Sacred Hospitality

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
In Richard Wagner's The Ring of the Nibelung

"Menelaus, there are some strangers come here, two men, who look like sons of Jove. What are we to do? Shall we take their horses out, or tell them to find friends elsewhere as they best can?"
Menelaus was very angry and said, "Eteoneus, son of Boethous, you never used to be a fool, but now you talk like a simpleton. Take their horses out, of course, and show the strangers in that they may have supper; you and I have stayed often enough at other people's houses before we got back here, where heaven grant that we may rest in peace henceforward."

Hospitality is sacred. The host must not harm the guest, the guest must not harm the host, and not offering in the first place is a serious affront. In Ancient Greek, hospitality was called xenia and was sacred; Zeus was called Zeus Xenios in his function as god and guarantor of hospitality and protectors of guests.

Less popular in modern times with the rise in hotels and forms of transport that mean twenty miles is not a day's journey, but Older Than Feudalism and of vast historical importance. Because it's less important nowadays, the extreme punishments dealt out to people who abuse or refuse hospitality in classic tales appear disproportionate.

May be the Good Old Ways, practiced in Arcadia and by the Noble Savage.

Tastes Like Friendship is closely related. The host/guest bond may in fact be triggered by their eating salt together.

Often explicitly invoked in No, Mr. Bond, I Expect You to Dine. Vampire Invitation is closely related, though a being bound by both rules is going to find it very difficult to hurt anyone.

Common in Sweet Home Alabama. Frequently results in Angel Unaware. Often a result of Bedouin Rescue Service. If played up in an inappropriate setting or to a ridiculous extent, it's Stranger Safety. Contrast with Food Chains where it isn't safe to eat anything. For the ultimate violation, see Nasty Party.

Examples of Sacred Hospitality include:


Anime and Manga

  • This trope appears to be in strong effect in Kino's Journey, where nearly every country welcomes any travellers from the outside world as guests of honour and gives them free food, lodgings and guided tours at the drop of a hat. Apparently travellers in this world are so rare that this doesn't unduly tax their resources, but it's still amazing how many countries maintain luxurious hotels ready just in case a traveller comes along every few years and needs a place to stay.
  • Results in a somewhat tense moment in Nurarihyon no Mago when some old enemies show guests, this time.
  • Used in A Bride's Story, befitting the setting. A messenger with letters for Smith came all the way from Macedonia and the villagers bicker over each other as to who he will stay with until Akunbek declares him his guest.

Comic Books

  • In PS238, Hestia, a pre-teen avatar of the same-named Greek god of the home, has the ability to totally incapacitate or worse anyone who breaks the laws of hospitality.
  • One Wonder Woman story, The Hiketeia, deals with Diana offering protection to a runaway girl from Gotham City. This is before the runaway is revealed as a murderer (the people she killed needed to go, though.) Eventually Batman shows up to arrest her, but Wonder Woman promised her guest protection and hospitality, so she and Batman fight to the death over conflicting morals. The girl Takes A Third Option and leaps off a bridge.
  • Lucifer in his own comic visits the pantheon of the Japanese Underworld, its gods plot extensively to make him break the code of Sacred Hospitality, giving them an excuse to kill him. He smoothly dodges every attempt.
  • Not even Morpheus can break this rule. He cannot harm any guest, unless they break it first. Or if they explicitly reject his offer of hospitality, at which point they become fair game. It does not end well for those who reject Dream's hospitality because he is Dream - and within his domain, the laws of reality only conform to Earth-standard as long as he says they do. He can change them at any time.
  • A 4-koma strip in Doujin comic Golden Sun Gag Battle has an enemy Mole monster offer its meal of worms to Isaac and Garet after the latter two announce that they could use a snack themselves.
  • During The Clone Saga, Ben Reilly (who was Spider-Man at the time) helped the injured mobster Jimmy 6 get medical attention after it was clear there was a contract on his head, and later said he'd help later if he needed it. Unfortunately for Ben, Jimmy (who was the son of up-and-coming crime lord Fortunado, and trying to lay low from his father for a while) took him up on that offer when he needed a place to stay; despite the fact that Jimmy was not the most pleasant roommate, Ben kept his word. Ben was able to prevent a crisis later when Fortunado did make his move because of it; plus, Jimmy remembered it, and was an occasional ally of Peter, who took over again as Spidey after Ben's death at the hands of Norman Osborn.

Fairy Tales

  • In the original version of Beauty and the Beast, this is how Beauty ends up the Beast's prisoner, because her father violates the custom. He finds a castle whose doors open to allow him access, and its unseen lord provides him with much needed food and shelter. Then, however, he finds a garden full of roses, and remember that a rose is the one thing Beauty asked to bring back for her, steals one of them. The castle's lord - the Beast, of course - catches him in the act, and is furious at his hospitality betrayed by petty theft. He only spares the man when Beauty agrees to take his place.

Fan Works

  • Invoked by name in this vignette from Drunkard's Walk as a reason why the protagonist is involving himself in the search for a criminal.
  • Sacred hospitality plays a major role in the How to Train Your Dragon fic A Thing of Vikings, especially in the first couple years after the events of the movie, when the world+dog beats a path to Berk's door to ally with them or try to get dragons of their own, and the Hooligans find their resources stretched to accommodate them all when it gets particularly extreme. Violations of hospitality also occur on both sides, driven by and also driving elements of the plot.


