Day Twenty-Four of the A-to-Z Challenge in April 2017. Let’s do this.
This year there’s no linky list or form to fill out to sign up. It might be too late to join at this point (unless you were double posting), but you can always cheer/comment on participants (and find awesome bloggers) at the A-to-Z’s official blog.
Now I should warn, that I didn’t stick to the common sense rule of writing short, pithy posts. Mine are long and bloated, but I’m having fun with it. And if you wanna skim, that’s absolutely cool with me!
Leave a comment down below with your blog so I can visit I’m thrilled to be making new friends. 🙂
As part of my Greek mythic figures, places, and things theme, my “X” post talks xenia, or the etiquette of being a good host in Greek mythology.
As I said, xenia is hospitality that extends specifically to strangers or foreigners.
Wikipedia describes xenia as being “the ancient Greek concept of hospitality, the generosity and courtesy shown to those who are far from home and/or associates of the person bestowing guest-friendship.” (source)
“Far from home” was also important to the ancient Greeks. “As seafaring peoples constantly engaged in trade among themselves and with outsiders, Greeks were inevitably in regular contact with strangers — and were themselves in situations where they were strangers.” (source) And you really probably don’t want to piss off strangers you’re trading with, especially if they cultivate something you want, maybe even need.
It’s kind of like that story about the disguised (maybe not disguised) angels invited to rest their wings by Lot in Genesis 19. I do believe they were disguised because the whole idea is to always be polite to your guests. You never know who they might turn out to be…
Well, the ancient Greeks had this same fear. At least in theory they did, otherwise xenia wouldn’t be so important. So, basically, if you were a rude host, you might actually be rude to a disguised Apollo, or a masked Hermes, and that would NOT end up well for you.
This was also a theme, like xenia, in Greek mythology. And it was called theoxenia, or “theo” (god) + “xenia” (guest-friendship). Wikipedia describes it being when humans “demonstrate their virtue or piety by extending hospitality to a humble stranger (xenos), who turns out to be a disguised deity (theos) with the capacity to bestow rewards.”
And it also adds, that “[t]hese stories caution mortals that any guest should be treated as if potentially a disguised divinity and help establish the idea of xenia as a fundamental Greek custom.”
Life lesson, kids. Be nice to your gods – err, guests.
One source says that xenia “was more than merely a set of manners and social customs, but actually a religious ritual which placed demands both on hosts and guests.” That there was a process to do things, almost like a basic checklist to tick off once a visitor entered your home.
So offering a bath, a warm meal at the best seat of the table, and a warm bed was all very good, and very expected if you wanted to be consider a proper host in ancient Greece.
In turn, guests had their duty too. It wasn’t a one-sided guest-friendship: guests usually should have gifts with them. And, sometimes, they were given gifts too as they departed.
It’s really the same stuff that we expect from guests today. Family comes to visit, you play the role of courteous host…until they overstay their welcome. Well, it was the same then too. Guests in ancient Greece were expected to gather their affairs and never overstay their welcome, as long as they wanted to maintain a healthy guest-friendship.
So, what was the point of xenia besides the worry of trade deals?
It could have been used as a way of passport. At least to ensure safe entry into a country and be given a chance to explore. Or it’s possible that many inns weren’t available to travelers, or poorer travelers had to rely on the hospitality of citizens.
The Odyssey showed great examples of xenia in action.
As Odysseus traveled he met with foreigners on different islands, and some treated him awfully (i.e. Circe), and sometimes his men treated others awfully (i.e. Polyphemus and his sheep). And of course, since I brought up Polyphemus, we have the cyclops calling his father, Poseidon, to make Odysseus’s journey home a difficult one. And Poseidon doesn’t disappoint there.
Helen of Troy was abducted by Paris, and that’s a super no-no. A huge infringement on xenia. Heck, it started a war, that dragged in the gods as well!
And who was the protector – and possibly the most concerned with xenia?
Zeus, of course!
He also went by the names Xenios, so there. Circles around.
Zeus was called the “protector of guests”. And he proved that in Bellerophon‘s tale. When the youthful hero is secretly slandered by the wife of his host, King Proteus. Proteus, believing his wife, wanted to kill Bellerophon but feared the wrath of Zeus (xenia at work!) and so he delivered Bellerophon with a false message to his father-in-law, King Iobates. But by the time Iobates opened and read the letter from his distraught son-in-law, Bellerophon had been “warmly received and settled in as Iobates’ house guest.” And so the same xenia stayed King Iobates’s hand.
Another tale with a bit of xenia running through it is that of Arcadian King Lycaon.
The twist is that Lycaon knew that his guest was Zeus (sometimes transformed into a pheasant). Lycaon wanted to “test” Zeus’s divinity (was he really as powerful and all-knowing/seeing as he was said to be?), and so he had his son, Nyctimus, served as the main dish. Zeus, realizing what was happening, grew angry.
Zeus put Nyctimus back together, giving the boy life again, and he cursed King Lycaon, transforming him into a wolf. Or, he sometimes just kills Lycaon.
Same went down with Tantalus – who wanted to steal immortality (i.e. ambrosia and nectar) for humans, and he ended up trying to sacrifice his son, Pelops, to the gods. Realizing what had happened, none ate except Demeter, who nibbled on the shoulder of Pelops before she clued in. (Supposedly she was still grieving for her Persephone’s abduction.)
Tantalus was punished both in life (losing his membership to visit Mt. Olympus) and in death (being punished forever in the Underworld – in Tartarus, the wrong side of the Underworld).
MORAL: Dude, don’t be smart. Be nice. It’s probably going to save your life…and afterlife.
Sources that helped me compose this post:
Check them out when you can!