The Odyssey Tradition and Custom Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (Book.Line)
[Telemachos] saw Athene and went straight to the forecourt, the heart within him scandalized that a guest should still be standing at the doors. He stood beside her and took her by the right hand, and relieved her of the bronze spear, and spoke to her and addressed her in winged words: ‘Welcome, stranger. You shall be entertained as a guest among us. Afterward, when you have tasted dinner, you shall tell us what your need is.’ […] [A]nd he led her and seated her in a chair, with a cloth to sit on, the chair splendid and elaborate. For her feet there was a footstool. For himself, he drew a painted bench next her, apart from the others, the suitors, for fear the guest, made uneasy by the uproar, might lose his appetite there among overbearing people […]. (1.118-124, 130-134)
Telemachos shows his hospitality by inviting the guest in as soon as he sees him (well, technically “her,” but Telemachos doesn’t know that), refraining from asking his name and business, and immediately taking him inside, stowing away his effects, and feeding him at a fine table. He is thoughtful enough to consider the effect of the suitors’ uncouth noise on his guest’s appetite and locate him accordingly. In the following lines, we will see Telemachos’s generosity illustrated by the amount of good food he serves to his guest. Of course, his actions are not totally altruistic. He wants news of his father from the guest, but we think this sounds like a pretty fair trade.
Then the haughty suitors came in, and all of them straightway took their places in order on chairs and along the benches, and their heralds poured water over their hands for them to wash with, and the serving maids brought them bread heaped up in the baskets, and the young men filled the mixing bowls with wine for their drinking. They put their hands to the good things that lay ready before them. But when they had put away their desire for eating and drinking, the suitors found their attention turned to other matters, the song and the dance; for these things come at the end of the feasting. (1.144-152)
Immediately after Telemachos demonstrates the proper way to act, the suitors come in and demonstrate…the not-so-proper way. The fact that these two passages are placed right next to each other only highlights the contrast.
(Telemachos:) ‘For all the greatest men who have the power in the islands, in Doulichion and Same and in wooded Zakynthos, and all who in rocky Ithaka are holders of lordships, all these are after my mother for marriage, and wear my house out. And she does not refuse the hateful marriage, nor is she able to make an end of the matter; and these eating up my substance waste it away; and soon they will break me myself to pieces.’ (1.245-251)
Telemachos isn’t just complaining about the obviously rude and disrespectful behavior of the suitors; he’s complaining about a far more serious transgression: that they are breaking Zeus’s rules of hospitality. He also hints at the impending plot against his life.