  • Ben-Hur[context?]
  • In Troll 2, the father stresses the wonders of "typical country hospitality". It turns out that the country folk are actually evil goblins who want to eat our heroes.
    • You can't piss on hospitality! I won't allow it!
  • Played for laughs in Buster Keaton's silent comedy Our Hospitality. His character accepts an invitation to dine with the family of a young woman he's met on a train, and discovers that they're involved in an ongoing blood feud with his own family (and thus him). Her father and brothers are unable to kill him while he's in their home, so as a title card wryly notes, Keaton attempts to become a "permanent guest" of theirs.
    • Also in Maryada Ramanna, the 2010 Telugu remake of Our Hospitality. Except instead of violent American southerners, you get South Indian factionists. Also, it's a musical.
  • In Straw Dogs, David finally takes a stand against a group of local toughs when they try to invade his home to abduct a man he's taken in. David fights off the invaders to protect the man, even though he knows that the man is probably a murderer.
  • In Disney's Beauty and the Beast, the Beast's offense was not allowing a poor old woman shelter. Lumiere welcomes Maurice into the castle as a guest when he seeks shelter from the wolves, and when Belle takes his place, Lumiere declares that Belle should also be treated as a guest, rather than a prisoner.


  • The D'regs in Terry Pratchett's Discworld books have very strong laws to show hospitality to a guest for three days. In Jingo, "71-Hour Ahmed" got his name when he broke this law by killing his (murderously evil) host an hour before the three days were up; another character comments that it wouldn't have mattered so much if he had just waited the extra hour.
  • According to the Divine Comedy, betrayal of one's guest or host is such a dire sin that it not only gets you sent to the lowest level of Hell (a frozen lake), but you actually go there before you die — while a demon takes over your living body.
  • The Trojan war described in The Iliad of Homer actually resulted from a violation of xenia. Paris was a guest of Menelaus but seriously transgressed the bounds of xenia by abducting his host's wife, Helen. Therefore the Achaeans were required by duty to Zeus to avenge this transgression, which as a violation of xenia was an insult to Zeus's authority.
    • Two heroes meet during the battle and realize that their grandfathers had once been host and guest. So they trade armor. That way they can ensure that they do not kill each other and so infringe on the obligations of xenia.
  • Then in The Odyssey of Homer, the biggest part of the reasons the suitors are to be hated is because they have broken xenia. It is also the only reason Penelope didn't just kick them out or turn them away to begin with.
  • Kingdom of Heaven dramatizes a real-life example. After Raynald slaughters a passive Muslim caravan, Saladin swears revenge. When he eventually captures Raynald and Guy, King of Jerusalem, he offers the latter water to quench his thirst. He eagerly drinks it, and then passes the cup to Raynald, who also drinks it. Guy was being treated as a guest of Saladin, but Raynald was not, so Raynald was not allowed to drink any of the water under Saladin's rules.

Saladin: I did not give the cup to you.
Raynald: No. My lord.
Saladin: [Brings out his sword and slashes Raynald's throat]

  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, hospitality is such a central part of Westerosi morality that people will trust even their most deadly enemies to hold by it. This makes it all the more shocking when the Freys betray and murder King Robb, then horrifically desecrate his corpse, at the Red Wedding. The Boltons helped too, but it happened within the Freys' own castle, during a wedding no less. Even their new allies regard them as debased for this. 'I'd sooner drink a pint of piss than take the word of any Frey!' This also counts for oaths of loyalty, especially to royal families; Jaime Lannister is universally despised for turning on his king, despite the fact that Aerys was dangerously psychotic and attempting to burn the capital city to the ground at the time. More generally, kinslayers and betrayers of oaths or hospitality are placed at the bottom of the local Sorting Algorithm of Evil.
    • Note, however, that prompting someone to betray hospitality is celebrated by sympathetic minstrels. Westeros is all about smelly morality.
    • Also, the Free Cities have an unusual variation of this: You must protect your guests...unless they show suicidal tendencies. Then its your responsibility, as a gracious host, to put them out of their misery.
  • In Stephen Hunt's The Court of the Air, the commodore welcomes Molly to the hospitality of their house.
  • In J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, when the dwarves first show up, Bilbo is afraid that he doesn't have enough food, because he knows his duty: if there's not enough to go around, it's the host who must go short. At the end, after he has left the dwarves—both sides having assured each other that hospitality will be extended in the future—he gives the elf king a gift, because he had eaten his food while skulking about his halls.

Then the dwarves bowed low before their Gate, but words stuck in their throats. "Good-bye and good luck, wherever you fare!" said Balin at last. "If ever you visit us again, when our halls are made fair once more, then the feast shall indeed be splendid!"
"If ever you are passing my way," said Bilbo, "don't wait to knock! Tea is at four; but any of you are welcome at any time!"

