HOMER: The Iliad [Book VI]

In Book VI of Homer’s Iliad, Diomedes continues to massacre the Trojans. Helenus, the chief Trojan prophet, urges Hector to return to Troy and command the Trojan matrons to pray to Minerva to remove Diomedes from the battlefield. Hector heeds the prophet’s advice and retreats to the city.

When Hector arrives in the city, he asks his mother, Queen Hecuba, to assemble the other matrons of Troy in Minerva’s Temple, and entreat the goddess to remove Diomedes from the battle. She complies with her son’s wishes and then Hector runs to his brother Paris’ abode. Hector chastises Paris for breaking the terms of the duel and for fleeing from the battle. Paris asks for his brother’s forgiveness and promises to return to the war.

After visiting his brother, Hector searches for his wife Andromache. He finds her at the gates of Troy and takes leave of her. He fears that this will be the last time he ever sees her. He fears that he will die, Troy will fall, and the Greeks will enslave her. He, nevertheless, returns to the war, despite Andromache’s protests, because he desires fame and honor above all else.

Me glory summons to the martial scene,
The field of combat is the sphere for men.
Where heroes war, the foremost place I claim,
The first in danger as the first in fame.

While Hector is away from the battle, both the Greeks and the Trojans suspend the fighting. In the space between the two armies, Diomedes meets the Trojan hero Glaucus. After discussing their lineage, they realize that their ancestors were friends and performed the rites of hospitality for one another. Thus, they exchange arms and vow never to harm one another.

Hospitality was so important to the ancient Greeks that they had a word to denote the relationship between guests and hosts – xenia. In accordance with custom, ancient Greek hosts generously provided food, wine, shelter and clothing to travelers. In exchange, travelers provided hosts with news from abroad. The god Jove presided over this relationship and punished those who violated its customs.

Sharing food and shelter is a family activity; and therefore, by participating in this type of relationship, a man recalls that he is not only a member of his nuclear family, but also a member of a much larger family – mankind. Glaucus and Diomedes recall this commonality between all men when they discover that their ancestors’ participated in the ritual of hospitality; because of this, they promise never to harm one another. Is the Ancient Greek custom of hospitality the key to ending war?

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