Conventions of the Homeric Hospitality Scene

Oral poets tend to rely on stock scenes and characters. Homer builds hospitality scenes into many of the books in The Odyssey.

The average scene has six main elements (arrival, reception, feast, identification, entertainment, and departure) with a number of related smaller scenes.

Telemachos' reception of the disguised Athena in Book 1 and Eumaios the swineherd's reception of the disguised Odysseus and Telemachos are classic moments with most of the elements surrounding true hospitality.

Homer even uses such scenes as the encounter with the Kyklopes Polyphemos and the witch Kirke as ironic plays on hospitality. Polyphemos' capture and eating of the sailors acts as an anti-scene. Note the elements below with their related scenes. The chart records when each is present.

 

Bk 1

Athena

Bk 3

Nestor

Bk 9 (Anti) Polyphemos

Bk 10 (Quasi) Kirke

Bk 13, 15 Eumaios

Arrival

Maiden at the well/ Youth at the door

Reaching one’s destination

Descriptions of the surroundings

– the residence, person sought, etc.

Dog at the door

Waiting at the threshold

Supplication

 

 

 

X

 

 

X

 

 

X

X

 

 

X

X

 

 

 

X

 

X

X

 

 

X

X

 

X

XX

XX

 

XX

XX

Reception

Host catches sight of visitor

Host hesitates to offer hospitality

Host rises from his seat

Host approaches the visitor

Host takes the visitor by the hand

Host bids the visitor welcome

Host takes the visitor’s spear

Host leads the visitor in

Athena

X

 

 

X

X

X

X

X

Nestor

X

 

X

X

X

Polyphemos

X

 

 

 

 

 

X

Kirke

 

 

 

X

 

 

 

X

Eumaios

XX

-X

XX

-X

-X

-X

XX

Feast

Seating

Preparation of the feast

Consumption of the feast

Conclusion to the feast

(After-dinner drink)

Athena

X

X

X

X

Nestor

X

X

X

X

Polyphemos

 

X

X

X

Kirke

X

X

X

X

Eumaios

XX

XX

XX

XX

X-

Identification

Host questions visitor

Visitor reveals identity

Establishment of xenia

Exchange of information

Athena

X

X

X

X

Nestor

X

X

X

X

Polyphemos

X

X

 

X

Kirke

X

X

 

X

Eumaios

XX

XX

XX

XX

Entertainment

Festivities

Visitor pronounces blessing on the host

A libation or sacrifice

Sleep, Bed, Bath

Host detains the guest

Athena

X

X

 

X

X

Nestor

X

X

X

X

X

Polyphemos

 

 

 

X

X

Kirke

 

 

 

X

X

Eumaios

X-

X-

X-

X-

XX

Departure

Guest-gifts

Departure meal

Departure libation

Farewell blessing

Omen and interpretation

Escort to visitor’s next destination

Athena

X

Nestor

 

 

 

 

 

X

Polyphemos

X

X

X

X

X

X

Kirke

 

 

 

 

X

X

Eumaios

XX

 

 

 

 

XX

adapted from Reece, Steve. The Stranger’s Welcome: Oral Theory and the Aesthetics of the Homeric Hospitality Scene. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1993.


"All manner of thing shall be well/ When the tongues of flame are in-folded/ Into the crowned knot of fire/ And the fire and the rose are one." -- T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding