A gift is anything presented to another without expectation of payment or anything else in return. However, the individual giving the gift may sometimes expect reciprocation of the same. Generally, a gift is meant to be free, and no action is taken to those who do not reciprocate. Gifts have been known to foster good social relations and contribute to social cohesion. A gift by extension can mean anything that makes the other party less sad especially as a favor to them. Such gifts may be in the form of kindness or forgiveness. Gifts are occasional and presented every day of the week, and on certain special occasions such as birthdays, mothers’ day, Christmas among other special occasions. Gifts can be given to express friendship, gratitude, piety, solidarity, and wealth. Gifts are also offered during certain customary practices. In the ancient Greek, gifts were offered as a sign of hospitality. This paper discusses the theme of gift-giving in The Odysseus and gives three examples that contrast Odysseus assertion that gift-givingis out of respect.
Hospitality was well rooted in the cultural values of ancient Greeks. People were to open their doors to strangers who stumbled upon their homes and be hospitable to these guests. Throughout their journey, Odysseus and his son Telemachus were welcomed to many homes. They were fed, waited upon and bathed until they were ready to go out again. Their hosts believed it was wrong to send a stranger packing since the strangers and beggars came from the gods. They even feared that the gods would show up in forms of strangers and beggars to see who would take them in (14 64-66). Once a guest was prepared to leave, the host usually sent the guest along with gifts. These gifts were meant to help the guest for the remainder of the journey or a token of gratitude. These gifts came in the form of drinks, food, jewelry or money.
The first example of gift-giving is when Telemachus reaches the palace of King Nestor. When Telemachus arrived at Nestor’s kingdom, he was given royal treatment. He was fed and entertained by the stories of King Nestor. Afterward, Telemachus was given a place to spend the night. In the morning, King Nestor offered Telemachus another feast before he was ready to leave. Before he left, King Nestor ordered his servants to “bring Telemachus horses, a good full-manned team” (3 532-533). Along with the horses that the good king gifted Telemachus, “a housekeeper stowed some bread and wine aboard and meat too, food fit for the son of kings” (3 537-538). Nestor provided all these things and went ahead to offer his own son to escort Telemachus and his group along the journey. Nestor did this act of hospitality in regard to Zeus the god of Xenia.
The second example of gift-giving is when King Menelaus welcomes Telemachus into his kingdom. Menelaus offered Telemachus many gifts thereafter. This king wished to give Telemachus “three stallions and a chariot burnished bright and a gorgeous cup” (4: 662-663). For his own reasons, Telemachus declined these gifts and instead the king gave Telemachus a “mixing bowl solid silver finished off with a lip of gold” (4: 692-693). King Menelaus is willing to go out of his way to give Telemachus extravagant gifts. Menelaus does this because he has received many guest-gifts before and now he wishes to be a host. He also alludes to the fact that Zeus is the god who presides over guest-friendships just like Nestor did (3, 346).
The two kings differ in the way they give their gifts, While Nestor gave Telemachus his gifts and sent him on his way, Menelaus wanted to delay Telemachus. The original gifts of a chariot and horses are a ploy by Menelaus to detain Telemachus. He attempts to delay Telemachus because he reminds him of his old war friend. Helen and Menelaus do not have children at home and, therefore, want a younger person nearby. However, Telemachus see’s Menelaus intentions and finally leaves. Menelaus offering of gifts was meant to make Telemachus forget his home. The offering of gifts that would make one forget their homes also echo’s the land of Lotus-eaters.
A third example of a gift is the gift that Phaeacians gave to Odysseus. Odysseus is welcomed into King Alcinous palace where the king listens to his tales. On his way out, Odysseus is accompanied by the Phaeacians in a great ship on his way to his home in Ithaca. Such a journey must have cost the king many resources, but for the respect that the king held for the great warrior, Odysseus; giving him a ship to escort him home was just a token of his gratitude. We see the phaeacians carry Odysseus when the ship arrives at Ithaca (13: 133-134). Odysseus is also offered a gift in the form of an apology from Euryalas. He receives a valuable Bronze sword. Alcinous also gives Odysseus a golden cup as a gift that will make Odysseus remember him. Nausicaa gives Odysseus clothing, food and drinks. This is a tiny gesture compared to that of the palace. On the other hand, Nausicaa rejects half of Odysseus supplication, while Odysseus arrives at the palace as a suppliant waiting in ashes. Such a presentation is not proper for a guest-host friendship. In the end of book 7, the phaeacians still remain hosts who are capable of both good and bad hospitality. They are extremely generous in giving gifts, and are very eager to please. It is not their goodness or their badness that is in question, but rather why they are so generous in the first place. They will not benefit from a reciprocal since they are isolated and live far from the rest. However, their desire for fame and superiority is what motivates them to be so generous in their gifts.
The theme of gift-giving has been well brought out in The Odyssey. However, these gifts are not as a sign of respect in all occasions. Rarely were gifts given as a sign of respect: in most cases, the gifts were given because they feared they would face the wrath of the gods if they sent a guest packing or treated them terribly. Gift-giving was in this case forced on the host and was both a burden to the host and the guest as a reciprocal was also expected form the guest. Thus, gifts were not a sign of respect. Nestor gives gifts to Telemachus to please Zeus, Menelaus gives gifts to Telemachus to make him forget home, and finally, the Phaeacians give gifts to Odysseus for their kingdoms reputation.
Homer, E V. Rieu, and D C. H. Rieu. The Odyssey. London: Penguin Classics, 2009. Print.