(Homer, poet behind the Iliad and Odyssey. Image found here.)
The way the suitors tried to win over Penelope was very pathetic and confusing considering there would be no possible way a woman would respect what the suitors did. The constant pillaging of Odysseusí possessions, food, weapons, clothing was disgraceful in Penelopeís eyes and obviously not a good way to win her over. The actions the suitor should have taken were ones of respect. Pick flowers for her, or give her presents. Have a feast in her name, with their own food and not Odysseusí. The traditional values of old were wasted. The fact that the suitors planned on murdering Telemachus in order to have him out of their way to get to Penelope showed that these suitors' actions to win Penelope were wrong.
(Penelope Discovered by the Suitors, John Flaxman. Penelope is caught in her attempt to delay the inevitable. Image source: An Illustrated Guide to the Trojan War)
The hospitality that was shown by Penelope and Telemachus show what type of people they are. Respectful and understanding of the cultural values expressed during that time. Giving food, shelter, and clothing to people that knock on their door. They did this. However, the consistency that the suitors had to win Penelope and waste Odysseusís possessions was wrong and should not have happened. The parents of the suitors should have noticed the misdoings of the suitors in the sense of traditional values and should have told them what the best course of action would be to take.
The values that the suitors should have shown to Penelope and Telemachus should be ones of respect, understanding of what they are going through with the loss of their father, compassion, and giving. The suitors should have cared for Penelope and Telemachus by being supporters of them not people that take advantage of people that are confused and at a loss.
I understand what the suitors were trying to do, and the fact was that Odysseus was gone for 20 years. I would have done the same in trying to receive Penelopeís hand in marriage; however, the actions that were taken were the wrong ones and the traditional values used in Ancient Greece at the time were not respected. And so because the suitors did not appreciate these values the end result to them was just. The suitors received what was coming to them.
(Alternatively, if you're curious about xenia as it was supposed to function within its normal social context, here's a page on the drama of Homeric hospitality. And it is drama. Discusses both social and religious impetus for providing hospitality, as well as an interesting take on other abuses of xenia in the Odyssey.)
<< back to intro -- -- -- forward to part 2 >>