Monday, July 16, 2007

Xenía in D.C.

Last month's news but still worth thinking about:

It started about midnight on June 16 when a group of friends was finishing a dinner of marinated steaks and jumbo shrimp on the back patio of a District of Columbia home. That's when a hooded man slid through an open gate and pointed a handgun at the head of a 14-year-old girl.

"Give me your money, or I'll start shooting," he said, according to D.C. police and witnesses.

Everyone froze, including the girl's parents. Then one guest spoke.

"We were just finishing dinner," Cristina "Cha Cha" Rowan, 43, told the man. "Why don't you have a glass of wine with us?"

The intruder had a sip of their Chateau Malescot St-Exupery and said, "Damn, that's good wine."
The story gets even stranger, with Camembert and hugs.

I'm hoping that any of my Homer-reading students who come across this news item pause to think on the ancient Greek practice of ξενία (xenía), hospitality. The Iliad ends with an extraordinary moment of xenía, when Achilles as host treats Hector's father Priam with respect and compassion. The two share a meal before Priam departs with Hector's returned corpse. The Odyssey is a running display of xenía and its opposite: virtually every scenario in the poem hinges upon the practice or abuse of hospitality. And hospitality isn't limited to better homes and palaces: the swineherd Eumaeus acquits himself as a perfect host by offering Odysseus that best that he has: food, shelter, and a cloak to stay warm (almost literally the shirt off his back).

What's remarkable in this D.C. story is that one person's quick thinking changed — in a moment, for everyone involved — a dismally familiar scenario into something far more humanly complicated. How odd this robber must've felt to be seen not as a terrifying monster but as a guest. And how odd his potential victims must've felt to be recognizing his need for affection (however chemically induced that need may have been).
Attempted robbery ends in group hug (Yahoo News, via Boing Boing)

comments: 3

JuliaR said...

I don't know -- I've been burgled several times and every time I come home and find the house has been hit, I want to beat the intruder with a baseball bat. I suppose it might be different if I got home and found the burglar still there. When I walked in on that hotel thief in NYC, we just exchanged a few words and he left and I told security about it a few minutes later. I guess you have to take each situation as you find it (and yourself at the time).

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of a story a friend of mine used to tell. He lived in DC (ironically) & I believe this took place there. I'll share the nutshell version. A female friend of his awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of someone in her apartment. She got up and started to make breakfast. She called out to the burglar, who was hiding, and said, "Breakfast is ready! Come on in and have some eggs." He came into the kitchen, sat down, and she fed him. They talked for about an hour or so, then she (eventually) called him a cab to take him to the mental hospital, because (apparently) he needed some support in that arena.

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for sharing these stories, Julia and Devra.