Xenia And Odyssey

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Essay on the Odyssey

The Odyssey begins in medias res (in the middle of things). This epic tells the story of one man’s voyage home despite a series of antagonists that make the journey incredibly long and grueling for the hero, Odysseus. Some of these antagonists include Greek gods, mythical creatures, and even a slothful crew.

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The story also observes the impact that Odysseus’s absence has on his wife, Penelope, and his growing son, Telemachos. Despite the different points of view in the epic, one important theme is explored throughout both plots, xenia. This Grecian concept, roughly translated as “a formal friendship,” carries a significant amount of weight within the epic.
Xenia is a concept similar to hospitality, placing an obligation on both the host and the guest to create a strong relationship based on cultural respect for one another. However, it was based on a set of rules and customs that was much more than simply being gracious and considerate in one’s home. Disrespecting xenia is what is said to have begun the Trojan War, clearly establishing the importance of this model. The function of xenia assists the development of the plot in both positive and negative ways. Some positive examples of respecting xenia include Telemachos’s stay in Sparta and Odysseus’s stay with Nausicaä. Consequences of disrespecting xenia within the Odyssey are shown first when Odysseus encounters Polyphemus and upon his return home when he confronts Penelope’s suitors.

Another prominent example of xenia is seen in book 6 when Odysseus comes upon Nausicaä. Odysseus had become shipwrecked and sought shelter in a bush. He awoke when he heard Nausicaä and her handmaids screaming while playing with a ball they had inadvertently kicked into a nearby river. Odysseus, dirty, naked, and covered with nothing but an olive branch, approached the women. All of the handmaids ran from the hideous man “besmirched with brine” except Nausicaä, who remembered her obligations to xenia (Odyssey, 6:127). As Odysseus recalled how he ended up in such a predicament, Nausicaä began taking pity on the stranger and offered him what she could saying,

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