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The Homeric heroes readily give away the gifts of respected guest friends. But this was probably because the absence of coined money had not made the broad distinction now universally felt between the market value and the sentimental value of a present. The main Homeric personalties consisted of arms, cups, and ornaments. These were obtained by barter, and taken in payment, and so even the gifts of friends were not considered in any different light from a mere money present.
But in other points hospitality was, I think, decaying. Though every chief was bound to receive a stranger, and though the more noble of them did so readily, yet there are hints of some compunctions in accepting hospitality, and some merit claimed by the host for granting it. Mentor and Telemachus (y 343) rise up from Nestor's feast, and intend to return to their ship, when the old hero lays hold of them, and exclaims: Zeus and the other immortals forbid that you should leave me and go to your ships as if I were a man short of clothing, or poor, who had no wrappers and rugs for himself and his guests to sleep in comfortably.' And so when Telemachus arrives at Sparta, Menelaus' confidential servant (Oeраπov) asks: Tell me, shall we take round the horses of these noble strangers, or send them on to some one else, who may befriend them?' But Menelaus answers in great anger: 'You used not to be a fool; but now you are talking silly nonsense, like a child: as if we ourselves had not before reaching home enjoyed the hospitality of many!' Both Nestor and Menelaus were gentlemen of the old school; so that when the question
raised, they hesitate not in their answer. another hero speaks out more naively: 'Of course you must receive a stranger, when he comes; but who would be so foolish as to invite a man of his own accord, except it were a skilled artisan '—who of course would more than repay his host by his services.
We hear too that the presents generously bestowed by the kings were recovered by them subsequently from their people, and yet this homely arrangement seems fairer and more satisfactory than the habit of modern times, when people give their kings a large income beforehand, in the vain expectation that they will spend part of it at least in hospitality. The Homeric Greeks were too shrewd and wide-awake a people to sow where they did not reap, and the increase of communication, and consequent frequency of visitors, were sure to close quickly the open door, and the unasked right of entry. The anxious precautions of Ulysses on entering the house of Alcinous, so similar to the acts of the exile Themistocles at the hearth of the Molossian king, show that there was risk, even in peace, for travellers; and it may be that the generous hospitality of the nobler Homeric chiefs was even then not the general rule, but the mark of a higher and more refined nature. So we find the elder Miltiades, in historical times, sitting at his open door in contrast to the general selfishness of his neighbours. Homeric politeness seems, then, in this respect also, a forerunner of the later Greek courtesy, that it consisted rather in good taste and in tact than in reckless extravagance or in self-denial for the sake of others. Thus we find
Homeric men avoiding to press an unwilling guesta piece of good taste unknown to many of our middle classes; and evading all unpleasant subjects—a piece of tact requiring subtilty of mind and quickness of perception. The medieval baron or the old Irish squire would readily fight a duel for a friend from mere politeness, they would not have comprehended the points on which the Greeks laid stress.
Indeed no one can read the account of the games in the Iliad (Book xxiii), or that of the courts of Alcinous and of Menelaus in the Odyssey, without being greatly struck with the gentleness and grace of the ideal life portrayed by the Homeric poets. The modern betting man will be surprised to see the open and gentlemanly way in which the races and other contests were conducted. Of course there was a little jostling, and some cheating, especially on the part of the gods who befriended each competitor; but then we find a man's word believed that he had no unfair intention—a piece of open dealing which would hardly answer among the habitués of our race-courses. Above all, the conduct of Achilles is marked throughout by the finest and kindliest feeling; indeed, in no other part of the poem does he appear to nearly such advantage.
The court of Menelaus is a worthy counterpart to this picture. No doubt this hero is always represented in a very favourable point of view, socially, and Helen is acknowledged to have charms not only of person, but of intellect, beyond all other women, so that this court may be regarded as the poet's ideal of refinement and politeness. But admitting this, we
must also admit that the ideal is very high. There is nothing inferior to the tone of society in our best circles in this picture. The presence of Helen among the company, her luxurious elegance, her quick tact and ability—all these features show how fully the poets appreciated the influence of female society in softening the rude manners of the pugnacious heroes. So at the court of Alcinous we are especially introduced to Queen Arete (ʼn 66 sqq.) as a lady honoured by her husband above the honour given to other ladies by their husbands, and greeted with kindly words by her people whenever she went out through the city, 'for she was not wanting in good sense and discretion, and acted as a peacemaker, allaying the quarrels of men.'
We have thus been passing insensibly from the Homeric hero's treatment of his fellows, to his treatment of the ladies of his family. The cases I have already cited show how high was the position of married women in the royal houses. The charming portrait of the Princess Nausicaa corresponds with it perfectly and in all these ladies' habits we find the greatest liberty of demeanour, and all absence of silly jealousy on the part of their relatives. Arete, as we have just seen, was in the habit of going, apparently on foot', through her city. Nausicaa thinks that if her gossiping townsmen see her passing through the streets with so handsome a stranger as Ulysses, they will at once set him down as her intended husband, and censure her behind backs for despising all her Phæacian στείχῃσ ̓ ἀνὰ ἄστυ. η 72.
suitors. And when Ulysses has apparently forgotten her, and she feels somewhat heart-sore about him, she does not think it unmaidenly to lie in wait for him where he cannot pass her, and gently cast up to him that though now honoured and courted by all the nation, yet to her he once owed his rescue from want and hunger. These and many other passages show that the Homeric ladies enjoyed a liberty unknown in good society at Athens, though perhaps allowed in other parts of Greece; and it will be a question for special discussion hereafter, why the Athenians, of all Greeks, retrograded most from the higher attitude of the epic age. More especially, the rape of Helen and the seduction of Clytemnestra seem to imply a very free intercourse among the sexes, even to admit of such attempts being made. From this point of view Æschylus felt with a true instinct the independent and free attitude of a reigning queen when her husband was from home. So Penelope entertains even wandering strangers, and has long interviews with them, in the hope of hearing of Ulysses, and there was nothing unseemly in doing so. Sophocles, in his dialogues between Clytemnestra and Electra1, was misled by the customs of his day, and did not feel the epic freedom of women sufficiently. It is also important to note that this liberty was not confined to the higher classes, as might possibly be supposed, for a remarkable simile says: Why should we now revile one another, like women who in some angry quarrel go into the
1 ἀνειμένη μὲν, ὡς ἔοικας, αὖ στρέφει.
Soph. Εlect. v. 516.