Hosts like to say that Home Sharing is as old as the story of Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem. Actually it is older. It occurs to me that the subject of receiving guests at one’s home, and the theme of hospitality, must be a theme in many an ancient myth. So I set out to find some.
I found a few ancient gods (pagan deities, pre-dating Mary, Joseph and Jesus) associated with hospitality.
Xenia (Greek: ξενία, xenía, trans. “guest-friendship”) is the ancient Greek concept of hospitality, the generosity and courtesy shown to those who are travelers who’ve wandered far from home, or who may be the associates of the person bestowing guest-friendship. The rituals of hospitality in Greece created and expressed a reciprocal relationship between guest and host expressed in both material benefits (such as the giving of gifts to each party) as well as non-material ones (such as protection, shelter, favors, or certain rights).
The Greek god Zeus is sometimes called “Zeus Xenios” in his role as a protector of travelers. He represented the religious obligation to be hospitable to travelers. Theoxeny or theoxenia is a theme in Greek mythology in which humans demonstrate their virtue or piety by extending hospitality to a humble stranger (xenos), who turns out to be a disguised deity (theos) with the capacity to bestow rewards. These stories caution mortals that any guest should be treated as if they were a hidden divinity and help establish the idea of xenia as a Greek custom. The term theoxenia also covered entertaining among the gods, a popular subject in classical art, which was revived at the Renaissance in works depicting a Feast of the Gods.
Xenia consists of two basic rules:
(1)The respect from host to guest. The host must be hospitable to the guest and provide him/her with food and drink and a bath, if required. It is not polite to ask questions until the guest has stated his/her needs.
(2) The respect from guest to host. The guest must be courteous to the host and not be a burden.
Xenia was considered to be particularly important in ancient times when people thought gods mingled among them. If one had poorly played host to a stranger, there was the risk of incurring the wrath of a god disguised as the stranger. It is thought that the Greek practice of theoxenia may have been the antecedent of the Roman rite of Lectisternium, or the draping of couches.
While this particular origin of the practices of guest-friendship are centralized around the divine, however, it would become common practice among the Greeks to incorporate xenia into their customs and manners for very much all of ancient Greek history. Indeed, while originating from mythical traditions, xenia would very much become a standard practice throughout much (if not, all) of Greece as customarily proper in the affair of men interacting with men as well as men interacting with the Gods.
Xenia in Homer’s Odyssey
Xenia is an important theme in Homer’s The Odyssey. Every household in the epic is seen alongside xenia. Odysseus’ house is inhabited by suitors with demands beyond the bounds of xenia — in other words, RUDE GUESTS!. Menelaus and Nestor’s houses are seen when Telemachus visits. There are many other households observed in the epic, including those of Circe, Calypso, and the Phaeacians. The Phaeacians, and in particular Nausicaä, were famed for their immaculate application of xenia, as the princess and her maids offered to bathe Odysseus and then led him to the palace to be fed and entertained. It should be noted, however, that because Odysseus was indirectly responsible for Poseidon’s sinking one of their ships, the Phaeacians resolved to be less trusting of subsequent travelers. However, Polyphemus showed lack of xenia, despite Odysseus reminding him of it, and refused to honor the travelers’ requests, instead eating some of Odysseus’ men. BAD GUEST!! The suitor Ctesippus mocks xenia by hurling a hoof, disguised as a ‘gift,’ at Odysseus. When he is speared by Philoetius, the cowherd claims this avenges his disrespect. Book 1 has Telemachus showing xenia to the disguised Athena. Eumaeus the Swineherd shows xenia to the disguised Odysseus, claiming guests come under the protection of Zeus. When the leading suitor Antinous throws a stool at the disguised Odysseus and strikes his right shoulder as he asks for food, even the other suitors are worried, saying Antinous is ‘doomed’ if the stranger is a disguised god. As well as this, whenever Homer describes the details of ‘xenia,’ he uses the same formula every time: for example, the maid pouring wine into the gold cups, etc.
