The Theme of Hospitality in The Odyssey Essay Example
Hospitality is a recurring theme in The Odyssey with a majority of its premise being centered around it, including the main plot point about the trouble the suitors are causing and how the hero Odysseus is to return home to put them in their place. Due to the time period and limited methods of transportation people would sometimes have to rely on help from others to make it all the way to their destination, especially when the journey might take months and there were not any hotels or inns to stay in for a couple of days. Not only does hospitality make it easier for travelers during that era but hosts would usually benefit from accepting strangers as guests, and it was encouraged to do so in ancient Greek culture and by the gods they worshipped. This action of goodwill was important to the Greeks and it is touched upon frequently in Homer's epic poem. The Odyssey depicts the theme that the practice of hospitality is beneficial to the world the story takes place in.
Hospitality in ancient Greek culture can work as an insurance policy promoting travel throughout their world. An example of this effect is Odysseus’ journey where he would go from host to host on his way back to Ithaca. All of the good hosts he encountered were able to provide a resting place and send him off. The last host that Odysseus had been with, King Alcinous sent him all the way to Ithaca fulfilling the promise of taking him “home without further misadventure no matter how much [he had] suffered in the past.” (Homer 137). Since good hospitality includes sending one’s guest along on their travels and offering aid if it can be provided, people are able to travel safely with less worry.
Especially if anything goes wrong and they find themselves with no prepared food or shelter like Odysseus. The practice of hospitality also brings people together through the circumstance it creates. When a stranger is accepted into a hosts household, and taken care of it creates an opportunity that allows them to get to know or understand each other. One sorceress called Circe allowed Odysseus and his crew to stay on her island as her guests (despite starting off on the wrong foot) in order for them to rest their body and mind, which had been weakened from the many hardships they faced. They all ended up staying “with Circe for a whole twelvemonth feasting upon an untold quantity of meat and wine” (Homer, 111) while they recovered, and gained back their strength. Circe was able to become sympathetic towards Odysseus and his crew during the time that she had been hosting Odysseus, which was what prompts her to let them all stay with her out of kindness to strengthen up for the journey ahead.
It’s not just the guest that gains from receiving hospitality, the host can also benefit from providing it. An occurrence of this is when Calypso had found Odysseus stranded on her island and let him live with her. While living with Odysseus she ended becoming “fond of him, and cherished him and had [even] set [her] sights on making him immortal...” (Homer, 55) Calypso really valued her time with Odysseus even though she was not able to keep him for as long as she wanted since it would not be right for a god to keep a guest for too long when they wanted to leave. People were also scared of the guest being a god wanting to test them, so by providing as much hospitality as they could, it would be possible for a host to gain the favor of a god, and be rewarded while avoiding any repercussion from the immortals.
An instance of a mortal getting rewarded for good hospitality by a god is when Nestor accepted Telemachus as his guest and provided him with all the necessities like a way to his next destination and even some gifts. Athena was accompanying Telemachus at that time, and she revealed her identity to Nestor who soon after prayed for the goddess’ “ grace upon [himself], [his] good wife, and [his] children… [having already earned her favor] Athena heard his prayer.” (Homer, 33) Nestor passed the test of hospitality pushed on him by the circumstances, and because of that, he was rewarded by the goddess by having his prayer heard.
The Greek Gods push hospitality because they know its benefits. Athena told Telemachus to go on a quest for news of his father and said that visiting Nestor would be a good start for he would definitely treat him hospitably and tell him what he needed to know. It was during that journey where he gathered his resolve and visited Nestor and Menelaus that Telemachus had matured enough to be helpful to his father in the confrontation with the suitors. Zeus Xenios is the one that established hospitality into the culture by expecting travelers to be taken in by capable hosts “for all strangers and beggars are from Zeus.” (Homer, 146).
Nestor and Menelaus were good hosts to Telemachus and they treated him well, during that time Telemachus had decided to take action against the suitors and was able to mature mentally. As a result, the gods were able to make sure that Telemachus and Odysseus would both be able to punish the suitors as they willed it. Since the Gods advocate hospitality they will also punish any transgression of it in order to keep it beneficial and deter people from exploiting it. The suitors are people who overstayed their welcome in Odysseus’ household and disregarded their responsibilities as guests so in turn they were punished by the Gods. Athena had arranged for Odysseus and Telemachus to personally take their own revenge against the suitors and Zeus had no issues with it, he even encouraged for those related to the suitors to forgive and forget the massacre...” (Homer, 249) The gods had to punish the people exploiting hospitality especially when they are the ones that encourage hospitality so much for its benefits. Instead of throwing away the practice they punish those who exploit it so the gods must see the value of hospitality even despite its weaknesses.
Homer displays a message about hospitality through his epic poem The Odyssey. That message is about how impactful hospitality was in ancient Greek culture and the benefits it came with. The main benefit being how it made tourism easier on travelers and of how it could push forward peoples goals or also give the hosts a temporary companion. As shown in The Odyssey with instances like Nestor or Circe as long as the rules of hospitality were obeyed and not abused the arrangement would generally end in a win-win situation for all parties involved.