Odysseus’s journey takes place in a world in which vast swaths of uninhabited land separate human civilizations. Traveling between those settlements involves facing both natural and supernatural perils, as well as logistical problems like shortages in provisions. The code of hospitality operates as a linchpin that allows individuals such as Odysseus to undertake these kinds of journeys at all. It is a set of reciprocal expectations and obligations that not only mitigate the privations of travel but forge and reinforce bonds of friendship and goodwill. Not surprisingly, the Odyssey doles out harsh punishments to those who do not respect this sacred social code. Polyphemus, the suitors, and the Achaean soldiers at Ismarus all suffer for violating it. By the same token, individuals such as Eumaeus and the Phaeacian royalty prove their worth to Odysseus by showering him with selfless generosity and kindness. Within the Odyssey, adherence to the code functions as a kind of imperfect currency. If one acts in accordance with the rules, one will generally, but not always, be rewarded.
So what did all these gods do all day long other than relax in their comfy palaces? Well, it was the belief of the ancient Greeks that their gods were involved in every aspect of daily human life, that they watched over all that was going on and at times stuck their noses in – sometimes to help a beloved devotee, other times to seek revenge on a human who has ignored them, and sometimes just for their own amusement. There was a great deal of fear and distrust involved in the Greek’s relationship with the deities, but they did believe with their whole hearts that the gods existed, and that they would protect and care for the devout.