ὤ μοι ἐγώ, τέων αὖτε βροτῶν ἐς γαῖαν ἱκάνω
ἦ ῥ᾽ οἵ γ᾽ ὑβρισταί τε καὶ ἄγριοι οὐδὲ δίκαιοι,
ἦε φιλόξεινοι καί σφιν νόος ἐστὶ θεουδής
A simple traveller in the ancient world trying to get from point A to point B on some errand, upon coming upon an unknown people, may well have exclaimed “Woe is me! To the land of what mortals am I now come? Are they cruel, and wild, and unjust? Or are they hospitable to strangers and have god-fearing minds?”
So indeed asked Odysseus, twice, during his travels from Troy to Ithaca, and no wonder; back then there were no welcoming Comfort Inns along the way and no highway patrols or coast guard enforcing the local laws. Bandits and pirates were a common threat on land and sea. Travellers had to rely on the benefaction of strangers, and so it is no wonder that a complex system of rituals and ethics sprang up to deal with interactions between guests and hosts. Indeed, the concept was so important to the Hellenics that they attributed its oversight to Zeus himself.
This ethical and ritual system went far beyond our modern notions of hospitality, which is generally limited to gestures such as bringing a customary bottle of wine or flowers when invited to dinner. As a result ADF, although it officially uses the word ‘hospitality’ as the name of this virtue, more often than not talks about *ghosti, a reconstructed proto-Indo-European word. This is a good word since those literate in English will recognize the root of both host and guest in the word. My preference is to use the ancient Greek xenia which also derives from *ghosti but which is well attested with numerous references in the classics and therefore more familiar to me.
In the classical sources the typical xenia rituals followed a pattern of i) the host welcoming the guest and seeing to their needs (bathing, food, drink) before even asking their name, ii) the guest being courteous and undemanding and if possible providing news, stories, or song, and iii) the host providing a parting gift to the guest. Given this framework provided by the ancients, it is perhaps a bit of a curiosity as to what ADF suggests when they recommend hospitality as a virtue. Most of the ADF literature related to the *ghosti relationship concerns ritual context, the idea being to be a good host to the Kindred. I actually find this usage somewhat questionable on a number of grounds, but that is a topic for a different essay.
The real question that I am wrestling with here is; given that central to the notion of *ghosti / xenia was the ability to create a ritualized relationship between strangers for reasons that mostly no longer exist in the modern west, what does hospitality / *ghosti / xenia mean today as a virtue for day to day living? Is it really just bringing that bottle of wine when invited to dinner and not flirting with your host’s wife?
I don’t have the answer to this question, but it feels like the type of question that is more valuable in the asking than in the answering.