Illustration of Odysseus tied to a ship's mast

The Odyssey

by Homer

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How does Odysseus show hospitality in The Odyssey?

Odysseus showed passive or unwilling hospitality to the suitors when he first arrived home. He shows active or willing hospitality when he finally kills the suitors and cleans up the mess they made in his house.

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According to the Oxford English Dictionary, hospitality is defined as the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers. Using this definition, there is only one place Odysseus could show hospitality, and that is when he returns to his home in Ithaca. For the majority of Homer's epic poem, Odysseus is far from home and is himself the guest of others. Odysseus showed passive or unwilling hospitality with the hundreds of suitors who came to his house and feasted on his wine and meat. In the quote below, Athena is asking Telemachus about the suitors:

And Athena said, "There is no fear of your race dying out yet, while Penelope has such a fine son as you are. But tell me, and tell me true, what is the meaning of all this feasting, and who are these people? What is it all about? Have you some banquet, or is there a wedding in the family—for no one seems to be bringing any provisions of his own? And the guests—how atrociously they are behaving; what riot they make over the whole house; it is enough to disgust any respectable person who comes near them."

In the next quote, it is interesting to note that the servants were mixing water with the wine. In ancient Greece, how much water was mixed with the wine was a sign of the status of the guest. This quote shows that these guests were not highly regarded:

Men-servants and pages were bustling about to wait upon them, some mixing wine with water in the mixing-bowls, some cleaning down the tables with wet sponges and laying them out again, and some cutting up great quantities of meat.

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When Odysseus is disguised as an old beggar, brought to his home in Ithaca by Eumaeus, his loyal swineherd, the suitors force him into a fight with another local beggar, Irus. One way in which Odysseus shows hospitality to Irus, his opponent in the match, is that he doesn't kill him. This might sound like an odd way to define hospitality to a present-day reader; however, Odysseus and Irus have been pitted against each other by the suitors, and the suitors have said that whichever of them wins the fight gets to eat.  Odysseus is still the master of this house, even if no one is aware that he is home, and he shows Irus hospitality by merely knocking him out instead of killing him. Athena has filled out Odysseus's muscles, making him even more powerful, and yet he restrains himself and allows the old man to live.

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