Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Never Devour Your Guests

I just re-read The Odyssey, one of the first stories in history, and I was impressed by the fact that, like a number of other ancient texts (several stories in the Old Testament come to mind), a major theme in the story is basic hospitality. As Odysseus makes his way around the Levant, he relies on the kindness of strangers wherever he goes. The message seems to be that ragged vagabonds could turn out to be Odysseus in disguise- a good surprise for a gracious host.

A few examples would be the old swineherd who takes Odysseus in after Athena has disguised him as a wizened old man, and is later rewarded handsomely. His reasoning being that, "it is not my way to slight a stranger". The Phaicians are a tribe that uniformly takes in strangers and are thus a god-favored land. Gods often appear to people as vagabonds.

An example of the opposite tack would be that taken by the bitchy servant girl Melantho, who mocks Odysseus, not knowing who he is. He responds: "My good woman, why do you attack me with such bitterness? Because I am dirty and ragged and go begging around the town? I can't help that. Beggars and vagrants are all like that. I once had a house of my own in the world. I was happy and rich, and often gave to a homless man, whoever he might be and whatever he wanted." Melantho eventually gets her comeuppance from Penelope, her master.

Examples abound, but my favorite comes from what Odysseus says to the cyclops after blinding him. (Note that Odysseus is later punished for his boasting) Odysseus: "Your sins were sure to find you out, you cruel brute! You had no scruple to devour your guests in your own house, therefore vengeance has fallen upon you from Zeus and the gods in heaven!" It is always a good idea to restrain from devouring your guests.


The Pagan Temple said...

I never looked at it like that, but it's a good point. I guess you could also say that ties in with the ultimate fate of Penelope's suitors too, as a warning to those recipients of hospitality that abuse their hosts.

Rufus said...

Yeah, I think you're right. Another story where it figures in is Sodom and Gomorrah in the Old Testament, which I always saw as being about mistreating guests more than about homosexuality.

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