In the Odyssey, Calypso had wanted to keep Odysseus in her cavern as her husband, but he refused. Circe had also tried to keep Odysseus in her home, but her attempts failed as well. Although both these women had homes and much to offer him, their hospitality was too much for Odysseus. He instead left each with the goal of returning to Ithaca and reclaiming his family and his home. Sometimes Hospitality was unwanted or was given unwillingly.
Historian Gabriel Herman lays out the use of xenia in political alliances in the Near East.
Solemn pronouncements were often used to establish a ritualised personal relationship, such as when “Xerxes, having been offered lavish hospitality and most valuable gifts by Pythios the Lydian, declared “…in return for this I give you these privileges (gera): I make you my Xenos. …the same set of words could be applied in non-face-to-face situations, when a ruler wished to contract an alliance through the intermediary of messengers.” Herman points out that this is correspondent to pacts made by African tribal societies studied by Harry Tegnaeus (in his 1952 ethno-sociological book Blood Brothers) where “the partners proclaim themselves in the course of the blood ceremony each other’s ‘brothers’, ‘foster-brothers’, ‘cousins’. The surviving treaties of ‘fraternity’ ‘paternity’ and ‘love and friendship’ between the petty rules of the ancient Near East in the second half of the second millennium B.C. incorporate what are probably written versions of such declarations.” (Herman also sees an echo of this in the medieval ceremony of homage, in the exchange between a would-be-vassal and the lord.)
Herman goes on to point out “No less important an element in forging the alliance was the exchange of highly specialized category of gifts, designated in our sources as xénia (as distinct from xenía, the term of the relationship itself) or dora. It was as important to give such gifts as to receive, and refusal to reciprocate as tantamount to a declaration of hostility. Mutual acceptance of the gifts, on the other hand, was a clear mark of the beginning of friendship.” Herman points to the account of Odysseys giving Iphitos a sword and spear after having been given a formidable bow while saying they were “the first toke of loving guest-friendship”. Herman also shows that Herodotus holds “the conclusion of an alliance and the exchange of gifts appeared as two inseparable acts: Polykrates, having seized the government in Samos, “concluded a pact of xenia with Amasis king of Egypt, sending and receiving from him gifts (dora)”. Within the ritual it was important that the return gift be offered immediately after receiving a gift with each commensurate rather than attempting to surpass each other in value. The initial gifts in such an exchange would fall somewhere between being symbolic but useless, and of high use-value but without any special symbolic significance. The initial gifts would serve as both object and symbol. Herman points out that these good were not viewed as trade or barter, “for the exchange was not an end in itself, but a means to another end.” While trade ends with the exchange, the ritual exchange “was meant to symbolize the establishment of obligations which, ideally, would last for ever.”
Hospitality in other ancient societies
In ancient Ireland, hospitality was not only a courtesy, but a legal requirement, and the inhospitable were bitterly criticized. (Hospitable God: THe Transformative Dream, pg 31) With the coming of Christian Monasteries, guest houses were created for guests. Welsh folklore reflected an equally high estimation of hospitality, and Julius Caesar, traveling in Teutonic lands, recorded the serious demands of hospitality among the Teutons, as did Mauricius among the Slavs.
In the Slavic Lands, Ragegast was the deity associated with hospitality:
Ivan Hudec, in his book, “Tales from Slavic Myths” (page 104) says that in ancient times, Prince Helmhold wrote this in the Slavic Chronicle (or Chronica Slavorum, written by Helmhold in the 12th century):
There are no other people like the Slavs for extending their hospitality to strangers.
Hudec says that the Slavic people were extremely generous to their guests, and didn’t wait for guests to request something before offering it. He says that “if a member of the Slavic community was exposed as reluctant to welcome a stranger at his home, such a host could expect to have his abode set on fire. Moreover, those reluctant to offer hospitality would be “condemned in public for having denied bread to a stranger.”
Of course, this was long ago, in days before hotels existed, and when travellers relied more heavily on the hospitality of those whose regions they passed through, than is the case today. And though the hospitality we refer to in this article was given without expectation of compensation in exchange, it remains true that welcoming “strangers” into one’s home, whether they are paying guests or not, is a form of hospitality which has its connections and roots to these ancient times.
