Why is hospitality an important virtue in Homer's The Oddysey? Please give examples of those who honor it and those who abuse it. 

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hospitality is...

...the relationship between guest and host...this includes the reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers...

The concept hospitality (known as "xenia") is an ancient one— still very important in many cultures today.

Extending hospitality to someone was ritualistic in nature. It not only referred to feeding and housing a guest, but also in providing him protection from harm while under one's roof—even if the guest is an archenemy. 

In Greek society a person's ability to abide the laws to hospitality determined nobility and social standing.

Those who were considered noble were expected to be good hosts. However, the law of hospitality did not just make demands of the host, but also of the guest. It was expected that the guest would act honorably to the host while in his household.

The Greek god Zeus...was the god of, among other things, travelers. [So there was a] religious obligation to be hospitable to travelers, but guests also had responsibilities, beyond reciprocating hospitality.

Being hospitable was not only one's moral obligation, but it was also a religious obligation. In Shakespeare's Macbeth, when Macbeth murders Duncan (his King), of all the other reasons he had not to kill the King, the biggest was that Duncan was there in trust as a visitor, believing he was safe in Macbeth's home. We see this theme again in Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist. When Santiago is without food or money, he asks a crystal merchant for a job. The merchant explains that his religion required him to help Santiago before anything else simply because the boy was in need.

"Philoxenia" is extending hospitality to one far from his home. The host respected the guest, providing food and bathing. Conversation was never addressed until the guest was taken care of. The guest was expected to respect his host, showing courtesy, and refraining from abusing the hospitality that had been extended. When the guest left, the host would give a gift to his guest; this expressed the host's sense of privilege in having had the guest visit with him.

These laws are conveyed in Homer's epics The Iliad and The Odyssey. It is of particular importance in The Odyssey, as it creates a major conflict for Odysseus' household (in his absence), and is finally addressed when Odysseus returns to Ithaca.

In this story, Odysseus enjoys the hospitality of several people as he returns to Ithaca—having been absent twenty years.

In Book VII, we see the epitome of a motif that runs throughout The Odyssey: the relationship of host to guest. 

Odysseus is stranded "in the wilderness of Scheria." In Book Six, Nausikaa (princess of the Phaeaceans, daughter to King Alcinoös) is kind to Odysseus. Later, in Book Seven, he enters King Alcinoös' palace and sits in the ashes. Echeneus, "the old hero," chides the King:

“Alcinous,” said he, “it is not creditable to you that a stranger should be seen sitting among the ashes of your hearth..."

The old man reminds the King of his duty as host: Odysseus should have a place to sit, and be fed—especially in that Zeus protects travelers. 

At Odysseus' home, the suitors are disrespectful guests. Athena sends Telemachus (Odysseus' son) home. She warns him:

Telemachus, you should not remain so far away from home any longer, nor leave your property with such dangerous people in your house; they will eat up everything you have among them...

Odysseus kills each guest as punishment.

lsumner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the Odyssey, hospitality is an important virtue. It was honorable to show your guest hospitality. It was more than being polite. It was an act of virtue. Hospitality is an honorable characteristic. It was important to show hospitality to friends and family--guests in particular. For the Greeks, hospitality was a divine right. It was a law. The host was expected to show hospitality and make sure the guests needs were met. In Greek society a person's ability to abide by the laws of hospitality determined nobility and social standing.

When Odysseus encounters the cyclops, he brings wine and food as a gift of hospitality. The cyclops abuses Odysseus' gift of hospitality. He eats Odysseus' men for breakfast, lunch and dinner. He treats Odysseus and his men disrespectfully. He locks Odysseus and his men in the cave. For this reason, Odysseus blinds the cyclops in order to escape. 

Another example of abusing hospitality is when the suitors take advantage of Penelope's hospitality. They continue to stay and wear out their welcome. They drink all the wine and eat all the food. They are quite disrespectful. They threaten Telemachus. They treat Penelope and her son with disrespect. They will not leave even when asked to do so. For this reason, Odysseus has to kill them and rid his home of the suitors. 

Indeed, hospitality is a divine right in Greek culture. It is an important virtue and anyone who did not show hospitality was quite disrespectful. Hospitality was a law. It was considered one of the most important laws of nature. 

Read the study guide:
The Odyssey

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