or fear of gods.
On the other hand, the Iliad reflects a strong relationship between humans and supreme beings. When Odysseus gathered the crowd, he told them Achaeans needed to eat and prepare themselves for the war. The authorities made sacrifices and prayed for Zeus for victory during the war, after which they would feast (Pope, 451). During the search for her daughter, Agamemnon also prayed to Apollo, who angrily released his wrath by sending plaques.
Overall, hospitality was an essential element in the Greek culture in Xenia. Individuals showed generosity to strangers and travelers because of the belief that the gods came in the form of visitors. Although Xenia is one of the central themes of Iliad and Odyssey, there are many similarities and differences in the roles of Xenia in the books. In both the books, Xenia is influenced by gods. In Iliad, strangers and guests are offered hospitality. Both books reflect the negative and positive aspects of characters through hospitality. In book II of the Iliad, the Achaeans respected the virtue, and the Trojan war is believed to result from Xenia violation. The consequences of going against the rule of Xenia were expressed differently in the books. In Iliad, the Trojan War resulted from disobeying Xenia, while in Odyssey, death resulted from the violation of Xenia. In addition, there was also a difference in the way characters received and experienced Xenia in Iliad and Odyssey.
Homer. The Odyssey. Xist Publishing, 2015.
Pope, Alexander. The Iliad Of Homer. Translated by Mr. Pope. Bowyer, 1715.