There are many different reasons people become Airbnb hosts. For some, it’s the desire to meet people from around the world, and gain insights into different cultures. For others, it’s a way to combat loneliness and a sense of the “Same Old”. For many it’s about money. But there is still another subset, and I think not a small one, for whom being Airbnb hosts opens up a wonderful new opportunity — the ability to get rid of one’s roommates.
You see, not all of us are so fortunate as to have never needed additional income, in order to pay our rent or mortgage. Yes, we would love to live alone, or just with our partner or family, but for us that isn’t possible. So we have needed to rent out a room, or two. Back in the day, this always meant getting a roommate (or two). There were many adventures and misadventures which would subsequently ensue, going in that direction.
I came to realize, that there is hardly a better way to learn how bad some people can be, than to bring them into your own home to live with you. Many people you might meet in various social settings, might seem just fine to you, until you invite them to come live with you in your house, and follow your rules.
Now all chaos may break loose. The would-be roommate who politely answered your ad, dutifully reported for a meeting on time, and promised that they would be clean and quiet and follow all your house rules, can readily turn into quite another beastie, once you tell them, that the house rules will actually apply to them! They were fine with every detail, you see, except they weren’t expecting that your rules would actually apply to them. They thought, I guess, that this was merely a formality to go through, idle chat, just you needing to talk about policy and decorum and cleanliness and the rest, to pass the time and fill in the space. Or maybe they believed that these rules you had, would only apply to them during their first few days or weeks….and then forgeddabouddit once they settle in for the long haul. Because you have noticed a disturbing phenomenon taking place with a disturbing number of roomies. They follow rules dutifully for , eh, maybe the first few weeks. Then after that, a new set of assumptions comes into play. Now, they start feeling comfortable, you see. Now, you see, your home is their home too. And here precisely is where the battle lines begin to be drawn.
Now you have another beastie altogether on your hands.
Many people have actually been quite fortunate with roommates — maybe they found a friend to move in with them, got lucky with a very polite person right off the bat, or maybe they are rather “laid back” and loosey-goosey about how they run their house, (so that it doesn’t really matter if roommates dont’ clean out the tub because the tub is always rancid looking) — or perhaps they have their head in the sand and dont’ actually know what is going on in their home. I have run into many who are still in this “honeymoon phase” of having roommates, and feeling that it works well. Well, bless them, it works for them!
Others, like myself, find that things go badly with roommates right off the bat. So let me tell you my story, which will help you understand why I was never so glad, as on that day when I got the last roommate out of my house.
This story will be told in seven parts, or chapters. Note that the names of the roommates have been changed, to protect the guilty. A few other identifying details have been altered, but otherwise, this whole story is true, and records my stories with roommates over the course of many years.
A Dream Come True: A Chance to own my own Home
While I was a renter myself (which was for most of my adult life), I never had a roommate, as I always had my own small apartment. That was in the days when rents were still affordable in my area! So I had a series of studios and one-bedroom apartments, all to myself, and it was heavenly. This wasn’t to say I didn’t have problems with my apartment neighbors from time to time, and sometimes quite serious problems, but to be able to lock the door and go into one’s own private space, was very helpful. Indeed it was incredibly rejuvenating.
But for several years, I had longed to have my own home — yet I had always wondered if I would ever be able to afford such a thing. Just as the desire to have my own home rose most intensely, there came a point, synchronistically (I am a believer in synchronicities) where a friend of mine, call her Rachel, had a house she wanted to sell, as she was leaving the country. With help from my parents for the down payment, I managed to get a loan, and bought the house, a charming old Victorian home in an urban setting. My friend had been an absentee landlord, living elsewhere while renting the house out to tenants, and she knew that I needed roommates to be able to afford my mortgage. So I bought the house with the tenants in it, and figured they would become my roommates. That I had not had roommates since college, worried me a little, but I figured that if it was my own house where I had the roommates, surely I would not have any problems with this arrangement. I could hardly have been more mistaken.
