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.

Originally posted at Bacon from Acorns

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John A. Cuddeback is a professor and chairman of the Philosophy Department at Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia, where he has taught since 1995. He received a Ph.D. in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America under the direction of F. Russell Hittinger. He has lectured on various topics including virtue, culture, natural law, friendship, and household. His book Friendship: The Art of Happiness was republished in 2010 as True Friendship: Where Virtue Becomes Happiness. His writings have appeared in Nova et Vetera, The Thomist, and The Review of Metaphysics, as well as in several volumes published by the American Maritain Association. Though raised in what he calls an ‘archetypical suburb,’ Columbia, Maryland, he and his wife Sofia consider themselves blessed to be raising their six children in the shadow of the Blue Ridge on the banks of the Shenandoah. At the material center of their homesteading projects are heritage breed pigs, which like the pigs of Eumaeus are fattened on acorns, yielding a bacon that too few people ever enjoy. His website dedicated to the philosophy of family and household is baconfromacorns.com.