I have several essays from my college years sitting around gathering dust. Instead of trashing them, I am editing them and putting them online. The following is one such essay. I wrote this one for a mythology class.
Hospitality was important to ancient Greek society and was evident in the writings of the time. It was a key factor in the way others treat characters in Homer’s The Odyssey.
One instance of the role of hospitality in The Odyssey occurs early in the epic when Telemachus set off in secret to find Nestor. Upon first sight of Telemachus and Athene and without any inquiries about who they were, Nestor’s son Peisistratus invited them to the banquet that was in progress. It was not until after Telemachus and Athene had had their fill of food and gotten comfortable that they were asked who they were and where they came from. It was a typical gesture of courtesy in ancient Greek culture to offer guests food and entertainment before attending to business.
Another instance of hospitality portrayed in The Odyssey came in book six when Nausicaa found Odysseus on the shores of Scherie. Even though Odysseus must have appeared intimidating, Nausicaa felt obligated to help. As was the case when Telemachus visited Nestor, food and drink were given to Odysseus shortly after his arrival at the palace. Even though Odysseus was a complete stranger, he was still promised food, shelter, and a ride back to his homeland.
These gestures of hospitality distinguished protagonists from antagonists in the story. All the good characters immediately took Odysseus or his son Telemachus into their homes and fed them. None of the antagonists in the story ever exhibited any form of hospitality towards Odysseus or Telemachus. In The Odyssey, the good offered hospitality, and the bad fed off of the hospitality of others.
Hospitality seemed to play a significant role in ancient Greek societies. How well a person could accommodate guests determined social status. Only the poor or uncivilized could not accommodate guests. The richest and most prestigious of ancient Greek society gave the best food and most expensive parting gifts. Providing excellent hospitality was the best thing ancient Greeks could do to please the gods because they could never know when they were in the presence of the gods.
Among all cultural elements of ancient Greek society shown in The Odyssey, hospitality was the most prominent. Almost every encounter in the epic exhibited some form of hospitality. Only enemies did not feed and shelter each other. The ancient Greeks valued a social society in which each person helped others in need out of obligation.
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