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The Living Room Relationships Hospitality Laws
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Hospitality Laws
I don't remember the Odyssey all that well but the one fragment that still remains near the front of my brain has to do with hospitality. In the poem and during the time of Odysseus the Law of Hospitality ruled the household. The law was really an ethical and moral code whereby the homeowner could not turn a guest away no matter what his status. The guest was honored, fed, and given a place to sleep.

In The Odyssey (if I remember correctly from 9th grade English class) the stranger/guest wasn't asked his name until after he was treated right as a guest and clothed and bathed and fed. It would have been disrespectful to inquire before and thus everyone who entered the gate was treated the same, be he a king, pauper, or trader. Before names are exchanged the host elevates his guest to his own level inside his own house. ( I wonder why the name holds so much power?) I also remember that in return the guest usually told a story or some other anecdote to entertain the host. The trade-off then is hospitality from the host for thoughtful thanks from the guest. The guest usually can only thank the host with what he has: his time and attention.

Anyway, I remember being struck with a ping of sadness when I read how well Odysseus and Telemachus were treated as guests by the laws of hospitality in the poem. I thought at the time that wouldn't the world be one step closer to peace if we followed the same moral code? But we do have the code in Christianity: Cherish thy neighbor. And it exists in other forms around the world. But in my eyes it is largely forgotten. Even in my own apartment I sometimes forget to offer my guests food and water and whatever else I can offer. It's easy to forget, especially when guests and friends come over all the time.

But although the laws aren't respected now universally and are often forgotten, hospitality is still omnipresent in all the nice people that walk this planet and that replaces the ping of sadness with one of happiness. Being hospitable to a guest is a great feeling. I wonder why? But the offering of a glass of water or a piece of fruit to a friend just feels right. It's much more satisfying then having it yourself. Why is that?

Why are we by nature hospitable people? Why do we get satisfaction out of giving away presents and our own belongings?
Books Discussed
The Odyssey
by Homer

It's a very interesting question. Who is the guest who knocks at our door? How do we receive them? Certainly for Homer, and throughout the Bible, the guest comes with a mysterious and often divine shadow. By entertaining the stranger who comes to your doorstep, you may very well be entertaining a god or angel. The traditions in many countries have proverbs along these lines -- strangers are gods in disguise. So part of the tradition tells us to beware and act well; and part of it tells us that the encounter with the stranger is the moment when something divine may come into our lives.

People who are excellent hosts often have a certain ability to elevate us, to make us feel more fulfilled and more present than we are in everyday life, to bring out a hidden spark.
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Latest Post: September 6, 2009 at 2:36 AM
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