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Hospitality in Homer’s Epic Poem The Odyssey

Hospitality was an essential part of ancient Greece’s etiquette, not only in The Odyssey. The guest was supposed to be welcomed in the house, fed and warmed, and released with a gift. Philoxenia was not only a concept for the ancient Greeks but it is also considered an unwritten law of the society that was designed to show politeness and generosity towards strangers. Ancient Greeks from real life were incredibly generous when they entered their homes or when they came to visit. It is not uncommon for villagers to suddenly appear at a foreigner’s door in Greek villages either.

Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey contains several examples of the domestic hospitality shown to travelers by civilized societies. The first is when Telemachus crosses the sea trying to find more information about his father. He meets Nestor and his sons, who give him a warm welcome and feed him before asking him to reveal his identity. Saluting Telemachus, not knowing who he is and what he wants, Nestor and his people are considered reasonable and noble because of their relationship with the wanderer. When Telemachus travels, he meets Menelaus and Helen of Troy, who greet him with the same courtesy as Nestor. This standard of receiving travelers before asking them questions was respected in ancient Greece, and this tradition of hospitality was common in the ancient Greek world. These examples show how hospitality affects storytelling: caring characters help Odysseus cope with difficulties and by that the story develops.

Odysseus meets hospitality in his travels, even when he is far from home. The most outstanding example of Odysseus’ encounters is when he is washed up on the banks of the Theaka. Naked and shipwrecked, he turns to Nausicaa for help, and she shows hospitality by helping him. Nausicaa and her parents welcome Odysseus, feed them, and entertain him. Like Menelaus and Nestor’s philoxenia, this hospitality is intended to prove that the Phaeacians are civilian, respectable people. These and subsequent descriptions of hospitality acts throughout the book are designed to showcase the heroes’ characters. Through philoxenia’s prism, the reader can easily understand whether a particular hero is familiar with ancient customs, which strongly influence the entire plot by the way they are integrated into the story. Positive heroes help Odysseus overcome challenges and negative ones try to kill him: the way a certain character shows hospitality provides the reader with insights into how the plot will evolve.

Odysseus meats two charming girls on his path – Calypso and Circe, but the former tries to make him stay forever, while the latter, after a year, does not resist his departure. Twice Odysseus encounters the wild giants, Cyclopes and Laestrigons, who do not know the hospitality laws, and these encounters with them end both times rather sadly (Houghton 1). Twice he also meats the characters who sincerely want to help him – the lord of the winds Aeolus and the king of the Threads. Both female representatives in Alkinoy’s house are distinguished by their delicacy – Aretas, who gives Odysseus all kinds of patronage, and Nausicaa, who hesitates to explain to her father what prompted her to do the laundry.

Homer also describes characters who do not show hospitality towards travelers, which makes them wild and grotesque. Odysseus meets many different people and creatures during his journey. Although he crosses other countries’ borders, he meets creatures with different morals and ideals than himself. He meets Scylla, the six-headed monster, and she greets them by grabbing one of Odysseus’s shipmates and eating him, instead of showing even the slightest bit of xenia. While she continues to feed on Odysseus’s men, they try to escape (Catanzaro 41). This portrayal of Scylla shows her as a human-eating monster, acting without emotion or remorse. Her actions run counter to Odysseus’s ideals and culture because instead of feeding men, she feeds on them. The same thing happens when Odysseus meets Polyphemus, the giant cyclops. Polyphemus does not welcome them with open arms, food, and gifts. Instead, he feeds on humans just like Scylla, so he is depicted as a grotesque monster because of this treatment of the idea of ​​hospitality. Both Scylla and Polyphemus are not humans, so one cannot expect them to act in the same way as people at that time.

Back in Ithaca, the suitors were examples of people without internal moral standards. They devoured Odysseus’s wealth, literally and figuratively, without caring about the damage they caused. Characterizing their behavior by the absence of xenia, the reader perceives the suitors not as literal monsters, such as Scylla and Polyphemus, but as uncivilized pagans. This is why, when Odysseus kills them all, the reader is still on his side because the lack of hospitality made them the characters who deserved such fate. Xenia’s idea crossed her cultural boundaries; guests’ hospitality continued even after ancient Greek times.

Hospitality is demonstrated in Homer’s Odyssey from various angles. The reader can see both the manifestation of ancient traditions which some characters follow and the complete disregard for the heroes’ established norms. Depending on the degree of hospitality shown, Odysseus can quickly figure out who he is interacting with. It is worth noting that philoxenia in the work is characteristic of people: some gods and other creatures give the protagonist a warm welcome. People can break and completely ignore customs.


Catanzaro, Andrea. Politics through the Iliad and the Odyssey: Hobbes writes Homer. Routledge, 2019.

Houghton, Charlotte. “Cyclopes and Moon-men: The Relationship Between Hospitality and Civility in the Odyssey and True History.” Studies in Mediterranean Antiquity and Classics, vol. 5, no.1, 2020, pp. 1-3.

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"Hospitality in Homer’s Epic Poem The Odyssey." OctoStudy, 10 Feb. 2023, octostudy.com/hospitality-in-homers-epic-poem-the-odyssey/.

1. OctoStudy. "Hospitality in Homer’s Epic Poem The Odyssey." February 10, 2023. https://octostudy.com/hospitality-in-homers-epic-poem-the-odyssey/.


OctoStudy. "Hospitality in Homer’s Epic Poem The Odyssey." February 10, 2023. https://octostudy.com/hospitality-in-homers-epic-poem-the-odyssey/.


OctoStudy. 2023. "Hospitality in Homer’s Epic Poem The Odyssey." February 10, 2023. https://octostudy.com/hospitality-in-homers-epic-poem-the-odyssey/.


OctoStudy. (2023) 'Hospitality in Homer’s Epic Poem The Odyssey'. 10 February.

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