In both “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” and “The Odyssey” by Homer, hospitality one of the vital social customs that allows for open communication in a non-threatening manner that offers established patterns of behavior and norms. In both cultures represented in ”Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” and “The Odyssey”, the use of hospitality to “break the ice” first before learning about their visitor’s intention creates a better possibility of discussing the needs for a visit without the strain of ill or cold treatment. In both ”Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” and “The Odyssey”, there are numerous examples of hospitality that represent the idea of diplomacy and it is clear from each that this is an important custom that carries a great deal of weight in both cultures.
In “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”, hospitality is an important social custom and serves an almost diplomatic or political role in the society presented. In courts of all castles, strangers (assuming they bear the mark of some class or sophistication, it seems) are welcomed heartily to dine or join in courtly festivities. Interestingly, in the case of this text, even a strange sight such as the Green Knight is welcomed into the castle and is given an audience without question or hesitation. After the narrator describes his fantastic appearance for several lines, Arthur, a gracious and hospitable host explained in one of the important quotes from “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”, that he “hailed him, as behooved, as he had no fear, / And said ‘Fellow, in faith you have found fair welcome; / The head of this hostelry Arthur am I; / Leap down, and linger, I pray, / And the tale of your intent you shall tell us after” (lines 250-255). Part of what makes this hospitality remarkable is that there are no attendants to bid him welcome, but the King himself does this duty and invites him warmly.
This same friendly reception and hospitality occurs when months later, Gawain is riding on his quest and beholds the castle. Instead of having to sneak around to approach it and be offered a cold or suspicious greeting, he is treated with perfect hospitality as the servants come to attend to him without question. The lord of the castle comes down and says in an important quote from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight that, “To this house you are heartily welcome: / What is here is solely yours, o have in your power and sway” (lines 835-836) and the two embrace. While granted, in this case the castle is a “set-up” this is clearly a common practice in this culture. As is the case in Homer’s Odyssey, this practice of generous hospitality serves an important diplomatic function. As this thesis statement for Sir Gawain and the Green Knight suggests, by offering one’s possessions, food, and company, this opens the way for effective communication that starts off on the right foot. In the Anglo-Saxon culture presented in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, just as in the ancient world of Homer where men were sent on missions to foreign lands, this allowed for diplomacy and offered the chance for both parties to gauge one another’s intentions and motives in a non-threatening way.
The same acts of generous hospitality are also seen in The Odyssey by Homer and just as in the case of Anglo-Saxon culture, these acts of kindness serve to open the lines of communication in a non-threatening way. For instance, in Homer’s Odyssey, when Telemakhos goes off on his own and encounters the castle of Menelaus, there is no hesitation to bring him inside and allow him to join the feast and welcomes them personally, saying in one of the important quotes from The Odyssey, “Welcome and fall to; in time, when you have supped we hope to hear your names” (Odyssey IV. 65-66).Another important aspect of hospitality that is present in Homer’s text is the way it allows someone to lull the other into passivity. While this is somewhat the case in Gawain’s story because of the way hospitality put the knight at a false sense of ease in the castle, this is an especially salient feature in The Odyssey. For instance, when Odysseus comes upon Circe, she uses hospitality to lure Odysseus in, “On thrones she seated them and lounging chairs, / while she prepared a meal of cheese and barley / and amber honey mixed with Praminan wine, / adding her own vile pinch, to make them lose / desire or thought of the dear fatherland (Odyssey X.257-261). In this case, the common practice of hospitality can be used for more manipulative purposes. Although this may be the case in some instances, nonetheless, hospitality is an important diplomatic and social custom.
Although both stories show examples of hospitality opening the door to possible deception, as a whole, this practice serves these cultures by creating an environment that is not suspicious or threatening. This makes it easier for both parties to freely exchange information without resulting to unfriendliness at the sight of someone foreign or unknown.
Other essays and articles in the Literature Archives related to this topic include : The Development of the Character Telemakhos in The Odyssey Lancelot, Guinevere, and the Fair Maiden of Ascolot in Le Morte Darthur The Narrow Role of Women The Odyssey by Homer Food Imagery and Temptation in The Odyssey