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It is sometimes translated as 'guest-friendship' or 'ritualized friendship'. It is an institutionalized relationship rooted in generosity, gift exchange, and reciprocity. The rituals of hospitality created and expressed a reciprocal relationship between guest and host expressed in both material benefits e. The word is derived from xenos 'stranger'. The Greek god Zeus is sometimes called Zeus Xenios in his role as a protector of strangers.
He thus embodied the moral obligation to be hospitable to foreigners and guests. Theoxeny or theoxenia is a theme in Greek mythology in which human beings demonstrate their virtue or piety by extending hospitality to a humble stranger xenos , who turns out to be a disguised deity theos with the capacity to bestow rewards. These stories caution mortals that any guest should be treated as if potentially a disguised divinity and help establish the idea of xenia as a fundamental Greek custom.
Legally, xenia was a charge of bastardy. Attic lawsuits apply it to accuse someone of committing citizenship fraud perpetrated through marriage fraud. Xenia was considered to be particularly important in ancient times when people thought that gods mingled among them.
If one had poorly played host to a stranger, there was the risk of incurring the wrath of a god disguised as the stranger. It is thought that the Greek practice of theoxenia may have been the antecedent of the Roman rite of Lectisternium , or the draping of couches. While these practices of guest-friendship are centered on the divine, they would become common among the Greeks in incorporating xenia into their customs and manners.
Indeed, while originating from mythical traditions, xenia would become a standard practice throughout all of Greece as a historical custom in the affairs of humans interacting with humans as well as humans interacting with the gods. Xenia is an important theme in Homer's Odyssey. Since the story takes place during Greek times, the theme of xenia is shown throughout the story. Historian Gabriel Herman lays out the use of xenia in political alliances in the Near East. Solemn pronouncements were often used to establish a ritualised personal relationship, such as when "Xerxes, having been offered lavish hospitality and most valuable gifts by Pythios the Lydian, declared " The surviving treaties of 'fraternity' 'paternity' and 'love and friendship' between the petty rulers of the ancient Near East in the second half of the second millennium B.