The, No Social Institution Is More Appreciated More Respected, More Treasured By The Greeks Than Xenia

The, No Social Institution Is More Appreciated More Respected, More Treasured By The Greeks Than Xenia

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Out of all the motifs in The Odyssey, no social institution is more appreciated, more respected, more treasured by the Greeks than xenia. In fact, xenia may be the closest moral axiom in the text, if not for the hypocrisy of the Greek pantheon. Ancient Grecian civilization was the most artful in seafaring and travelling, and the very essence of the Greek way of life was predicated on the host-guest relationship. Xenia entails proper meals, a made bed, clothing, and a rejuvenating bath but most importantly solidifies relationships between peoples, tribes, and nations. Reciprocation of xenia as both host and guest is an effective arm of theoxenia, the demonstration of virtue to the gods by being hospitable to a stranger. However, in selfishness, hubris, and hypocrisy, the Greek gods violate this moral axiom, while humans accept and abide by xenia throughout the epic for a multitude of reasons.
Hospitality to strangers is a central virtue of humankind and immediately presented to the reader in Book One when Telemachus is “irked with himself” [1.150] to keep a guest (Athena) waiting. The description Homer provides of his service is luscious: Athena is given a “throne with footrest,” [1.62] a “silver finger bowl,” [1.170] a “spouting golden jug,”[1.171] and “cuts of each roast meat,” [1.17] as well as golden goblets of wine. A young buck articulates the Grecian perspective on guests when he warns the suitors after Odysseus (in beggar form) is hit with a stool: “A poor show/… if he happened to be a god./ You know they go in foreign guise, the gods do,/ looking like strangers, turning up/ in towns and settlements to keep an eye/ on manners, good or bad” [17.633-638]. The gods routinely come in human form to test mankind on their customa...


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...ct as your wrath requires and as you will” [13:180] and lapidify and sink the sturdy vessel, actualizing an age-old prophecy and ending xenia on the island of Scheria for good.
In final analysis, The Odyssey exhibits the double standard of xenia between mankind and the gods. While xenia is an important social institution establishing connections, trade networks, kleos within the larger Greek world, and religious devotion, gods such as Helios, Poseidon, and Zeus demonstrate the antipode to hosts such as King Nestor and Menelaos. Indeed, while Zeus bemoans the mortals’ vanity and lack of decency, the epic clearly evinces the mortal case: the care gods have for their mortal subjects begins and ends in lust for power and unchecked hubris, and the laws and customs that they create and profess to uphold are mere words in an unpromising, tyrannical domination of mankind.

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