: ξενία, xenía
) is the Greek
concept of hospitality
, or generosity and courtesy shown to those who are far from home. It is often translated as "guest-friendship" (or "ritualized friendship") because the rituals of hospitality created and expressed a reciprocal relationship between guest and host.
The Greek god Zeus was sometimes referred to as Zeus Xenios, meaning he was god of, among other things, travelers. This created a particular religious obligation to be hospitable to travelers, but guests also had responsibilities, beyond reciprocating hospitality.
Xenia consists of three basic rules: The respect from host to guest, the respect from guest to host, and the parting gift from host to guest. The host must be hospitable to the guest and provide him with food and drink and a bath, if required. It is not polite to ask questions until the guest has stated his needs. The guest must be courteous to his host and not be a burden. The parting gift is to show the host's honor at receiving the guest. This was especially important in the ancient times when men thought gods mingled amongst them. If you had played host to a deity (a concept known as theoxenia
) and performed poorly, you would incur the wrath of a god.
The policy of xenia also includes the protection of travelling bards. They would receive hospitality in the form of a place to sleep, food, and often an assortment of gifts in turn for entertainment and news from other parts of the ancient world. The safety of these bards were believed to have been secured by the aegis-wielding Zeus, and any violation of xenia would put the violator at the mercy of either Zeus or any lower god that he saw fit to enforce the unwritten code.
In the Iliad
The Trojan war
described in the Iliad
actually resulted from a violation of xenia. Paris was a guest of Menelaus
but seriously transgressed the bounds of xenia by abducting his host's wife, Helen. Therefore the Achaeans
were required by duty to Zeus to avenge this transgression, which as a violation of xenia was an insult to Zeus's authority, resulting in the war.
In the Odyssey
Xenia is an important theme in Homer's Odyssey
. Every household in the epic is seen alongside xenia. Odysseus's house is inhabited by suitors with demands beyond the bounds of xenia. Menelaus and Nestor
's houses are seen when Telemachus
visits. There are a number of other households observed in the epic, including those of Polyphemus
, and the Phaeacians
. The Phaeacians, and in particular Nausicaa
, were famed for their immaculate application of xenia, as the princess and her maids offered to bathe Odysseus and then led him to the palace to be fed and entertained. It should be noted, however, that because Odysseus was indirectly responsible for Poseidon's sinking one of their ships, the Phaeacians resolved to be less trusting of subsequent travelers.
- Some of this material comes from lectures by Dr. Elizabeth Vandiver, recorded and distributed by The Teaching Company.