Hospitality. We don’t have guests over often, but we do our best to make them feel welcome. If they’re going to stay, we set up a guest room, remove clutter, put fresh sheets, blankets, and pillows on the bed, as well as make sure that we have enough food on hand to work around food allergies. It’s only been a few times that I have been a guest and I do my best to be polite. I’m just thankful that we don’t take hospitality as seriously as our ancient counterparts.
Xenia consists of two basic rules:
1. The respect from host to guest. The host must be hospitable to the guest and provide him/her with food and drink and a bath, if required. It is not polite to ask questions until the guest has stated his/her needs.
2. The respect from guest to host. The guest must be courteous to the host and not be a burden.
Xenia was considered to be particularly important in ancient times when people thought 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…Indeed, while originating from mythical traditions, xenia would very much become a standard practice throughout much (if not, all) of Greece as customarily proper in the affair of men interacting with men as well as men interacting with the Gods. – Wikipedia
Hospitium is the ancient Greco-Roman concept of hospitality as a divine right of the guest and a divine duty of the host. Similar or broadly equivalent customs were and are also known in other cultures, though not always by that name. Among the Greeks and Romans, hospitium was of a twofold character: private and public…In Homeric times, all strangers, without exception, were regarded as being under the protection of Zeus Xenios, the god of strangers and suppliants, and had the right to hospitality. Immediately on his arrival, the stranger was clothed and entertained, and no inquiry was made as to his name or antecedents until the duties of hospitality had been fulfilled. When the guest parted from his host he was often presented with gifts, and sometimes a die was broken between them. Each then took a part, a family connection was established, and the broken die served as a symbol of recognition; thus the members of each family found in the other hosts and protectors in case of need…Violation by the host of the duties of hospitality was likely to provoke the wrath of the gods; but it does not appear that anything beyond this religious sanction existed to guard the rights of a traveler. – Wikipedia
This is a great resource for Biblical information about hospitality – they also took it very seriously.
Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. – Hebrews 13:2
Much of the ancient world is wrapped up in culture and custom. What we know of it were bits of information written down by historians. We don’t always understand how important the concept of hospitality was. Rarely would we go to war over a bad experience as a guest or narrowly avoid war by being a polite host. We owe it to ourselves to educate ourselves to just how high the stakes are when rules and customs are broken. If we do not, then all we will ever know are pieces of the puzzle, but never the whole picture. We can error by imagining our Southern Hospitality is a distant cousin and close example of what Scripture describes. We miss out on what scripture really means.