As soon as the sale was closed, Rachel and I made an appointment to go over to my new home, and meet the tenants. Who in an instant had gone from being her tenants, to my tenants. We arrived, and convened around the large kitchen table, and these tenants, all three of them, expected to hear the announcement that I had bought the house and would be living offsite in another home somewhere else, just as their landlord and my friend Rachel had done all these years. They thought that it would be no big deal, just sending their checks to a new person, and maybe a bit of a rent increase.
So when they heard that I planned to move into “their” house, there were some shocked expressions, and then some angry faces.
Obviously, if I was going to move into my own home, I needed a bedroom to move into, but all the bedrooms were currently occupied by tenants. I had already decided in advance which room I would occupy, and so when I sat at this table with my new tenants (call them Melinda, Joshua, and Natalie) and made this announcement to them, making it clear that someone would have to move out so that I could move in, Joshua, who rented the room I intended to occupy, angrily insisted that “that is MY room!!” He insisted that as the senior tenant at the house he had seniority. What, did he think he had “seniority” over me, the owner of the house??? Everything about his tone and his demeanor, seemed to suggest so. That was the first of many eye-opening and heart-sinking moments, when I realized that owning a home was going to be a lot more difficult than I had anticipated.
My tenants Don’t Want me around
After I announced to the tenant trio that I would be moving in, and occupying Joshua’s room (which was the largest one), I felt a coolness in their demeanor towards me. I hadn’t announced just yet on what date I would be moving in, but I felt a real urge to start cleaning up the yard, as the whole house and yard were in a significant state of neglect. Because there were three of them, it made most sense to me that instead of communicating everything three times, once to each of them, I would just write one note to all of them. I gave them notes informing them of when I would be coming over to do yardwork, and what I would be doing. I came to trim vines, which had taken over the entire side of one house — Melinda complained crossly, that the massive overgrowth of vines was the only thing had given her privacy, and that now without the vines, the neighbors could see into her window!! I guess she had never heard of blinds, curtains and shades. I came another time to paint the front stairs, which were horribly peeling, and was greeted by Melinda’s complaint that the paint color I had chosen was awful. Simply awful.
It was around this time that I began to feel seriously unwelcome in my own home. My attention to the neglectful garden was viewed as instrusive,
my removal of garbage and old car parts from the yard was mean-spirited, my decision to erect a nice wood fence to replace a sagging and pitiful chainlink fence, was arrogant and tyrannical. And moreover, I was not supposed to send them one note for all of them to read, but instead had to either phone up each one of them separately, or complete all letters in triplicate so they would be duly triply informed. I felt like at this point, there was nothing I could do that would not be viewed negatively by the unhappy trio. Clearly they were not happy that I planned to move into my own home, and they finally told me, in so many words, that they did not want me coming over at all. At the same time, in a phone conversation I had with Joshua, he began to talk to me about “code violations” in the house. I felt my stomach just about fall out of my gut at this point, since I began to sense legal problems on the horizon.
With a heavy heart and a leaden gut, I flipped through the yellow pages, looking under “landlord attorneys” and made a few phone calls. I had the sense that I was getting into something I needed help with, and my friend Rachel, who had sold me the house, wanted nothing to do with me when I told her of some of the problems I had started to have with her “good tenants.” She suggested I wasn’t communicating with them very well. Right, yeah. Maybe the notes in triplicate would have done the trick and all would have been fine and dandy. In reality, Rachel had set me up, and she probably knew it. She had intentionally omitted telling her tenants that the person she was going to sell the house to, was planning to move in, because she didn’t want them bailing on her and moving out when she still needed their rent. So she left me to do the dirty work, with the result that I took the fall. I was the bad guy, the scapegoat, the bad landlord.
So I found a local landlord attorney, and set up an appointment. The attorney agreed with me that the mention of “code violations” was a suggestion that I could have problems.
We went through my options.
Trying to sit down and talk rationally with the tenants did not seem very productive, as our relations had grown so strained.
I could serve eviction papers on the tenants, but evictions are more complicated when the property owner does not actually live on the site. Owner move-in evictions are quite legal, but the process could be time consuming and potentially expensive if they fought the evictions.
