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Hospitality has been a crucial social aspect since the dawn of civilization. The Bible teaches, “Be hospitable to one another without complaint”. This value has been the foundation of communities since the humble beginnings of humankind, and we see traces of this through history. Xenia is an ancient Greek concept which most literally translates to “Guest-friendship”. Xenia is the obligation of a host, to welcome any strangers that wander their way, shower them in gifts and feasts, and treat them as they would a god. The relationship also extends to the guest, and requires them to show ultimate respect and gratitude. Zeus is responsible for ensuring that xenia is implemented, and will punish anyone who dishonors this implicit code. Xenia is one of the most prevalent values in The Odyssey, and on Odysseus’s journey home he is denied this value by many, but he is also welcomed with xenia by multiple characters. Specifically, in Book 6, The Princess and the Stranger, when Odysseus arrives on Phaeacia, Nausicaa immediately decides to extend xenia towards him, illuminating her integrity and diplomatic manner, letting Odysseus, and the reader, perceive her as civil and moral.
As Nausicaa shows Odysseus xenia, she is depicted as civilized and righteous, and is respected by Odysseus and the reader. She declares to him, “But now, seeing as you’ve reached our city and our land, / you’ll never lack for clothing or any other gift, / the right of worn-out supplients come our way”. By repeating the words “our” and “you” Homer emphasizes the divide between the Phaeacians, or hosts, and Odysseus, the guest. Thus implying that while Odysseus is a guest of Nausicaa, there is a prevalent difference between the guest’s and the host’s role in the mutual relationship of xenia. While the host must accommodate the guest, the guest must acknowledge and show gratitude towards the host. In addition, the princess offers Odysseus clothing, representing the bond between Nausicaa and Odysseus, host and guest, being sewn together with xenia, the stitches that bind their relationship. The clothes also signify that Odysseus can trust Nausicaa. Her consideration reveals to Odysseus that the Phaeacians are civil people, and not barbaric savages. Whether or not a character expresses Xenia, determines whether or not they are a righteous and civilized individual. Because the princess decides to show Odysseus compassion and hospitality, despite their nonexistent past, this confirms that she is a well-respected character in the eyes of Odysseus, and Homer. Odysseus knows he can trust Nausicaa after she proves herself worthy of his company, by exhibiting xenia. She then proceeds to order her maids to welcome Odysseus and announces, “Here’s an unlucky wanderer strayed our way / and we must tend him well. Every stranger and beggar / comes from Zeus, and whatever scrap we give him / he’ll be glad to get. So, quick, my girls, / give our newfound friend some food and drink / and bathe the man in the river, / wherever you find some shelter from the wind”. Nausicaa orders her maids to give Odysseus a bath, a symbol of rebirth and purity. As the princess and Odysseus meet for the first time, they are unfamiliar with each other’s imperfect past, and are able to have a fresh start. Thus Nausicaa is oblivious of Odysseus’s flaws, and agrees to extend xenia towards him, whereas if she was aware of his mistakes, perhaps she would not comply. Because of this significant decision, Nausicaa is able to gain Odysseus, as well as the reader’s respect.
Nausicaa decides to express xenia to Odysseus, she earns a respected reputation and is portrayed with virtue and integrity. She welcomes Odysseus into her palace, and therefore when Odysseus returns to Ithaca and tells his story, he characterizes the Phaeacians as incredibly generous and respectful. Odysseus tells Penelope, “How he reached the Phaeacians — heavy sailing there — / who with all their hearts had prized him like a god / and sent him off in a ship to his own beloved land, / giving him bronze and hordes of gold and robes…”. By using polysyndeton, Homer is able to emphasise the extent to which the Phaeacians welcomed Odysseus. They did not only give him one gift, but another and another and another. The ellipsis at the end of the list, implies that there were more gifts which the Phaeacians bestowed upon Odysseus, and just as their generosity and hospitality were infinite, so too were their presents for Odysseus. By being a good host and welcoming Odysseus, the Phaeacians were able to obtain a respected reputation, which highlights the importance of showing others hospitality.
Homer suggests that expressing the value of xenia is much more rewarding than it appears, and the benefits of hospitality are timeless, as the Phaeacians’ legacy is still remembered today. While it would have been easy for Nausicaa to turn Odysseus down, it was ultimately more beneficial to go out of her way to help him. Homer also uses the simile “prized him like a god” to describe the how generous and hospitable the Phaeacians were towards Odysseus. By comparing how they welcomed him to how they would treat a god, Homer implies that xenia requires more than a standard amount of hospitality, one must treat their guests as if they were a god. Because their expression of xenia extended beyond common accommodations, the Phaeacians made a timeless impression on Odysseus, and therefore he spread their name as he told everyone of his journey. As the Phaeacians are compensated for their hospitality with an immortal legacy, Homer implies that xenia is infinitely rewarding. Because Nausicaa makes the decision to extend xenia towards Odysseus, the reader perceives her as civil and moral, and she posseses virtue and respect. While the long term reward of the Phaeacians’ xenia was their respected reputation, there were more immediate consequences of their hospitality. King Alcinous, sent many of his men to bring Odysseus home, and on their way back to Phaeacia them and their ship were turned into stone by Poseidon, for helping Odysseus. The Phaeacians knew of Odysseus and Poseidon’s altercation, but they decided to put Odysseus’s welfare before their own anyway. In order to attain their respected legacy, the Phaeacians had to suffer through the more minor consequences of hosting Odysseus. Their eagerness to prioritize their guest above of their own sailors, ultimately proved that they deserved their honorable title. Homer suggests that the most rewarding actions may have negative fallout, but the long term benefits will outweigh the lesser consequences.
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