Comments by Mark Casey on Book 7 of the Odyssey
Question: In book 7, Odysseus is carefully counseled by two women (one a princess, the other a goddess) in how to approach Queen Arete. How is hospitality defined according to Odysseus’ experience at the palace in Phaeacia? How does it compare to Telemachus’ experience earlier at Pylos and Sparta? How does it compare to the scenes at Ithaca in Odysseus’ own palace with the suitors?
The model for hospitality in Phaeacia seems to be one in which the stranger first acts as a supplicant,
and only then is rewarded with hospitality. In Pylos and Sparta, however, hospitality is given immediately, without the stranger having had to be a supplicant first.
Evidence of the supplicant model in Phaeacia:
Odysseus is advised by both Nausicaa and Athena to throw himself around Queen Arete’s knees (presumably this is done while he is on his knees). When Odysseus does so, he pleads with the Queen, saying “I come in great distress; grant me but this: a speedy passage home, for I have suffered.” (“Grant me this” is the sort of thing you say when you’re begging.) After making his plea, he sits in the ashes near the hearth, like a beggar or other low status person would. Also, later in the chapter when Queen Arete is talking to Odysseus, she criticizes Nausicaa saying, “my daughter was out of line in not bringing you here to our house… since you went to her first as a suppliant.”
Evidence of the “immediate generosity” model in Pylos
: When Nestor and his sons saw Telemachus, they “all crowded around, clasping their hands in welcome, and inviting them to sit down. The hosts are proactive, welcoming, warm, and generous. Nestor’s son Peisistratus reaches out to Telemachus on his own initiative; by contrast Lord Alcinous had to tell his son to rise from his chair to make room for Odysseus. Peisistratus offers Telemachus food and wine; by contrast Lord Alcinous has servants offer Odysseus food and wine. Peisistratus tells Telemachus to say the ritual prayers to Poseidon; by contrast the elder Echeneus tells Alcinous to tell others to get the prayers going. Telemachus describes himself as “on my knees” to Nestor, but that is a figure of speech; by contrast Odysseus was really on his knees with Arete.
Evidence of the “immediate generosity” model in Sparta
: Menelaus insists hospitality be shown to Telemachus, and is displeased at Eteoneus’s suggestion that they might let the strangers find hospitality elsewhere. There is no supplication here. Telemachus and Nestor get bathed, rubbed down, clothed in nice clothing, and asked to sit beside Menelaus. They are invited to eat before being inquired of.
- Why the difference in the two models
? I’m speculating here, but here are a few guesses:
- The Phaecaians seem to be not quite human.
I’m not sure of their exact lineage, but Alcinous describes them as being “kin” to the gods, “just like the Cyclopes and savage Giants.” He also says the gods normally show themselves directly to the Phaeacians. A god would expect someone to supplicate before receiving hospitality.
- The Phaeacians seem not to have had to depend on the kindness of strangers as much as others have
. They live on this isolated island with their magic ships. Menelaus mentions that he has many times received hospitality elsewhere, and that is one of the reasons he wants to make sure he offers good hospitality to Telemachus. I wonder how many times these isolated Phaeacians have had to depend on others.
- The Phaeacians seem to be a surlier people. Nausicaa worries that the “insolent louts in this town” will recognize Odysseus is a stranger and insult her for (1) keeping the company of a strange many before her wedding day and (2) having turned up her nose at the Phaeacians who wooed me.” Similarly, Athena advises Odysseus that he should be quiet, not look at anyone or talk to strangers, because people here aren’t tolerant of strangers or welcoming; they trust only in their ships.