Essay on How xenia is presented in the first 4 books of the Odyssey by Homer

Submitted By sweggyswag
Words: 1689
Pages: 7

In the first 4 books of the Odyssey xenia is shown in various different ways. Xenia is the Greek word meaning the ancient Greek concept of hospitality and generosity shown to the guest, especially those who are far from home. This would involve welcoming the guest; taking for safekeeping any objects during their stay (e.g. Athena’s spear in book 1); offering them food and drink before finally moving on to discussing business, and gifting them with something upon leaving. It was believed by many people during this time that Gods may come down from Mt Olympus and visit occasionally; performing xenia ensured that you wouldn’t accidently insult a God or Goddess, and ensured you offered them the appropriate companionship and respect.

Xenia is first seen in book 1, when Athena (disguised as Mentes) visits Telemachus in Odysseus’ palace. When Telemachus sees Athena he shows her in immediately as he is “mortified that a guest might still be standing at the doors”. After greeting her and taking her spear for safekeeping he shows her to a “high, elaborate chair of honour” and brings her a stool for her to rest her feet on so that she can make herself comfortable. Although hating the Suitors that drain his resources and reside in his father’s palace, Telemachus shows that he actually cares about the Goddess’ welfare and even attends to her himself, rather than just having the servants serve her, this shows that he respected his guest and wanted to ensure she had a pleasant stay at the palace. Before even asking who Athena is and what her business in Ithaca, Telemachus offers her food and drink: maids, housekeepers and carvers serve them a large array of food and pour them diluted wine to drink. The maid brought the water in a “graceful, golden pitcher” and poured it into a “silver basin”, this shows that Telemachus is using only the best of what he owns whilst entertaining a guest as to show the upmost respect for her. A housekeeper brought “bread to serve them, appetizers a plenty too, lavish with her bounty”. The carver offered platters of meats to Telemachus and his guest, and “time and again a page came round and poured them wine”. Telemachus shows his guest the best xenia he can in order to ensure she has a pleasant stay and will only have good thoughts when she think back upon her stay. Athena in turn is respecting Telemachus as the host and is performing a good example of xenia on her behalf-she does not insult, nor is she a burden to Telemachus-she is courteous and does not overstep her boundaries of being a guest. We can tell that Athena is pleased with the way that Telemachus treats her when she stays as when she leaves she allows Telemachus to see that she is not Mentes after all, and is in fact a Goddess. This shows that she was very grateful for the way he treated her as he was rewarded for it in this way.

In book 1 we can also see the other side of xenia- bad xenia- when we look at the suitors. Unlike Athena, the Suitors “swagger“ in as if they belong in the palace and as though it is their normal place to reside and take their seats to feast. Homer is very descriptive of what has been given to them by servants, however it is made apparent that they are not showing any courtesy or manners in return to Telemachus or any of the servants. They “reached out for the good things” and after this decided on doing other things within the palace which caused disruption: “they forced the man to sing”. The Suitors are taking advantage of the concept of xenia, as they think can basically do whatever they want and give nothing in return while also not having anyone tell them that they cannot continue. The Suitors are without “a care in the world” and are living off of “another man’s goods and going scot free”. They, as a group are terrorizing Odysseus’ palace and belongings, just so that they can have a feast and be entertained while preying on Penelope, Telemachus’ mother. The Suitors continue with their bad xenia in Book 2