GreekHospitality

“…and there will be no affection between guest and host.” Hesiod, Works and Days

Ancient Greek literature reveals a striking practice of hospitality. We would do well to consider what is implied in this practice.

When a host welcomes someone—sometimes even a stranger, he lays bare the most intimate space of his life: his home. Home is where we can be most ourselves. Here we are safe, in our own zone, among those closest to us. Here we build, shape, and order things—both tangible and intangible—to make an environment congenial to a dignified life with those we love. Our home might not be a place of wealth and worldly success. But it is ours, and a work of our love.

Why would we open this intimate space to others—others who often cannot or will not appreciate it for what it is? How can they possibly belong? Such is the drama of hospitality. Somehow we see others not as alien, but as belonging. We perceive some deep connection with others. So we decide to treat our space as their space, because somehow they are ours and we are theirs. We act lovingly, even if we don’t feel the love.

But Hesiod warns of a time when such affection will wither. When the practice of hospitality vanishes, what can we do to rekindle the affection—and all the gracious forms, even formalities—that embody and convey it? Perhaps we simply start by opening our doors with affection. We can make our home a more homely home, for others. Ours might be the first they ever experience as their own home. Where they can see and feel that they really do belong.

Hesiod (8th century B.C.) was a Greek contemporary of Homer, and likewise an epic poet. His Works and Days sketches the year-round work on a homestead. It also describes various characteristics of both a troubled time period—Hesiod’s own, and those of a golden age. This is the second of several Wednesday Quotes devoted to the characteristics of the former, to be followed by several concerning the latter.

Image: Rubens rendition of the delightful story of the poor peasants Philemon and Baucis, who offered hospitality to Zeus and Mercury who were disguised as travelers. See here for the fuller story.

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