world of guest friendship, which the Suitors incontrovertibly violate. At any rate, Homer leaves open the question of whether their deaths are just. The families of the Suitors do not agree, whereas Eurycleia rejoices as she sees Odysseus spattered with gore and surrounded by corpses (XXII.408). The morality of the events is deliberately left ambiguous, and it is left for the audience to decide.
Homer makes great play on the theme of guest friendship and the role of the host to maintain hospitality to his guest or 'xenos'. This is hardly unusual, since Homer himself would probably been a travelling minstrel (rhapsode) himself, singing his version of the traditional epic songs of the wanderings of Odysseus. As such, he would have been reliant on the generosity of his patron, thus making the inclusion of a theme of the morality of hospitality an attractive one. Perhaps this influenced the plot at Book XXII, where Odysseus spares the bard Phemius amid the slaughter, although of course this is no more than speculation.
The highly civilised and courteous Phaeacians are contrasted and juxtaposed with the brutal and savage Cyclops Polyphemus. We have few sympathies with the conduct of the Suitors, whether we think they deserve their fate or not, for they continually trample on the most basic tenets of 'xenia'. In this aspect of their behaviour they are contrasted with Eumaeus, who not only maintains a pious attitude towards his 'xenos', but is also outraged at having to provide the profligate Suitors with his master's pigs, which is of course a violation of the normal codes of guest-friendship. The abuse of these customs and kindnesses is revealed by Aeolus' attitude when he sees Odysseus and his companions for the second time, after they have wasted his gift of the winds (Book X). They are cursed by the gods for their stupidity; further punishment is inflicted upon the Greeks when they slaughter the oxen of the Sun while staying on the island of Thesprotia, over which Helios is lord.
These numerous references to guest-friendship indicate that it was a central tenet of Greek custom, at least in terms of the eighth century's conception of the heroic world, and probably in the social structures of that time as well, when Homer probably wrote his epic down. In fact, it was of such importance that it is essential in any explanation of whether the Suitors 'deserve' their fate. To modern eyes, their slaughter by Odysseus has often seemed brutal and excessive, but this is to underestimate the significance of 'xenia' in the heroic society that Homer evokes, a society which must have had at least some relevance to his own.
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