The Cyclops and Xenia

In our first lesson after the Festival, we returned at last to the Odyssey. We looked at the Greek words ‘xenos’, agora’ and ‘phobos’ as a starter task, and many of you recognised that ‘phobos’ was connected to ‘phobia’, and that ‘xenos’ meant ‘foreigner’. I explained that ‘agora’ was the Greek marketplace where speakers would make speeches, and much of city life would take place.

We then went on to discuss ‘xenia’ – the rules of ‘guest friendship’ – that one must invite a guest in, offer food, drink and a bath, before asking who they were . Finally, gifts must be exchanged on departure which seals a bond of ‘guest friendship’ that is carried down families (we had seen the episode in the Iliad last term where two warriors realise they are connected through the xenia of their ancestors).

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We then looked at the Cyclops story in the Odyssey – one of the most well-known and especially grisly episodes! You all read it, looking out for examples where xenia is broken. There were lots to find – ranging from Odysseus’ men entering the Cyclops’ cave while he was way and eating his cheese – to the Cyclops actually eating his guests!

We talked about why xenia was so important to ancient Greece – where there were no hotels and ways of protecting travellers.  We also looked at the very vivid similes which describe the moment that Odysseys and his men drive a stake into the Cyclops’ eye – one comparing the process to a shipwright and a giant drill rotating, while the other making vivid the crackling and hissing of the eye when the hot stake plunges into it, by comparing it to the actions of a blacksmith.

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Finally, we started translating the story of Narcissus and Echo, and had an “Oscars” ceremony to celebrate all your amazing work on the storyboards and the festival stalls!

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