  • In Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Scrooge refuses his nephew's hospitality in the opening, and accepts it at the end.
  • Referenced in The Count of Monte Cristo, where the Count is noticeably unwilling to dine at Albert's home. While he gives other excuses, the explanation is to the effect that he's familiar with the importance of hospitality in Arab tradition, and knows that it wouldn't be right to revenge himself on them if he shared their food.
    • This is also one of the reasons why he gives extravagant gifts (as well as being part of his persona and to ingratiate himself with people) - he wants to be in nobody's debt. Whenever someone tries to give him a gift, he gives them a more valuable one to even things out.
  • Marco Polo wrote that during his travels he came across the district of Kamul. When strangers arrived, the male head of a household would leave his own house and allow the stranger to live there as if it were his own, and as if all the females of the household were his own wives. The people of Kamul felt so strongly about this custom that when the Khan banned it, they sent a delegation to ask him to reverse his decision, which he did. Pretty lousy for the wives, though...
  • In C. S. Lewis's Prince Caspian, Trufflehunter, Trumpkin and Nikabrik take in Caspian when they find him unconscious outside their home. When he wakes up and they find out he's King Miraz's nephew, Nikabrik wants to kill him, but the others say that if they were going to do that they should have done it first thing; now, it would be murdering a guest.
  • In one novel by Alan Furst an OSS agent in the Balkans is sheltered by a fishing village. Sometime later the villagers discover that left on the shore for them is a feast (smuggled in by the OSS of course) with a note left to them thanking them. The villagers thereupon wonder what Fabulously Rich refugee they had obtained the gratitude of.
  • In Neil Gaiman's Stardust, when one witch pledges to treat another as if she were her guest, the other takes it as a perfect promise.
  • In Beauty, the Beast's offense was still breaking sacred hospitality by not offering shelter. However, he has learned his lesson and treat's the eponymous beauty's father as a good host should. What takes him into the prisoner bit is when the father steals a rose. He had promised to try and get one for Beauty, y'see...
  • This is why Talon Karrde wouldn't turn in Han Solo and Lando Calrissian when the Empire came by in Heir to the Empire.
  • In Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files, even vampires can be taken seriously with hospitality. Of course, they tend to aim for Plausible Deniability instead of just not harming their guests. It's all down to the most powerful members of the supernatural community being a few hundred years behind the times and having an Old World mentality. The various supernatural groups also have a treaty detailing diplomacy and hospitality and various other aspects of supernaturals dealing with each other. Also, hospitality means something. Any being's home has a magical barrier at the door referred to as the threshold. Crossing the threshold without being invited in means leaving a chunk of your power at the door, if they can enter at all. How much power they lose is determined by how much the dwelling is a home. Dresden's basement bachelor apartment, inhabited for not much more than ten years, doesn't have much stopping power, but a friend's home, inhabited by the same family for about a hundred years, has a hell of a kick.
    • Upon fleeing from two Red Court Vampire assassins and their pet Giant Mook; Harry runs through an unexplored region of the NeverNever and they all drop into the freaking throne room of the Lord of The Wild Hunt. Right as said near-godly being is about to execute them all, the Erl-King ironically refers to them as guests. Harry immediately grabs at that, and thanks the Fey-Lord for granting them his hospitality. The Erl-King is amused and impressed by his quick thinking, despite the Loophole Abuse. He accepts Harry as a "guest", saying that he can hunt him another day. (Of course, being a guest of The Fair Folk has its own dangers.)
    • Also, certain entities, like the inhabitants of Faerie are essentially bound by their language and betrayal of the Laws of Hospitality border on conceptually impossible for them. Getting them to promise their hospitality however...
    • In Turn Coat, Harry is hiding Morgan at his house. Pretty much every time he leaves the man there alone, Harry comes back to find Morgan about to kill someone because of some misunderstanding. Harry manages to shame him by pointing out that he would not only expect more courteous behavior from a Demon, he would get it as well.
  • In the Dragaera series, the Dragonlord traditions of hospitality are like this. It's a significant plot point in Jhereg, where an absconding crimelord gets himself invited to stay at the home of a powerful Dragonlord, knowing that nobody will be able to get at him there without bringing down a massive retaliation from his host.
  • At the beginning of Ivanhoe, Cedric the Saxon orders an old Jew admitted to his hall over the protests of his guests, using very nearly the exact words from the Abraham example. On the other hand, none of his retainers make room for the old man to sit down.
  • In Robert E. Howard's "Shadows in Zamboula," Conan the Barbarian is warned about the Inn of No Return by someone with whom he had stayed for many months.
  • In Ursula K. Le Guin's The Wizard of Earthsea, Ged wonders about the hospitality that he had heard of in certain islands when he actually reaches them. He finds the friend, Vetch, whose initial reaction is surprise and fear, because he does not recognize him. Vetch immediately apologizes for that and has him stay in his own home.
    • Sacred hospitality actually appears pretty deeply ingrained in Earthsea, in both the Hardic and Kargad lands. Despite Ged's private gripe, his boat was provisioned for free on the island where people thought he might be some kind of demon, and the innkeeper who told him their island already had a wizard (who turned out to be his friend) gave him free lodging, food, and ale. Staff-carrying wizards almost never pay for such things, or for ship's passage. There is only one story where a character uses a fake staff to take advantage of this. But while hospitality to wizards is mere common sense, there are many examples in the stories of non-wizards (or wizards in disguise) getting the benefit of sacred hospitality.
  • In L. Jagi Lamplighter's Prospero Lost, Father Christmas insists on the elf queen not evicting Mephisto from the table because he is his guest. Indeed, such is his hospitality that Miranda accepts a gift from one of The Fair Folk, knowing that Father Christmas would not allow it to be baneful under his roof.
  • In the first SPQR series novel "The King's Gambit", the murderer's violation of sacred hospitality provides Decius with the clue he needs to understand the entire underlying conspiracy.
  • In Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, General Tilney invites the protagonist in his house because he wants her to marry his son. One day, he suddenly throws her out with a lame excuse and sends her away in a public coach with no attending servant. (This doesn't sound so horrible today, but back then it meant deliberate insult.) The reason for all that was, he found out she wasn't as rich as he thought. His violation of Sacred Hospitality is how the reader fully sees his true colors.
  • How do we know that Cao Cao is a villainous individual in Romance of the Three Kingdoms? He violates Sacred Hospitality quite badly. His paranoia has him murder his hosts after he overhears them planning to kill something despite having been put up as an honoured guest. The thing in question? Their pig to provide meat for the table. His justification upon discovering his error speaks volumes about his character. "Better I betray the world than it betray me!"
  • In Edgar Rice Burroughs's Thuvia, Maid of Mars, Thuvia refuses to let Cathoris defend her honor after Asok's behavior on the grounds he is her father's guest.
  • Referenced in The Name of the Wind: Bast threatens the scribe, saying "You have eaten at my table," implying that this created a magical obligation between them. Since Bast is a fairy, he probably means this literally.
  • In Robert Louis Stevenson's ballad "Ticonderoga" a Highlander shelters a fugitive. In the night his brother visits him in a dream and tells him that the reason the guest is a fugitive is because he killed the brother of the Highlander. The Highlander is forced to choose between Family Honor and Sacred Hospitality and chooses the later, letting the fugitive stay without taking vengeance. As a result he is given a curse from behind the grave with the word "Ticonderoga". When the Highlander cannot figure what the word means, he tries to work off his worries by enlisting with King George. He soldiers heroically around the world until he ends up in North America where he is finally finds out he is fighting near Ft Ticonderoga. Which is where he is fated to die.

