Trial of Hospitality

Sophomores in Mandi Repoli’s English II classes were responsible for scouring Book 9 of The Odyssey in teams of “lawyers” to defend either Odysseus or Polyphemus in the text. They then had a debate-style court case in class, where a presiding Zeus (played by faculty members Kevin Warnock, Chris Setian, and Rick Warren) asked questions to help determine their understanding of both sides. To complete their task, students presented paragraph-long “closing arguments” that the lawyers wrote together.

The primary theme of Book 9 in The Odyssey is focused on hospitality. Polyphemus’ team argues that Odysseus and his men entered their home without warning, ate their food, stole their belongings, and did not follow their own rules of hospitality. Additionally, Polyphemus is a cyclops, one of a lawless group of demi-gods who do not follow the rules of the Gods, despite the fact that he is Poseidon’s son. Odysseus’ team argues that there is an inherent contract of hospitality between all people and Polyphemus and his men were disrespectful, accusatory, and ultimately murderous. There was much back and forth about the definition of a guest versus an intruder, what people owe others when they follow completely different rules, and if there can truly be a "right" answer.

Zeus’s ruling was the final word in each class—but The Odyssey is anything but cut and dried. In fact, in each of the three classes there were three different outcomes. One ended in a tie, another in favor of Odysseus’s actions, and the last in favor of Polyphemus’s actions, showing how complex this topic is even today.