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Why Is Xenia Such an Important Theme in the Odyssey?

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Why is Xenia such an important theme in the Odyssey? Explain your views and support them with details from the poem. (45 marks) The concept of guest hospitality was extremely important in ancient Greece. Evidence that Xenia was integral to Greek society can be found in the fact that Zeus, the king of the Gods, was also portrayed as the God of Xenia. Xenia created an obligation for the host to be hospitable to their guests, and conversely, the guests had their own responsibilities too. If either the host or the guest was to break a Xenia rule, there would be severe penalties dealt by Zeus and also by society.

Some basic Xenia rules were that the guest could not insult the host, make demands, or refuse xenia. Additionally, the host could not insult the guest, fail to protect the guest, or fail to be as hospitable as possible. It was also customary for gifts to be given to the guest, or for a gift exchange to be conducted between guest-friends. The host-guest relationship was very complicated and placed equal burden on both. This custom of xenia also held a burden of trust, where both the guest and host would have to rely on custom in regards to personal safety.

This trust was reinforced by both fear of word getting out that the host had provided improper xenia, and fear of retribution by the gods, since one never knew when a traveller might actually be a god in disguise (for example, in book 1 when Athene disguises herself as Mentes and receives hospitality from Telemachus), come to test the level of your xenia. All travellers were seen as sent by Zeus and under his protection, so giving proper xenia was also a way of showing respect for the gods, especially Zeus in the form of Xenios. Xenia offers a moral ground in the Odyssey.

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Greek religion did not have strict moral regulations like modern Catholicism etc, and the Gods possessed a level of humanity and humility (for example, they had flaws, such as Achilles heel). Xenia imposed moral regulations in ancient Greece. It also allows Homer to convey whether characters are ‘good’ or ‘bad’, characters that show bad Xenia are almost portrayed as amoral. An example of poor Xenia in the Odyssey is Penelope’s Suitors. The suitors steal and plunder Odysseus' hall, feast on his food, take his maids to bed and all the while, each trying to take Penelope's hand in marriage.

When Odysseus returns, he knows all about the suitors, and schematically kills all of them with no mercy. As the suitors showed bad Xenia, Odysseus is considered heroic for killing them. This is also an example of retribution for bad Xenia. Homer also uses Xenia as a literary device in the Odyssey. Without Xenia, much of the plot would be invalidated; Xenia customs explain many events in the Odyssey. For example, Xenia explains why Penelope and Telemachus didn’t just ask the suitors to leave rather than putting up with them.

Xenia also explains why, during the battle of Troy, Glaucus and Diomedes refuse to fight: they discover their ancestors had a Xenia bond. Traveling in Homer’s time was much more extensive and lengthier than in modern times. The less advanced methods of transportation used in Homeric times, such as by boat or by foot, were much slower than modern forms of transportation. Because of this, many more nights were spent away from home in many different locations. Also, there were not hotels or inns where travellers could pay and stay the night.

Even if there were, travellers probably could not afford to pay for every night they were gone. Because of this, travellers had to rely on the hospitality of others for shelter, food, and protection. Without Xenia, Odysseus wouldn’t have been able to return home to Penelope. Xenia was also a universal way for Homer to state character’s status and wealth in the Odyssey. As it was frowned upon for aristocrats to engage in trade or commerce, Xenia was one of the only ways for Homeric heroes to acquire wealth. All hosts are obligated to provide their guests with the best food, accommodation and comfort they can.

For example, Menelaus’ guests are offered water from a golden jug into a silver basin and wine served in golden cups. The xenia gifts characters give are also a statement of wealth, as well as a way of acquiring wealth, for example, when Telemachus acquires a silver krater, a wedding dress, a golden cup and other elaborate gifts from his stay in Sparta. In the Odyssey, Xenia is also shown to be one of the hallmarks of a civilised society, allowing us to judge the societies that Odysseus visits by their attitudes to xenia.

For example, the Cyclopes are well informed about Xenia, yet disregard it because they have no fear of the God’s retribution. This tells us that the Cyclopes live in a formidable and amoral society. Even the Gods are shown to respect Xenia rules, for example in Book 5 when Calypso gives hospitality to Hermes. Good xenia is shown to have good repercussions for both the guest and the host: for example, Odysseus’ stay on the island of Calypso, where he is met with exceptional hospitality. Odysseus received this hospitality well and continued to please Calypso.

Only at the end did he ever try to refuse her hospitality and leave, and even this caused no serious problems. Here we have an example of the guest-host relationship working well. Calypso is provided with a companion, even if it was not permanent, and Odysseus was provided with shelter, provisions, and protection for his men. In the end it proves to be a beneficial situation for them both. Xenia also provides a system of retribution in the Odyssey. Those shown to disregard the rules of Xenia often meet violent ends, and in turn, those shown to show good Xenia reap the benefits of this.

An example of retribution for bad Xenia is when the Cyclops decides to eat rather than welcome Odysseus and his crew, and the men respond by poking his eye out. This event does not bother the gods at all. The father of the Cyclops, Poseidon, is only upset by the event because it was his son who was hurt. Zeus even praises Odysseus after the event by claiming that, “There is no mortal half so wise” (Homer, p. 3). This statement proves that violence was an acceptable answer when a host was not gracious. It also shows how the Gods justified violence as a result of bad Xenia.

Overall, Xenia is a majorly important theme in the Odyssey. Not only is it used as a literary device by Homer, as it provides an explanation for many aspects of the plot and provides the poem with continuity as well as a way for Homer to portray characters as heroes and villains. Xenia also tells us a lot about ancient Greek society, as it provided a moral grounding and allowed travellers to go from place to place. Examples of Xenia in the Odyssey allow us to judge which characters are wealthy, famous, good, bad, monstrous and evil.

Why Is Xenia Such an Important Theme in the Odyssey? essay

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on Why Is Xenia Such an Important Theme in the Odyssey?

How is Xenia presented in the Odyssey?

In the Odyssey, Xenia is also shown to be one of the hallmarks of a civilised society, allowing us to judge the societies that Odysseus visits by their attitudes to xenia. For example, the Cyclopes are well informed about Xenia, yet disregard it because they have no fear of the God’s retribution.

What is the meaning of Xenia?

Xenia, the Greek concept of hospitality and the guest-host relationship, was, according to M.I. Finley in “The World of Odysseus”, a powerful institution in Ancient Greek times which solidified relationships between peoples and created alliances (100).

How do the Cyclopes feel about Xenia?

For example, the Cyclopes are well informed about Xenia, yet disregard it because they have no fear of the God’s retribution. This tells us that the Cyclopes live in a formidable and amoral society. Even the Gods are shown to respect Xenia rules, for example in Book 5 when Calypso gives hospitality to Hermes.

How does Eurycleia help Odysseus in the Odyssey?

This allows, however, for Eurycleia to be involved in Odysseus’s plot against the suitors and thus assist his ultimate revelation of identity. The interactions between Odysseus and Telemachus along the lines of guest-host are especially important.

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