Xenia – the act of gifting by peterfuchs
September 18, 2008, 4:07 pm
Filed under: Art as Gift Research blog | Tags:
Hospitality of Abraham by Andrei Rublev

Hospitality of Abraham by Andrei Rublev

The custom of “friendship hospitality”, Xenia – generous treatment of strangers, wanderers, dates back to the Ancient Greek times. Zeus Xenios, Wandering Zeus was the patron gods of travelers, who could expect to find a bowl of warm soup and a bed anywhere in the Ancient Greek lands. A violation of Xenia led to the outbreak

In Ovid’s moralizing fable (Metamorphoses VIII), which stands on the periphery of Greek mythology and Roman mythology, Baucis and Philemon were an old married couple in the region of Tyana, which Ovid places in Phrygia, and the only ones in their town to welcome disguised gods Zeus and Hermes (in Roman mythology, Jupiter and Mercury respectively), thus embodying the pious exercise of hospitality, the ritualized guest-friendship termed xenia.

The story appears in many other mythological sources, for example folktales about poor wanderers, who turns to be kings or divine entities, and bestow riches in return of the hospitality. Also, consider the story of Abraham and the three angels visiting his tent, and bestows him with child after his generosity. However, the Greek version is the only one, which states, that a gift have to be given by the host at the end of the visit.  The basic rules of Xenia are:

Xenia consists of three basic rules: The respect from host to guest, the respect from guest to host, and the parting gift from host to guest. The host must be hospitable to the guest and provide him with food and drink and a bath, if required. It is not polite to ask questions until the guest has stated his needs. The guest must be courteous to his host and not be a burden. The parting gift is to show the host’s honor at receiving the guest. This was especially important in the ancient times when men thought gods mingled amongst them. If you had played host to a deity (a concept known as theoxenia) and performed poorly, you would incur the wrath of a god. (via wikipedia)

Does Xenia falls under the criteria of modern day gift-economy, as one of the driving force behind this custom was the fact, that any of the travelers could be a god in disguise? Definitely yes, as the moral gain of the story is only affirms a social tradition which seems to be a crucial element of Ancient Greek Society.


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