Analysis Of The Treatment Of Visitors And Their Respective Hosts Depending On Cultural Expectations And Religion Throughout The Texts Of The Odyssey, 1001 Arabian Nights, And Taking Of Joppa
Of all the things highlighted in these ancient texts in our first unit of Culture andExpression, the concept that stood out to me the most is that of xenia. Xenia, or “guest friendship”, is the Greek practice of hospitality in which it is expected to treat a house guest, whether they be strangers or close friends, with the utmost courtesy and respect. In fact, Zeus was known as the god of xenia, and those who betrayed the concept are thought to have been punished by him. To imagine that it was completely normal to have total unearned trust with everyone you meet is astounding to me. In my life, I couldn’t honestly imagine disregarding the risk of involving a complete stranger in your life, and especially not in my home. And not only isbeing the host bizarre, being the guest is just as alien to me. It seems almost narcissistic toassume that anyone in sight is required put aside their day in order to accomodate you to the peakof their personal abilities, for as long as you decide to lavishly extend your stay. Throughout the texts of The Odyssey, One Thousand and One Arabian Nights, and others, the treatment of visitors and their respective hosts differ depending on cultural expectations and religion.
In the Homeric Epic The Odyssey, we witness several examples of xenia being played out- whether it be an optimal, peaceful situation or a situation that ensued chaos. Telemachus, son of the protagonist Odysseus, visits several esteemed individuals during his travels. As aguest, he behaves polite and thoughtfully, as expected. Meanwhile, his hosts, Menelaus and Helen, act accordingly. “Stay with me here in my palace until eleven or twelve days have passed. Then I will send you off with precious gifts, three horses and a gleaming chariot. Also a lovelycup so you can pour gifts to the gods, and always think of me”. Although this reaction is due to Telemachus’ relation to the great Odysseus, Menelaus still granted Telemachusfood, drink, and accomodation before Menelaus even knew Telemachus was a prominentmember of Greek society. However, not all interactions are so pleasant. In response to Odysseusand his crew begging for shelter and gifts in the name of Zeus, a certain one-eyed giant revolts inbewilderment, “Well, foreigner, you are a fool, or from some very distant country. You order meto fear the gods! My people think nothing of that Zeus”. As the storydevelops, Polyphemus proceeds to barricade and feast on Odysseus’ crew one by one. Although Iam also not a fan of strangers barging into my home, I don’t think I would have gone to suchlengths to protect my home. It would have to matter on how tasty the strangers looked, I suppose.
Alongside the common theme of xenia and hospitality is the awfully pessimistic theme ofbetrayal. This dichotomy is easily outlined in the short story of the Taking of Joppa. In this tale, The Prince of Ancient Joppa is tricked by an opposing general, Djehuty, who enters the Prince’ssacred borders. Unfortunately, Djehuty not only brings himself into Joppa, but a barrage of giftsfor the Prince- baskets with hidden soldiers inside, prepared to destroy Joppa. This account iswritten on the side of Djehuty; therefore, it is on the side of the betrayer. “It comes to its endhappily”. If the concept of hospitality is so appraised, why is it that the individual whoessentially burned down his host’s livelihood praised?
I suppose this question, and most other of life’s questions, can be answered with the divine. For example, in the prophecies of Joshua, we follow the story of Joshua and Achan who sneak into the holy land of Jericho in order to take it for their people. Rahab, a prostitute who lives inside Jericho, takes both men inside her home and her care, and essentially risks her wholelife in order to help them. Going to such lengths to defend those who are openly trying to stealher land from her and all her neighbors is defended as such: “The Lord, your God, is the only God in heaven above and on earth below. Now since I have shown loyalty to you, swear by methe Lord in turn will show loyalty to my family”. Much like Zeus protects strangers under the obligation of xenia, God protects his followers Joshua and Achad. The existence of thedivine can easily manipulate people to be unreasonably kind to complete strangers, henceforth, whoever’s side the divine is said to be on, is the winning side.
Speaking of strangers, I’ve focused a considerable amount of time on the hosts and notthe guests. Such as, Sindbad the Sailor- a professional guest, who across seven voyages, visitedmore foreign lands than I have witnessed in all my eighteen years. Sindbad’s voyages werecompiled during the Islamic Golden Age (800-1200 C. E), an economically advanced timeprimarily built on trading. Therefore, it was a system practically built on interacting withstrangers. In One Thousand and One Arabian Nights, our hero Sindbad comes across a variety ofcivilizations. Unfortunately, some of those civilizations were trying to eat him. For example, onecrew of subtle cannibals introduced themselves as courteous accommodators who not onlydisplayed Sindbad and his crew a quality buffet, but personally introduced Sindbad and his crewto their cannibal King. However, it seems as though their kindness was not as selfless as itlooked: “When my companions tasted the food, their wits went wandering; they fell on it likemadmen and were no longer the same men”. Luckily, Sindbad didn’t fall for the cannibals’ treacherous hospitality and escaped whilst his comrades became hypnotized livestockbehind him. However, in the same vein, Sindbad will easily fall under the care of different foreigners. For instance, promptly after running away from the beastly cannibals, Sindbad finds agroup of men who also gave him food and presented him to the king. Except this time, Sindbaddidn’t blink an eye when cleaning his dish, and this time, he manuvears his way into becoming arespected and honored companion of the King.
Sindbad’s luck allows him to bounce from host to host largely unscathed. Additionally, Odysseus spends nearly two decades fighting monsters, men and gods, and is treated with respecton nearly every stretch of territory that he steps on. Finally, Joshua, the chosen prophet, whocarries out The Divine Plan with God themself assisting him.
All the prosperity these travelershave reached make me think that it’s possible that putting faith in complete strangers could payoff for myself, and all of us, if we just had the courage to ask. Each hero and his journey makes me ask, not only whether the traveler is treated properly, but also, how should we treat the traveler?
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Of all the things highlighted in these ancient texts in our first unit of Culture andExpression, the concept that stood out to me the most is that of xenia. Xenia, […]