Live-Action TV

  • Blake's 7: In the episode Death Watch it is stated that the Teal-Vandor Convention will protect guests from external enemies as long as the guest obeys the local laws.
  • Averted on Come Dine With Me, in which people are invited to each other's houses, waited on hand and foot, and then encouraged to bitch and moan about the slightest flaws in the food or entertainment. Fridge Brilliance sets in when you realise that like most Reality Shows, you're meant to hate the contestants, and there's nothing better for making someone look unpleasant than seeing them complain about someone else's hospitality.

Newspaper Comics

  • Peanuts:
    • In one Sunday strip where it's snowing, Charlie Brown calls to Snoopy to tell him to come to the house for supper, given the weather. Seeing as he's been invited, Snoopy dresses up in a nice hat and cloak. "Why does he always make a big deal out of everything?" sighs Charlie Brown.
    • In a much later strip, Charlie Brown invites him again, and Snoopy decides to bring a bottle of root beer. Seeing as most adult guests bring wine.

Oral Tradition, Folklore, Myths and Legends

  • Greek mythology is full of examples. Zeus himself was patron of hospitality (as well as most other social laws), so breaking Sacred Hospitality, either by host or guest, would incur his fury.
    • The poor, elderly couple Baucis and Philemon received with glad hospitality two weary travelers whom their wealthier neighbors had driven off. Since these travelers were Zeus and Hermes, their neighbors' village got transformed into a lake, and them into fish, while Baucis and Philemon received their wish: that they should die at the same moment so neither of them had to live widowed. When they did die, they turned into trees, their branches forever intertwined in love.
    • When Admetus's wife in Euripides's Alcestis, and Hercules appeared at his home, Admetus tried to hide that he was in mourning for his wife because they considered hospitality sacred. When Hercules learned of the death, he was shocked and went to wrestle with Death to reclaim her.
    • Another Greek Mythology one: Procrustes the blacksmith, who offered xenia then broke it. You see, he would let guests stay at his house and stay in this special iron bed. However, if they proved shorter than the bed, he would stretch them out to get them to full size; if they were too tall, he would cut them to size. Also, he secretly had two beds. Eventually, Theseus captured him and "fitted" him to the bed he had used to murder passersby.
    • Ixion broke hospitality rules in the most amazingly stupid ways. He invited his family over for a feast, including Deioneus, the father of his recently-wed wife, Dia. To get back at Deioneus for taking his livestock as "payment" for Dia, Ixion pushed him into a flaming bed and was exiled for the kinslaying/hospitality breach. Then Zeus, feeling sorry for the guy, invited him up to hang out with the rest of the gods, they figured he was a terrible host, but this time he's a guest and his hosts are gods, he'll have some sense, right? WRONG. They didn't count on Ixion being stone cold crazy. Let's see what happened next, folks:
      • During the feast, felt up Hera in front of everyone. He wasn't even slick about it. He was trying, because he didn't have the balls to do it openly, but he was kind of a screwup and kept being way too obvious about it. And he was still staring at her and breathing way too hard.
      • So Zeus decided to test his guest; he formed up some clouds into a Hera-shaped sexdoll and floated it by Ixion's room at night. Ixion raped it. Let that sink in for a moment. Ixion was willing to rape Zeus's wife, in Zeus's house, when Zeus put up his exiled ass out of the kindness of his godly heart. Ixion would have done that to the King of the Gods. Needless to say, the next few moments of Ixion's life were electrifying. You could say it was a rather shocking affair. You could almost say Zeus smote him with a thunderbolt, even.
      • And so, Ixion was thrown into Tartarus, chained to a wheel, set on fire and left to burn for all eternity. The Hera sexdoll gave birth to the Centaurs. And, ladies and gentlemen, this why you do not abuse the hospitality of the Greek gods.
    • Tantalus. For some reason, the Olympians liked him enough to attend one of his banquets. When he noticed that his larder wasn't fully stocked with enough meat to prepare the feast, he decided to supplement it with his own son Pelops. This revolted the Olympians, who revived the boy but decided to give Tantalus a chance to redeem himself as their guest. What did Tantalus do? He stole their ambrosia, shared it with his mortal friends, and blabbed the secrets of the gods. Tantalus stole the food of the gods and bragged about it. His punishment was just as nasty as Ixion's. Since Tantalus' crimes were food related he was condemned to eternal starvation and thirst in Tartarus. He was chained to a tree laden with ripe fruit while waist deep in fresh water, with the nasty catch that the tree branches would lift the fruit out of his reach and the water would recede whenever he tried to take a sip.
      • Tantalus' bit with Pelops leads to a whole chain of curses—many of them involving parents killing children or the other way around—that end up defining a good chunk of Greek Myth, including the breach of hospitality that started the Trojan War. On one hand, Pelops, as King of Pisa (the one in the Peloponnese), curses the King of Thebes Laios after he raped and abducted Chrysippus—Pelops' son—while a guest in Pisa, saying "May your own son kill you, Theban!" This curse is what leads to that famous bit with Laios getting killed and his son marrying his wife, which in turn leads to the Seven Against Thebes, regarded as a warm-up to the Trojan War. In the meantime, Pelops' other son Atreus became King of Mycenae—a very good gig—but his other brother Thyestes makes the mistake of seducing Mrs. Atreus. Atreus finds out and in revenge serves up Thyestes' sons and tricks him (Thyestes) into eating them. Thystes then curses Atreus, whose sons are Menelaus and Agamemnon, whose tale is partly recorded above. Of course, then you get into the interesting story of how he gets killed by his wife (who was seeing Thyestes' son Aegisthus after the Iphigenia story), who then gets killed by her son Orestes and daughter Electra, the former of whom goes mad until absolved by an Athenian court (and creating the presumption of innocence in the Athenian justice system, if Aeschylus' Oresteia is to be believed).
