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In Ancient Greece, hospitality meant a lot more than giving your guest the most crumb-free seat on the Ikea couch. They had a whole word for the relationship between guest and host: xenia. Zeus was in charge of this relationship, and it was one of the ground rules of ancient society. Guests bring news and stories from the outside world; hosts provide food, shelter, and even money if need. And both sides give whatever gifts they can. Why would anyone treat a total stranger like that? You're paying it forward: someday, you just might need someone to do the same.
Questions About Hospitality
- Who violates hospitality laws more severely: the suitors by their greed, or Kalypso by holding Odysseus captive? Why isn't Kalypso punished?
- The Phaiakians are the epitome of good hospitality in the Odyssey, yet a god punishes them. How is this possibly just? Is this an argument against hospitality? Or is it just an unfortunate exception?
- How is the concept of hospitality related to the gods? Why might piety be so closely related to good hospitality?
Chew on This
Because they violated the laws of hospitality, both Polyphemos and the suitors got what they deserved.
The Phaiakians' remarkable hospitality towards Odysseus was ultimately not worth all the trouble it caused.