I had some guests over for dinner, and I started to think about guest/host relationships and how much of that is standard, and how much is not. In my usual circles, the invitation to a party or event comes with the following.
Guest: What should I bring?
Me: Whatever or X is bringing A, Y is bringing B, so bring Z?
There are times when not making a list lead to four desserts, or three kinds of vodka, but all in all we seem to assume that it’s part of our invitation. Bring something big or small and it will be appreciated. Last night I made the main course and two sides; our guests brought dessert and an appetizer. We all raided our well stocked liquor cabinet, stocked at least partially due to the bottles brought over for parties.
Well in mythology this has a name Xenia, and it was one of the major rules one did not break, the guest/host relationship. With good reason, you never know if that old man traveling is Zeus, or some other god in the guise of a lowly traveler, or a wandering stranger. That one eye guy going by the name “Guest”? Really that’s your super secret disguise name Odin? Guest? Fine. Guest it is.
We have the story of Tantalus forever in Tartarus in a pool of water under a tree full of fruit. Every time he reaches for a fruit, it is just out of reach and every he tries to get a drink, the water sinks lower. What terrible thing did he do? When the gods were over for a feast, he decided, that he would boil his son and attempt to feed him to them. Not only is such a murder one of the worst you could commit, he then compounded it with a breaking of host etiquette. Strike 2 sir. Why did he do this terrible thing? Because he didn’t think the gods would notice. And you’re out. It’s like he cast all three unforgivable curses in front Aurors and thought nothing would happen. Hubris, Xenia, and filicide, he knew the rules of his culture, and decided they did not apply to him.
On a more positive not Baucis and Philemon hosted Zeus and Hermes in disguise, after everyone in their town turned away the two travelers. A clear breech of protocol, this older couple took the strangers in and despite not having much served them well. And when they revealed themselves, they took the couple out of town and then destroyed said village. Pays to be polite eh? When they die, they get their wish to die together and are turned into two trees whose branches are forever entwined.
This can also come back to haunt you on a different front. Because once you have a guest there are certain rules you must follow. In the Lokasenna, Loki uses his status as a guest at dinner party to insult most of the Norse gods who currently can’t beat him into a pulp because he is a guest.
Bellerophon another figure in Greek Mythology is inadvertently is saved twice by hospitality, once after his host’s wife accuses him of rape after he turned her down. Since he was already a guest, a ploy is devised, to send him with a message to another. The problem is he is treated as a guest first, so two days later when he opens the message, that says ‘kill the messenger’ its too late. He’s a guest. Also what have we said about killing the messenger? Good messengers are hard to find.