How is Xenia demonstrated in the First 4 Books of the Odyssey

Xenia is a strong theme that runs through the Odyssey as a whole. It is a Greek concept of hospitality to guests entering their households. Through books 1-4, many characters demonstrate methods of Xenia which allow us to see its importance in society. Concepts have been made apparent as individuals in society never know if a God is visiting them; they must demonstrate correct Xenia just in case it is a god (Mentes as Athena). By demonstrating Xenia, Greeks prove that they are good human beings and will receive good treatment if they travel. Throughout books 1-4, Homer presents Xenia as an important aspect of Greek tradition and presents a contrast of good and bad Xenia to demonstrate punishments.

Stages of Xenia
  • Welcome them into your house,
  • Offer them food, drink and shelter,
  • Give them the most comfortable chair so they feel valued,
  • Only question their identity when they’re settled,
  • Give them a gift to depart with.

In Book 1, Xenia is first demonstrated when Telemachus greets Athena (as Mentes, an old friend of Odysseus). We see that Telemachus runs ‘straight to the porch’ after he sees that he’s left someone there unregarded. He ‘relieves her at once of her long bronze spear’ and tells her to ‘have supper first’. This shows the first stages of Xenia, people must demonstrate hospitality and care before welcoming someone into their home, even if it’s a stranger. Telemachus gives Athena (Mentes) a ‘high, elaborate chair of honour’ and gives himself a lower chair, this ensures that his guest feels honorable and valued. After the guest is given food and shelter, the household owner (Telemachus) enquires  into the guest’s nature and purpose of arrival. A contrast to this is when the Suitors arrive demonstrating arrogance in their behaviour; they demand too much from Xenia, they take advantage of Xenia given by others. As a result of this, the Suitors will recieve punishment from the Gods for breaking the rules of Xenia.

In Book 3, we see King Nestor’s hospitality demonstrated when Telemachus lands in Pylos; this contrasts greatly with the lack of Xenia shown by The Suitors. Nestor offers a ‘royal feast’ to Telemachus and gives him a golden cup (showing wealth and honour from higher authorities). During Telemachus and Nestor’s exchange of personal quests, Nestor praises Telemachus for his bravery and maturity. Furthermore, Nestor continues to demonstrate Xenia throughout Book 3. Before Telemachus leaves, Stewards are giving him ’rounds of wine’ which shows their admiration towards their guest. Nestor offers Telemachus a chariot and his son, Pisistratus ‘captain of armies, to help him on his journey to Sparta. Moreover, Telemachus is given ‘food fit for kings’, this shows that he has built up a vast reputation which rivals his fathers. We can see the importance of Xenia and making a good impression on others through this book.

In Book 4, Menelaus’ hospitality is far more lavish than that of the previous hosts in the Epic. However upon first arrival, Menelaus debates whether to give greetings to the guests or not; this demonstrates an error in giving Xenia (although it is minor, hosts are obligated to greet their guests). Nevertheless, Menelaus does agree that he should welcome the guests- ‘think of all the hospitality we enjoyed at the hands of other men’- showing his sympathy. He first lets Telemachus bathe in ‘burnished tubs’ whilst some women wash them with oil and dress them in ‘warm fleece and shirts’. Furthermore, drinks are handed to them in a ‘golden pitcher’ which demonstrates the wealth of the house owners. We see Xenia to be important as the hosts give up their most luxurious goods for their guests- platters of meat, wine and bread. Homer emphasises how impressed Menelaus is of Telemachus’ maturity- ‘not even an older man could speak and do as well’. This only heightens the expectations that citizens have of Telemachus to live up to his father’s reputation as his son. Menelaus gives Telemachus a personal gift upon his exit, a solid silver mixing bowl that is ‘forged to perfection’. This gift allows Telemachus to always remember the upmost Xenia demonstrated by Menelaus in future.

To conclude, Xenia is a strong theme throughout books 1-4 of the Odyssey and will be a fluid theme through the entirety of the Epic. It gives the reader an inside view into Greek society as a whole through its importance. The contrast between good (Nestor & Menelaus) and bad (the Suitors) Xenia is shown and allows the reader to see the rewards and consequences system.

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