A select number of books from the legendary epic poem, The Odyssey, offer distinctive themes and elements such as heroism, homecoming, and hospitality that relatively influence and shape contemporary understanding of certain concepts like heroism, nobility, and hospitality. The epic begins with the Goddess Athena beseeching Zeus to allow the Trojan War veteran, Odysseus, a homecoming free of deity incurred hardships and torments. Athena then travels to the earthly realm guising as Odysseus’ trusted friend Mentes to advise Odysseus’ son Telemakhos of the Ithacan king’s impending return (Lawall & Mack 227-28). In the second book, Telemakhos gathers the people of Ithaca to air out his grievances over the suitors’ violation of the sanctity of the Ithacan royal household. Antinoos, stands out among the suitors and disrespectfully rebuffs Telemakhos’ claims arguing that Odysseus’ wife, Penelope, is the one who attracted them there. Yet despite the harsh slap to his mother’s dignity, Prince Telemakhos remains as a portrait of composure and non-violence (Lawall & Mack 236-38). Book 17, meanwhile, sees Odysseus’ long-awaited return to his Homeland of Ithaca finally taking place, though not as a king, but as a beggar.
The infamously treacherous king masqueraded his way across town to reach his palace and see what has happened in his abode during his long absence. Odysseus continuously plays along the devilish ploys of the suitors agreeing to pit against another beggar, Irus. As the fight progresses, Odysseus unsuccessfully convinced one of the suitors, Amphinomous about the chaos that he will bring to his own palace at the expense of the suitors. Finally, Odysseus reveals as the beggar and, with the help of Athena, starts to make his presence in the palace known by single-handedly handing out his sense of justice by murdering all of the suitors one by one without mercy or even remorse. With the house suitor free, and the entire hall cleaned, fate finally allows Odysseus and Penelope to see each other once again.
As much as the narrative of Odyssey presents a concept far from reality in many aspects, it puts forward a dichotomy to the concept of hospitality. Apart from the blatant heroics of several characters, the concept of hospitality is a recurring theme in the legendary epic, The Odyssey, Odysseus’ son Telemakhos, for instance, acknowledges the presence of Athena, though guised as Mentes, the young lad expresses deep displeased feelings upon seeing that “a visitor had been kept waiting (Lawall & Mack 228).” Likewise, Telemakhos’ hospitality is also expressed through his unprecedented display of restraint; not resulting to violence despite the extreme violations perpetrated by Penelope’s suitors to her mother, to their house maids, and to him..
While hospitality as displayed by Telemakhos puts hospitality in a positive light, Odysseus treatment of the suitors in his abode presents a disturbing concept of hospitality. While Telemakhos, as previously mentioned, exercises mind over matter in dealing with his anger Odysseus actually projects his self-control with a deceitful nature. First, he disguises as a beggar in order to avoid recognition from the suitors and the palace servants alike. Then the king of Ithaca reveals his actual feelings towards the suitors and their constant display of insolence in his royal home. Furthermore, Odysseus’ brand of hospitality presents a different facet from that of Telemakhos’ as Odysseus never showed contentment in simply driving the suitors away. The wise Ithacan king, after his violent outrage, smears the entire hall with the blood of his wife’s suitors and leaves no suitor a single chance to live and talk about his exploits in the royal household.
Lawall, Sarah, N. and Maynard Mack. “The Odyssey.” in The Norton Anthology of World Literature, Second Edition Volume A: Beginnings to AD 100. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2003.