    • The reason the Trojan War started was not only because Paris stole Menelaus' wife (and because all of Helen's other suitors had made an oath to help her husband defend her, if it came to it) - but because Paris was Menelaus' guest when he did so. The fact that he was visiting Menelaus' kingdom was, in fact, the only reason he ever met Helen. The other kings showed up because of their oath - but it's likely that the war would never have continued for so long if Paris hadn't broken the laws of hospitality at the same time he made off with Helen.
    • Bellerophon was an unwitting beneficiary of hospitality's protection. The wife of his first host attempted to seduce him, and then claimed Bellerophon had ravished her when he refused. Suitably enraged, the host could not kill Bellerophon so he instead gave him a missive to be delivered to the wife's father. On arriving in the new city, Bellerophon and his new host feasted for several days before the missive was opened, containing a request that the host kill the bearer of said missive. Now protected doubly by hospitality, the host devised suicidal schemes fro Bellerophon to accomplish... which he did repeatedly.
    • King Midas was notoriously greedy, but he wasn't really selfish and was very hospitable. This was what eventually got him in trouble. When his servants caught the old satyr Silenus drunk and passed out after trespassing on his royal grounds, Midas ordered him bathed and fed, and politely entertained him for ten days before taking him back to Dionysus in Lydia. Dionysus offered Midas his choice of whatever reward he wished for. Midas asked that whatever he might touch should be changed into gold. The god warned Midas that he had made a foolish wish, but he granted it, and as everyone familiar with the story knows, Dionysus was right. In some versions of the myth, when Midas begs to recant his wish, Dionysus specifically refers to Midas' hospitality, saying basically "you should not suffer for that."
  • In The Odyssey, Odysseus and his men waited for Polyphemus in his cave over the protests of his men who wanted to loot the place and run. Since they had eaten some of Polyphemus' cheese, Sacred Hospitality prompted Odysseus to greet his host and offer him wine as a gift. Polyphemus violated Sacred Hospitality when he denounced the laws of gods and men and ate a few of Odysseus' crew. Figuring the rules of hospitality didn't apply anymore, Odysseus got Polyphemus drunk and blinded him. Then he robbed him blind too for good measure. (Unfortunately, by doing so he incurred the wrath of Polyphemus' father, the god of the sea—and Greeks take family feuds just as seriously than hospitality...)
  • There are many cases in Norse Mythology of people offering hospitality. Apparently in their culture it was a great insult to imply that someone was a bad host. Also, going incognito by calling oneself just "Gest" was acceptable. Odin did it occasionally.
    • Often the gods find themselves forced to put up with a troublemaker because they had already offered him (or her) their hospitality. The most well-known example is found in the Old Edda poem Lokasenna ("Loki's Quarrel"), where the gods attend a feast in Aegir's hall and Loki exploits the rule of hospitality by insulting every single one of them repeatedly, because he knows they can't resort to violence against him without breaking the law of hospitality. At the end, however, the trope is Subverted when Thor arrives late to the feast and threatens to hit Loki with his hammer—and Loki leaves, because he knows that Thor is the only one there who actually will hit him.
  • Pele (the Hawaiian goddess of fire and volcanoes), put off by the rich and welcomed by the poor, curses the former and blesses the latter, and so children are warned to be kind to strangers, who might be Pele.
  • There is an Arab story of a burglar who entered the Sultan's palace and stole a bag. On opening it up he found it contained salt. As salt is a symbol of hospitality there was no honorable thing to do but bring it back and leave it. When the guards guessed what had happened the Sultan ordered that the city be searched. When the thief was found the Sultan showered him with riches because he had risked his life for Sacred Hospitality.
    • A similar story has that a burglar is about finished when he finds a small box with what he thinks is sugar. When he tastes it and realizes it is salt, he puts everything back.
    • It also shows fairly often in The Arabian Nights.
      • In "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves", a dinner guest at Ali Baba's house says that he is unable to eat anything with salt in; his excuse is a dietary restriction, but actually he's the bandit chief, come in disguise to kill Ali Baba, and if he eats salt while he's a guest, he has "shared salt" with his host and is bound by the laws of hospitality. Ali Baba, suspecting nothing, orders food to be prepared without salt, but this makes his wise slave girl curious and leads to her unmasking the bandit.
  • Sacred Hospitality killed the great hero Cuchulainn. One of his geases prevented him from ever turning down hospitality; another forbade him from eating dog's flesh. When he stayed with an enemy (for reasons that made sense at the time), dinner that night was dog. The next day, stripped of his strength, Cuchulainn was killed in battle.
  • In The Bible: Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed for, among other things, violating this rule. Some angels go in disguise to test if anyone is willing to extend hospitality to them, but only Lot does so (to the point of protecting said angels from a mob of would-be rapists, and offering up his own daughters instead), and thus Lot and his family are spared while the rest of Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed.
    • More happily, Abram also has occasion to entertain angels, who show up to tell him that, after some decades of trying, he and Sarai are finally going to have a kid.
    • Jael, Heber's wife, subverted this. Hard. The Philistine general Sisera was fleeing after having been defeated by Deborah and her general Baraq, and Jael offered to shelter and hide him in her tent. After he was asleep, she drove a tent peg through his skull.