Alternatively, my attorney smiled at me, I could just move in. Owners who live in the same house as the tenants they are trying to evict, have advantages in the process. My eyes lit up at that last suggestion — could I really just move in? Yes, he argued — after all there was a free room in the house, the living room. It even had a door, so it could be used as a private room. I began to feel excited, as I felt that a solution was right on the horizon, and all this ghastly feeling of being treated like a pariah at my own house, was going to come to an end. I was going to just …bust in and live in my own house! Imagine it! I dont’ think I imagined that this would result in the trio liking me any better, but it did make me think I would not feel quite so powerless on my own property. I felt that if I was right there living in my own house with them, it would be a lot harder for them to treat me so badly…much less to tell me that they didn’t want me coming around!!!
I Bust into my Own House
So, I arranged to come over one day, saying I was going to fix the lock on the living room door. In fact I came over to install a lock on the living room door, and I had a workman friend help me with that. Once I had the lock installed, I moved some of my things into the room, as the tenants looked on, incredulous. My tenants were horrified that I was moving in with them. They told me I could not do that. They stared at me, they glared at me. They did not want me as their roommate. I felt afraid, and very uncomfortable as well, because as you my gentle reader may imagine, as it is just appalling to be moving into the home one has just bought, under these conditions, where you are so unwanted there. Nevertheless, Rachel had refused to help or for that matter even listen to me, my other friends were totally boggled and slackjawed about the whole affair, hardly any help at all at any point, and so I had no one helping me but an attorney and this is what my attorney had said to do. To just move on in.
Well, I moved in and then left again. I suppose I was walking around that afternoon wondering what it would be like to sleep in my house, with so much hate there. Then I recieved a phone call from one of my tenant trio. It was Melinda. She was calling me, she said, “Just to inform you that your things are out on the porch.” My things are just out on the porch…what????? I quickly drove back over to my house, and my God, if my tenant trio hadnt’ busted into my new room, the living room, taken all my belongings out of there, and put them outside on the front porch,
and then, to top it all off, they had had a locksmith come over and changed the locks on the front door. They had locked me out of my own house!!
If my stomach had felt like lead before, and if I had been feeling stressed before, nothing could compare to how I felt when I drove over to my house and found my things out on the front porch…having been evicted by my own tenants! I called the police, dialing 911, and expected to get some help…but I was shocked to find out, when the police arrived…that they had already been over there earlier that day! It was the police who had told the tenants it was fine to remove my things from my house! The police had authorized my tenants to evict me from my own home. Who can beat that? I mean how could things get much worse than this. I was feeling so despondent and hurt, that I could hardly summon up the energy or anger, to argue with the police when they said to me, in essence, “Lady, you dont’ live here, so go home!” I did go home, to the apartment where I still lived, and that night while I was there, I could hardly sleep.
Side note: Now it may well be the case that I could have just ignored what the police said, and just had the locksmith come over again, and broke right back into my own house!. The police are well known for trying to interfere in matters that are not really their jurisdiction, and in this matter I believe the law was actually completely on my side. These tenants had not rented the entire home from my friend Rachel, their original landlord — they each had separate rental agreements, one each for each of the rooms they occupied. Therefore they actually had no authority, nor did the police, to bar me from moving into a room that none of them had rented — the living room. The police often try to dictate on civil matters where they have no authority to do so. If the tenants didn’t like it that I was moving into my own home, they were free to sue me, but in my view, the police were not free to authorize them to evict me. However, after being evicted from my house, I definitely did not feel like taking on the police force, and so I did not consider trying to get back in. And ultimately, as it turned out, not escalating with the tenants on this matter was the best decision for me to make.
That evening, feeing traumatized and weak, I tried to call Rachel and talk about what her tenants had done, but she wouldn’t listen to me and told me it must have been my poor communication skills. Poor communication skills my ass, I said, they evicted me from my own house. I think Rachels’ reply was that I shouldnt’ have moved in. So you buy a house and then you dont’ move into it, because your tenants tell you that you can’t, that it is their house!?!
