Tag Archives: literature

Game of Thrones Red Wedding and Ancient Greek Xenia

WARNING MAJOR SPOILERS: If you have not watched Season 3 Episode 9 and care about being surprised, do not read any further!

So I’m a bit of a Game of Thrones fan which is probably no surprise being that it draws some influence from the classical world, although probably more influence comes from the northern myths, stories, and legends. I found myself spending the last few days watching reactions to the last episode because they are completely hilarious (clip above).  I usually don’t write about obvious evidence of classical influence, but this particular episode brought up a very important theme in ancient literature and epic. This theme is known in Greek as xenia. Xenia is a common rule in ancient cultures of guest-friendship meaning that there is a certain expectation of safety and hospitality among travelers, guests, and hosts. There is also a cool small souvenir and novelty shop in Philly called Xenos (guest/foreigner) but that’s another story.  In Game of Thrones this custom was clearly not upheld as just about everyone who was a guest at the wedding was killed.

Breaking the customs of xenia has a tradition in ancient literature of leading to terrible things and usually huge wars which kill far more people than those involved in the original dispute. I have no doubt that this will be the case in Game of Thrones. This blog is not about my predictions for HBO television shows so I won’t go into them more than that, but what I know from reading ancient literature is that once the rules of xenia are broken, Pandora’s box is opened because those customs of trust are what made travel possible in the ancient world and were necessary to a functioning civilization. Once one side breaks the rules, all sides break the rules. This was so important that to violate xenia was actually insulting Zeus.

Side note: The documentary Craigslist Joe is an experiment in modern American xenia.

Some examples in Ancient Greek literature of breaking these rules are as follows.

  1. The Trojan War- Yes the Trojan War started as a result of a breach of hospitality. This was opposite of the Red Wedding though in that the guest was the perpetrator. Paris stole Menelaus’ wife while he was a guest at Menelaus’ house; whether Helen went willingly or not has always seemed irrelevant to me.
  2. The Odyssey- Xenia is all over this story as it is basically an epic of travel. The most important in my mind is that of Odysseus’ house in which the suitors were demanding things beyond the custom; this doesn’t end well for them.
  3. Euripides Alcestis– This entire play is based on the importance of xenia. Alcestis’ husband Admetus was such a great host that Apollo convinced the Fates to allow him to live past his given time of death.  Ademtus is so devoted to the custom of hospitality that he betrays the last wishes of his dying wife in order to be a good host to the famous Heracles.
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Cosmo Magazine and Ovid’s Ars Amatoria: Sex hasn’t changed in 2,000 years

I’m not going to lie, I find Cosmo to be a hilarious magazine and it became even more hilarious the second I realized that Cosmo is just the modern, female, version of Ovid’s Ars Amatoria. Ovid’s “Art of Love” is basically a guide to love, sex, adultery, etc. Contrary to popular opinion Ovid didn’t just gear his work towards men, rather, it also includes advice for women. The work is broken into three parts which would be found commonly in a magazine like Cosmo. Book 1 is about how to find a woman, book 2 how to keep her, and book 3 is about how women can obtain and keep a man in love. The book is a bit racy, in fact so racy it got Ovid exiled, or maybe it was just that little thing about Julia’s adultery, whatever it was, the poet calls it “a poem and a mistake.”

Ovid’s book is not just about sex, but also includes little things that can be done to keep someone interested. My favorite piece of advice Ovid gives is one that is also covered very regularly in Cosmo, the waiting game. This is basically how to make someone miss you, but not be gone for too long. In modern Cosmo terms that might be considered the three day rule of calling someone or “do you” which apparently translates to leaving time for yourself and not forgetting your friends. It is incredible to me that nothing really has changed in relationships in two thousand years.

Of course there is always the sex part of Cosmo and Ars Amatoria. Both pieces of literature (I use that term loosely) express advice on the physical nature of the relationship. This can be found in every issue of Cosmo and usually is full of things a lot of men might disagree with, but they’re the experts not me. As I went to the website for “research” for this post I found an article titled “The Sexy Body Parts Your Not Using Enough.” This turned out to be an article on how women should use their legs in bed. This reminded me greatly of a line in the Ars Amatoria where Ovid claims that tall women should not straddle their lovers: “quod erat longissima, numquam Thebais Hectoreo nupta resedit equo” (Book 3, ll 778).  This translates very roughly to “because she was taller, the Theban bride (refers to Andromache) never sat on Hector.” I left out the word equo which just describes Hector as a horse, yes that probably has the same meaning as when Cosmo refers to a man as a horse.

The only thing that might differ between Ovid and Cosmo is that Ovid never wrote a useless article like, “What did his weekend texts really mean.”   Although you can bet if text messages existed, Ovid would’ve written about it. Everything else seems to line up pretty well. I’m sure you’ve read Cosmo so if you don’t believe me that nothing has changed, pick up a copy of Ovid and see for yourself.

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