Generosity and kindness are principles that are sorely lacking in modernity. The ancients regarded these principles as highly then as we value today everything that is weak, corrupt, insidious and pathetic. Hospitality was a virtue held in renown and high eminence in the ancient world. It was a belief that once stood next to in equality to other high virtues such as truthfulness, justice, honesty and bravery and contributed greatly to one’s personal honour.
The myths of our ancient forebears are difficult to interpret with our dismally modern sense of hospitality and respect. A fostering of hospitality and respect between the host and guest were of vital importance to the Pagan worldview. It provided the host with an opportunity to help another one of his fellow men and to show his true character through acts of kindness. It reassured in the mind of the guest that he could rely on the good nature of his kin when in the time of need. The importance of the virtue of hospitality can be seen in many examples in our mythologies and folk stories. It is a central theme in the story of Philemon and Baucus as described here.
The host is one who is expected to provide his shelter to the guest as if he were his own and to feed and accommodate him as seen reasonable by both parties. The guest was expected to act with humility and modesty and to not demand anything. After all, his presence was not foreseen and his motives were completely unknown to his host. He is an undefined party imposing himself on another. He was to be grateful and engage in pleasant conversation with his host.
Ancient civilizations and societies greeted with enthusiasm and optimism the opportunity to show their generosity. As such, it was conventional for households to put aside a portion of their food for such an event and to have a makeshift bedspace for the traveler. This readiness for the unknown came from the idea of one of the gods being in the form of the traveler. The gods were known to be perpetual wanderers who would spontaneously descend to test the character of humans. If the homeowner declined a traveler, he risked the fury of the gods. If he accepted him and treated him well, he may be richly rewarded.
The idea of hospitality is lamented by many in modern societies for the burden that is imposed upon them. They only live for themselves and will stiffly resist any concession of compassion for their fellow European. It is seen as a trifling annoyance and is met with an apathetic sigh and an indifferent shake of the head. This ancient belief in compassion should not be equated in any sense to the modern cult of multiculturalism that pervades our modern societies. Standards should of course be held when determining if the wandering traveler is truly in need and not trying to simply gain an advantage for himself or for other nefarious motives.
If we want to make our world a more pleasant and livable place to live in, perhaps we should try to rediscover the ancient virtue of hospitality. What if one of the gods shows up at your doorstep?