If I recall right, Rachel finally hung up on me that evening and that was pretty much the end of our friendship. That night was a Scotch Whiskey night, I think Whisky was the only friend I had that night.
I was sitting there the next morning, feeling incredibly awful, contemplating turning right around and selling my house again, when I received word from my tenant Melinda — she was giving notice, she would be moving out. Then before the day was over, Joshua also gave notice that he was moving out. I called up my smartass attorney Richard, the one who had gotten me into all this trouble, and told him the story. I related it to him about the police and everything, my things moved in, my things moved out again, and he seemed to know the punchline. When I told him two of my tenants had now given notice, the day after, he said, “See…I told you it would work.” So I had been set up again! First I was set up by Rachel, who sold me the house, leaving me to take the fall as the bad guy for buying a house that I wanted to move into. Then my attorney Richard, set me up to do a move-in that he had seemed to know in advance, would not actually work, but which succeeded in disturbing my tenants so much, that they gave notice anyway, that they were moving out. I felt thoroughly manipulated, but I also felt like the sun might just be starting to shine on what had been a considerably dark and gloomy situation thus far.
The third and final tenant, Natalie, did not give notice right away, but that came about a week later. At this point I felt home free. I was actually going to be able to move into my own home. Melinda and Joshua and Natalie asked me to please not come around the house at all during the remainder of the time they would be there, and I was agreeable to that. So I waited the month or so, and then when the day finally came when the trio would be moving out, I got a friend to come with me on what we called “a drive by viewing”. We kept driving by and viewing whether the ghastly trio had moved out yet or not. I had my house keys in my hot little hand, eager to jump out of the car and run up the stairs and open up the door to my own house, as soon as they had vacated. I was burning, itching to open the door to my own home. After several drive-by-viewings, we finally determined that the three had all vacated the premises, and that evening, I entered my own home in peace for the first time.
I would like to add, since I think it helps the reader have some context, that my search for a home is of particularly profound significance to me, since there is a very real way in which I have never actually had a real home, and a very real way in which I have continued to deal with the problem of being bullied in my own home. I grew up with parents who did not know how to parent, a mother who was cold and distant, unable to provide adequate mothering, a father who was a bully, and as the only female child (and the only gay child) in a family that most definitely preferred men, and most definitely preferred them heterosexual. My mother didn’t like girls.
She fawned over my two brothers, and they were given privileges and favors — as I recall, they got to go out and play, go surfing at the beach or go mountain biking,– while I was forced to do housework that neither of my siblings ever had to do. I recall my father’s face, ash-white with anger, glaring at me, and his voice threatening me, because I had not dusted the house properly — while my two brothers were out with their friends surfing at the beach or doing BMX bicycling in the hills. It was bad to be a girl child in my family,( as I think it had been actually for many generations past in my family) and I was duly punished for it. I developed a severe, crippling depression while in high school, and didnt’ recover until 4 years later. Now in middle age, rather than feeling healed by time, I feel like more of an orphan than ever. I have been by this point effectively disowned by my family, which mostly refuses to communicate with me. When I make a phone call to my Mother, she responds as disinterestedly and coldly if I were a shoe salesman with a business in her town, calling on her to say hello — no one listening in on our conversation would have any clue that I am actually her daughter.
As oriented temperamentally as I am to be optimistic and task-oriented, and to “carry on” heroically without complaint in life, the truth is that in my heart of hearts , I have spent my life looking for my Real Mother, and searching, in places where I have lived, for My Real Home. A place where I can live at peace, free from bullying of the sort my father engaged in. Given the importance of home to me, there is a very great significance in me being able to find a way to live in harmony with others in my house, to feel at home in my own house, to feel comfortable in my own house. Which for me finally has come to mean, not having roommates.
So, this is the first chapter in the story of my struggle to find that real home. The struggles were not yet over, and there would be horrible situations with roommates yet to come. I would have to endure several more quite appalling and very disturbing situations with those I lived with, in the years to come….which I will describe as I continue my story in Part Two of this blog, coming up soon.
(Story to continue in Goodbye to Roommates, Part Two)
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