Tabletop Games

  • Both Aslan and Vilani in Traveller have their own hospitality codes.
    • Some variation of the Aslan code come even before kin ties. One Aslan was praised for killing his brother in battle rather then turn against his host.
  • One of the three main customs (the others being Covenant and the Law of the Duel) holding the society of demons together in Infernum. Being a race almost entirely composed of Neutral Evil individuals, there's naturally a lot of wrangling over the fine details, such as whether hospitality extends solely to a demon's fortress or to anywhere on a demon's estates. In general, though, so long as a demon remembers to request hospitality (refusal of such a request reflects badly on the host-demon and its whole House), and makes no effort to attack its host, it is perfectly safe while in that fortress. Should either individual attack the other, though, the wronged party is free to do whatever they like to the assailant, and the host is only forbidden from enchanting or injuring their guest- they can otherwise make them as uncomfortable and/or unwelcome as they desire.
  • In Mage: The Awakening one of the most important of the Great Rights of mage society is the Right of Hospitality where a mage who requests sanctuary and protection is required to be given it, usually in the wake of an attack or paradox, or because the mage is far from home. Most protocols regarding this Right require the mage to (at the very least) keep them for at least a week, protect them from any possible threat, provide them with shelter and enough food to survive off of, and having any serious wounds tended to; most mages are likely to go beyond these limited requirements. Failure to properly honor Hospitality is often regarded as extreme enough to act as a preface to declaring war.
    • In Changeling: The Lost, granting hospitality and sanctuary to any Changeling who enters your dwelling for twenty-four hours is mandatory. Unlike most mandatory things in Changeling, however, this one can be denied- it's not magically enforced, but it's plain bad form not to. After all, you're all on the same side. Most of the time.
    • In Vampire: The Masquerade, this is one of the core traditions of the Camarilla, who expect all visiting vampires to announce their presence in the domain they are visiting, and behaving themselves properly while they are there. Surprisingly, this practise is upped by the older members of one of the core clans of the Sabbat, the Tzimisce, who are extremely strict about hospitality rules, both as a matter of conduct towards the guest, and as a sign of respect towards the host from the guest. This practise is on the other hand lost on some of the younger members of the clan.
  • GURPS: Arabian Nights has the disadvantage "Code of Honor: Arabian," which has as its main departure from other Codes of Honor the emphasis on Sacred Hospitality; a character with the disadvantage must conduct himself properly as a guest and shelter others the best he can when they need it.
  • One geas you can take on yourself as a Scion of the Irish gods requires you to obey the laws of hospitality as a host. A separate one demands that you always accept such offers from others. If you break the latter, the only way to restore it is to live entirely on the kindness of others for a period of time depending on how seriously you swore it.
    • In Scion: Ragnarok we're told the Aesir hold this to be true as well. Even the Titans Jord and Ran threw a feast for the Aesir where the only trouble came from (surprise surprise) Loki. A scion of the Aesir is expected to provide hospitality for his family and can in turn expect the same in their parent's homes. Of course, their divine hosts might imply that a good guest wouldn't mind helping his host out with a little problem (read: very dangerous quest)
  • In a short story written for the World of Warcraft RPG sourcebook, a group of soldiers find refuge in a peasant's home in post-fall Lordaeron. Having been fighting the Scourge for days, they are grateful for the hot food and beverage the peasant offers. Unfortunately, the peasant is actually a Scourge agent who was using hospitality to fish out information about troop movements. Once one of the soldiers lets slip some details the peasant, kills all the soldiers.
  • In the solo adventure module "A Bad Batch of Brownies" (from Dungeon #58), the reason the brownies are acting "bad" (tattooing themselves, wearing leather jackets, trying to sound and act "tough", and making the forest a complete and utter mess) is because they're trying to emulate an unusual guest. "Wild Jack" is a street tough from a biker gang who came through a Well of Many Worlds from an Alternate Prime Material Plane (as in, ours), and while he's not the most cordial or polite of guests, the brownies insist he not be killed or abused, as he's a guest. Not to mention it was their fault he's here, as they were misusing the Well of Many Worlds and now have no idea how to help him get home. The player's goal is finding a way to do that.
  • In Ravenloft, the Vistani are the lords of this Trope. Driven by the belief that kindness to others will be rewarded tenfold (and cruelty similarly punished) even evil members will always consider anyone who is not an enemy to be a friend, making sure anyone who needs food, lodging, or emotional support (the last needed quite a lot in a place like Ravenloft) will get it; they are known to throw some rather rambunctious parties, but guests are always welcome to attend. They also never forget anyone who aided them and will always return the favor. Of course, they also never forget anyone who robbed, assaulted, or insulted one of their own, and guests who violate the laws of hospitality will likely wish they were dead soon. Unfortunately, even someone regarded as a friend cannot benefit from them all the time, as they are nomadic tribes who rarely stay in one area more than a few days. [1]


