I’m not speaking Greek when I talk about xenia.
OK, I am literally speaking Greek, but I promise to help you understand everything when we
talk about the motif of hospitality. I gotta hand it to the Greeks. Random travelers
float up to shore in a boat and before the inhabitants of the country even know their
guests’ names, they’re already plying them with food and being totally gracious hosts. While that might sound strange to 21st-century
people like us, the hospitality we see throughout the Odyssey was a natural, even expected,
part of the culture of that place and time period. There was even a special word for
it: Philoxenia, which refers to an ancient Greek social contract between host and guest. In fact, hospitality was so important to the
Greeks that Homer even made it part of Telemachus’s journey. Before Telemachus could truly be
called a man, he had to be schooled in xenia. And in Book 3, Nestor acts as Telemachus’s
teacher. He teaches Telemachus how to properly relate to guests—from the way a guest should
be treated, to the way a host should speak to a guest. We see this social contract play out dozens
of times throughout the rest of the Odyssey, emphasizing the civility and generosity of
the Greek culture.