Hospitality toward guests was a major facet of social life in ancient Greece, with religious underpinnings. The god Zeus was thought to closely monitor human behavior with regard to visitors and the treatment of strangers. The interaction of hosts and their visitors was referred to as "xenia" and many of its precepts were laid out in heroic epics such as the works of Homer. Hospitality in ancient Greece wasn't simply graciousness directed at the people under one's roof, but also a token of societal esteem.
Pleasing the Guests
In ancient Greece, hospitality was all about pleasing guests elaborately, whether the host could afford to or not. Ancient Greeks not only offered their guests standard comforts such as beverages, meals and accommodations, but went above and beyond. They provided visitors with apparel if necessary. They offered them baths and clean robes. If his guests had no means of traveling back home or onward to their next stop, an ancient Greek host would assist there also. High-quality souvenirs were a big part of the experience, too. Guests rarely left Greek accommodations without presents. In Greek culture, a host did not expect strangers to reveal their names and the details of their visit until after they had enjoyed a meal together. This was to ensure that all guests received equal treatment, regardless of factors such as nationality or clan.
Wary of the Gods
Much of the ancient Greek attitude regarding hospitality stemmed from fear of the gods, who were believed to circulate among mortals on earth. Ancient Greeks not only strove to treat their invited guests well, but also to treat vagrants just as well. After all, they never could be certain of a vagrant's true identity, which might be that of a god come to evaluate their actions. In ancient Greece, the gods were believed to defend strangers. Zeus in particular was associated with the concept of treating visitors warmly and kindly.
Expectations were also placed on guests in ancient Greece. Proper guest etiquette required them to act as if they truly kin to their hosts, rather than outsiders. If their host was embroiled in a dispute with his neighbors, for example, guests were expected to take their sides. Male guests were also expected never to make advances on female residents.
Xenia in Return
While ancient Greeks were hospitable toward guests, they also expected to get the same sort of treatment in their turn as guests. They believed that if they were extremely kind to guests, they'd increase their own opportunities for the same courtesy further down the line. Xenia was not considered to be a one-way path.
The relations between hosts and visitors in ancient Greece weren't supposed to be transient, fleeting ones. When guests departed their hosts' homes, they were deemed as having forged lifelong connections, as if they were relatives. If either the guests or visitors encountered difficulties later on in life, they were expected to help each other.
- Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece; Nigel Guy Wilson; 2005
- Ancient Greece - An Explorer's Guide; Robert Emmet Meagher and Elizabeth Parker Neave; 2007
- Ancient Greece and Rome - Myths and Beliefs; Tony Allan and Sara Maitland; 2011
- Hospitality - A Social Lens; Paul Lynch, Alison Morrison and Conrad Lashley; 2006
- Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images