  • As pictured above, in Die Walkuere, Hunding finds his wife sheltering a man he's been pursuing, and, presumably having learned from the mistakes in Mythology above, lets him stay freely before trying to kill him in the morning. Siegmund betrays Hunding's hospitality by running off with Hunding's wife (Siegmund's long-lost sister). The gods are cool with the incest, but the goddess Fricka demands that Wotan punish Siegmund for his poor guest-behavior with death.
  • In William Shakespeare's Macbeth, Macbeth worries about killing Duncan while he was a guest in Macbeth's castle.

He's here in double trust:
First, as his kinsman, and his subject,
Strong both against the deed: Then, as his host,
who should against the murderer Shut the door,
Not bear the knife myself.

Video Games

  • Not much is revealed about normal humans in Gensokyo, but All There in the Manual backstory states that the number one rule in regards to meeting someone you don't know is be polite. Because they just might be one of the incredibly powerful Youkai that live there. (Even Yuuka is stated to go easy on people who are polite.)
  • In Fallout: New Vegas, New Canaan, a mormon settlement, is wiped out by a violation of Sacred Hospitality by the guest, Salt-Upon-Wounds, and his White Legs tribe.

Web Comics

Web Original

Western Animation

  • In the DuckTales episode "Luck 'O' the Ducks", a Con Artist leprechaun steals Scrooge's money, and to save face, he invites Scrooge and his nephews to "his" castle in Ireland. The only problem is, the castle isn't his, and the other leprechauns don't like him or trespassers. However, after the Leprechaun King finds out that the guy did invite Scrooge and his family, he decides they can't throw them in the snake pit, as they first intend to do. Instead, he decides to throw a big party for them; seeing as leprechauns will apparently use any excuse to throw a party, no-one else objects.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants:
    • In "Can You Spare a Dime?", Squidward is taken in by Spongebob after quitting his job and subsequently losing everything he owned. He seems genuinely thankful for Spongebob's hospitality and promises not to be a burden. Of course, he slowly develops into one eventually.
    • Subverted by Patrick in the episode "Patrick's Staycation". Patrick is a terrible guest, taking advantage of SpongeBob's hospitality and eventually taking over his house. Fortunately, Mr. Krabs plays the trope straight, gladly putting SpongeBob up for the night at his house, with dialogue implying that this has happened with Patrick before.

