In The Odyssey, Homer uses guest-host relationships as an ethical norm against which behavior is measured. When the ritual is preformed correctly by guest-host, good results ensue. In contrast, the violations of this ethical norm results in misfortune. This idea was taken very seriously by people of that time and it can be found throughout the story. A great example of a guest host relationship where both the guest and the host behave properly is the relationship between Telemachos and King Menelaos. As a guest Telemachos treats his host with respect and dignity.
He ddress menelaos as “my lord” to give reverence to his kindness and to be polite. Telemachos is very complimentary to his host by saying “Zeus must have such a place” when referring to menelaos’ house. He does this to let him know that he will be a good guest and that he is a proper gentleman. Menelaos shows that he to can be a good host and gives Telemachos food and shelter even when there is a wedding going on. He says “go and take out their horses, and bring the men in to share our feast”. This shows that menelaos must be a good guest especially to give them shelter during a wedding.
Menelaos also does not pressure Telemachos into answering any questions before he eats and enjoys the festivities; nor does he give any indication that he wants Telemachos to leave. He says “stay here in my mansion for ten or twelve days and then I will give you a good send off and a handsome gift, three horses and a chariot: I will give you a fine chalice too, that when you pour your drop to the immortal gods you may think of me all your days”. This statement shows that not only does he wish Telemachos to stay but that he is a very generous man indeed.
Due to kindness of both men good things are bound to ensue. For Telemachos the good outcome he receives is the accurate news of his fathers whereabouts. For Menelaos the good outcome is that whenever he may need help Telemachos is always there for him. Another example in which there is a good host and a good guest is the relationship between Odysseus and Eumaios, the swine herd. Despite Odysseus’ appearance as a beggar, since he is in disguise, Eumaios treats him with the same respect as he would any person.
He takes him into his home and tells him to “eat away” and to enjoy himself. Also Eumaios “laid a bed for him near the fire, a heap of sheepskins, and their Odysseus lay down”. This is a good indication that the swineherd is a good host. Odysseus returns this kindness by saying “I pray Zeus may bless you as I do, for the honour you have done” as a way to show his thankfulness and his gratitude. He also shares his stories of the past as a way to amuse his host. Odysseus continues by regarding Eumaios as “my friend” as a way to let him know he is very appreciative.
When Telemachos enters Odysseus, the beggar, offers his seat at the table, but Telemachos being the good guest that he is refuses the seat. Thus Telemachos can be considered again as another good guest. Their rewards are that Odysseus finds out about the suitors and that Eumaios is a faithful person to him. Odysseus also gains a warrior in the battle against the suitors. Eumaios’ reward is that his life is spared by Odysseus. Odysseus also says “I will find wives for both of you, and give you land and well built houses close to myself; and you shall be friends and brothers of my son Telemachos”.
This is a great honor especially for a swineherd. Finally, even Telemachos is rewarded for his kindness; he is made aware of the beggar’s true identity as being his father and their conquer over the suitors. However not all guest-host relationships are ones in which the guest and the host act properly. For instance, the relationship between Odysseus and Polyphemos, the cyclops. When Odysseus first arrives at the cave of Polyphemos it says he “walked briskly to the cave, but found him not at home… so we entered”. This action is not a good way to be a guest because he comes in uninvited.
He even goes a little further he says “we lit a fire and… helped ourselves to as many cheeses as we wanted to eat”. This is another way he is a bad guest because he takes what he wants even without it being offered to him. Upon Polyphemos’ return he to shows he can be a bad host because “he picked up a great huge stone and placed it in the doorway” which made escape almost impossible. He continues his streak of meanness by eating some of Odysseus’ men. It says he “devoured them like a mountain lion, bowels and flesh and marrow- bones and left nothing”.
Odysseus get angry and devises a plan which will allow him to escape. He then takes a wooden rod and “thrust the sharp point into his eye and leaned hard on it from above and turned it round and round”. This is the punishment Polyphemos receives for his being a bad host. However Odysseus lso receives a punishment for entering into Polyphemos’ house without permission and being a bad guest. His punishment is the great loss of men which he receives, his quick evacuation of the island, and the anger he brings to Poseidon; which causes him to have the suitors come to his house and reek havoc in his kingdom.
The final example of a guest-host relationship in which both the guest and host act unaccordingly is Odysseus and the suitors. Odysseus reaches his home and finds his house in shambles. The suitors continuously refer to Odysseus as a “nuisance” and at one point one of them decides to show his anger. Then picking up the footstool, he threw it, and hit him full in the back under the right shoulder”. This is not the actions of a good host so something bad is bound to happen. However this does not enter into the minds of the suitor and they continue with their verbal and physical bashing.
They continue to badger Penelopeia with there empty promises so she will choose another husband and the suitors will gain control of the kingdom. Since it is not polite to marry a man’s wife while he is away; this to is another situation in which a good guest or host does not get into. This arouses Odysseus anger and he makes a plan to id himself of the suitors. He establishes a contest with a bow which he uses to divert the suitors attention and he begin his slaughter. He shots a arrow at Aninoos which “struck him in the throat, and the point ran threw the soft neck”.
He even goes as far as to remove the “cods” of one of the traitors of his house. This action seems justified to the reader and for the most part it is. However, this is still something a bad guest does and therefore a little punishment must ensue. After all the suitors are dead he tells Penelopeia “to be careful” because “as soon as the sun rises, everyone will hear about the men I have illed”. When the families of the slain men hear of this they are obligated to go and kill Odysseus for what he has done.
So as his punishment he must flee to his fathers estate and he must live with the fear of death at all times. In The Odyssey, the guest-host relationship is very important to safety and well being of the people. Then believe that if one of the two, either the guest or the host, acts improperly something bad was bound to happen. This idea is practiced almost always by the people and they live there life in harmony; however if one of them breaks these guidelines then something bad ensues.