Real Life

  • The main charge against the English army (and Clan Campbell) over the Glencoe Massacre was the betrayal of the MacDonalds' hospitality by the billeted soldiers.
    • In fact, a (much) later inquiry found the Commander guilty of "Murder Under Trust".
  • It is conceivable that one reason for the survival of the Jewish people was that they took doing this for other Jews seriously. One of the traditions of the Passover seder is to leave an extra place setting (sometimes complete with food) on the table in case you're called upon to provide Sacred Hospitality to returning prophet Elijah.
  • This is a common attitude amongst Western/Southern Asian peoples, especially in the Islamic world. There's a saying that goes something like "every guest is a gift from God", and this treatment is extended to everyone welcomed into the home, even enemies.
    • The symbol of hospitality—eating bread and salt—is so powerful in many Arab societies that someone asking for a favor from a friend will say "we've eaten bread and salt together" as a way of indicating that he/she really needs it.
    • Hospitality has long been recognized as a key part of Arab identity. This is likely on account of Arab culture's desert heritage: as nomadic herders, they needed to know that they could count on hospitality if they were in dire straits, and as settled merchants, hospitality was good for business (and also useful when traversing the trackless wastes with large amounts of valuable cargo).
    • A soldier from the Haganah told a story of escaping captivity, and running smack into an Arab commander. He handed her a piece of bread and told her to eat it; when she did so, he said "Now you are under my protection," and he fulfilled his word.
    • A reporter during the Kosovo conflict once stayed at an Islamic home. One of the people living there was treated as well as he was, and at first he considered him a relative of the owners. However, he also overheard this stranger being given ominous warnings that if he'd leave the house, he'd be the father. When the reporter asked for more details, he learned that this man was a guest in their house fifteen years before, and during a dispute killed the eldest son of the family. Under Sharia law, he is punishable by death, but since he was a guest, he was still to be treated with respect. As such, he'd been living with this family quite happily since, and the family had gotten used to his presence to the point where many of them begged that he never leave, for his own sake.
  • "Southern Hospitality" is Serious Business in Sweet Home Alabama, especially among the upper class. There are magazines about it and formal courses to take on it.
  • Characteristic of the Benedictine monastic order, in fact one of their founding rules states that they should "always treat every visitor as if he was Jesus himself", because he might well be. Of course, in order to avoid being swamped with freeloaders, the monasteries sometimes opt to interpret the rule in what a layman would consider a somewhat inhospitable way. For example, the monks might wake an unwanted guest up at 4 AM for the first prayer session of the day (Matins), because Jesus himself would certainly not mind getting his prayer on ASAP, would He?
    • A possibly more charitable interpretation is that they (quite reasonably) presume that Jesus Himself would observe the same rules as His hosts, including Matins. With more wanted guests, of course, it is remembered that He also is quite capable of waking Himself up at the correct hour should He wish to join the monks for Matins... Though He prays in the Gospels, it's also reasonable to assume that He doesn't need to pray to Himself.
  • Flora Macdonald, the Scottish Noblewoman who rescued Bonnie Prince Charlie. When the Duke of Cumberland interrogated her, she replied that she would have sheltered him if he had been the one fleeing.
  • In the Church of Satan, the concept of Domain is mentioned as extremely important - if you are in someone else's Domain, you will show them proper respect or leave, and expect that they will return the favour in your Domain. On the other hand, it specifically says in the Satanic Bible that if your guests disrespect you, then you should destroy them.
    • The sacred hospitality is two-sided: the guest has a code of behaviour as well as the host, and if one breaks it, the other isn't obligated to go along, either.
  • It used to be known for the poorer Bedouin to stay off the travel routes. If a guest arrived they would of course be obliged to give him a good greeting to make sure to keep Sacred Hospitality. So the only thing to do was to make sure very few guests arrived. Sort of a compromise between Honor and Reason.
    • Related to this, there is in Arab culture the legend of the Bedouin Hatim al-Ta'iy, who killed his only possession—a she-goat—to feed some travelers who happened to stumble upon his tent. To this day, karam Hatim (the generosity of Hatim) is a fairly common (if somewhat high-class) expression for being very generous to one's guests.
  • Among some Plains Indians, it was standard for men to even let their guests sleep with their wives. What the wives thought of this, however...
  • During the US war in Afghanistan, US Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell was injured in a firefight with the Taliban and limped his way to a nearby Afghan village. Luckily for him, this particular village was bound by tribal custom to defend visitors to the death, and they protected Luttrell from Taliban reprisals until he could be rescued.
  • During the Crusades, it was not unusual for the Crusaders and the Arabs to sit down to meals together, in observance of Sacred Hospitality. The legend goes that Saladin was very demanding that his people observe these rules, such that one of his most trusted men attacked Saladin's guests, Saladin himself killed him and apologized profusely for the offense.
  • Anthropologists can trace this tradition back to gift economies, where people with a surplus had to give their neighbors, otherwise resentment and jealousy would rip apart the pre-cash society. So it worked out like this:

Somebody with too much bronze: "Oh man, everyone's giving me the stink eye. I gotta get rid of this excess."
Somebody with not enough bronze: "Hey, your pile of bronze is looking great."
Somebody with too much bronze: "Oh this? It's nothing, please take some." (forces bronze into neighbor's hands)
Later that day: "Hey, that pile of baskets is looking great." And so on...

  • In the days when kinship dominated the political scene honorable hostage exchange was a quirky example of this. Though a hostage could be executed if his ruler broke a treaty until then he was treated as a guest. Some versions of this had the guest fighting in the host's army and it was not unknown for a famous warlord to win his spurs in this way.
  • Similarly, high-class prisoners of war could receive positively regal treatment. Treatment at a lower level ranged from mundane-but-decent to hellish. However, if resources and good will were available, sometimes even lower ranks sat out the war in comfort. This custom continued almost until the present day, including some rather old-fashioned seeming graces; military Historian John Keegan remembered as a boy in WWII having a paroled Italian POW attend his church because it was the only Catholic Church nearby.
  • During the Russian Revolution, Paul Zaharrof sheltered among Moslem tribesfolk who had known him before the war as a wandering hunter and scientist. One household knocked out a hole in the wall and boarded it up with him inside; though it was an excruciating torture, but it prevented him getting caught when the house was searched. In general, the locals liked him because he had been wandering around long enough to be established as a neighbor. They did not like Russians in general, but Whites at least had a recognizable religion and traditional hierarchy and were easier to understand than Reds. All that said, Zaharrof got to safety by the hospitality of locals.
  1. Which is the point - this was imposed to keep the Vishtani enigmatic Mysterious Backers and discourage players from depending on them too much.