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Title: Hospitality
Original Title: Hospitalité
Volume and Page: Vol. 8 (1765), p. 314
Author: Louis, chevalier de Jaucourt (biography)
Translator: Sophie Bourgault [University of Ottowa]
Subject terms:
Religious history
Secular history
Natural law
Original Version (ARTFL): Link

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Citation (MLA): Jaucourt, Louis, chevalier de. "Hospitality." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Sophie Bourgault. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2013. Web. [fill in today's date in the form 18 Apr. 2009 and remove square brackets]. <>. Trans. of "Hospitalité," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 8. Paris, 1765.
Citation (Chicago): Jaucourt, Louis, chevalier de. "Hospitality." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Sophie Bourgault. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2013. (accessed [fill in today's date in the form April 18, 2009 and remove square brackets]). Originally published as "Hospitalité," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 8:314 (Paris, 1765).

Hospitality ( Sacred and profane history, Natural Law and Morals ). Hospitality is the virtue of a great soul that cares for the whole universe through the ties of humanity. The Stoics regarded it as a duty inspired by God himself. One must, they said, do good to people who come to our countries, less for their sake than for our own interest, for the sake of virtue and in order to perfect in our souls human sentiments, which must not be limited to the ties of blood and friendship, but extended to all mortals.

I define this virtue as a liberality exercised towards foreigners, especially if one receives them into one’s home: the just measure of this type of beneficence depends on what contributes the most to the great end that men must have as a goal, namely reciprocal help, fidelity, exchange between various states, concord, and the duties of the members of a shared civil society.

Men have always sought to travel, to establish institutions, to learn about the countries and mores of other peoples; but since the first travelers did not find places of rest where they went, they had to beseech the residents to receive them, and there were sufficient charitable inhabitants to give them an abode, to relieve them in their weariness and to provide them with the various things they needed.

Abraham, to begin my examples with sacred history, was among these compassionate individuals who practiced noble beneficence towards foreigners, who tasted the pleasure of receiving them and of offering them all the aid possible. We read in Genesis that this distinguished patriarch met, upon exiting his tent, three travelers, before whom he prostrated himself and to whom he offered water to wash their feet and bread to restore their strength. At the same time he ordered Sarah to knead three measures of flour, and to bake bread on the hearth: he himself roasted a calf that he served to his guests with Sarah’s breads, with butter and with milk.

I will not conceal the fact that the practice of hospitality became, with the Israelites, confined within excessively narrow limits when they put an end to their commerce with neighboring peoples. Nevertheless, without speaking of the Idumeans and of the Egyptians who were not part of this rupture, the spirit of this charity was not completely extinguished in their hearts; at the very least, they exercised it towards their brothers, during the sad times of captivity, when we see that Tobit was filled with this duty. Among the things for which the scriptures praise him is the distribution that he made from his tithes every three years to proselytes and strangers. Job cries, in the midst of his sufferings: “I have never left strangers in the street, and my door was always open to them.”

The Egyptians, convinced that the gods often took the shape of travelers in order to punish the injustices of men and to repress their violence and their rapines, envisaged the duties of hospitality as the most sacred and the most inviolable; the frequent travels of Greek sages to Egypt and the favorable welcome the Egyptians gave to Menelaus and Helen during the Trojan War clearly show the degree to which they cared for the practice of this virtue.

The Ethiopians were no less admirable in this regard according to Heliodorus; and it is undoubtedly this that Homer sought to describe when he reported that this people received the gods and entertained them with magnificence for numerous days.

This great poet having established the excellence of hospitality on the opinions of these alleged travels of the gods, and other Greek poets having, in their turn, written that Jupiter came on earth to punish Lycaon for killing his hosts, it is not surprising that the Greeks regarded hospitality as the virtue most agreeable to the gods. Indeed, this virtue was pursued to such an extent in Greece that people founded, in various places, public edifices where foreigners could be received. A beautiful trait of the life of Alexander is the edict by which he declared that honorable people of all countries to be relatives and that only malicious people are excluded from this honor.

The kings of Persia obtained great benefits from the favorable welcome they gave to different peoples and especially to the Greeks, who sought in their empire a refuge against the persecution of their citizens.

Despite the savage character and the poverty of the ancient peoples of Italy, hospitality was known there from the earliest days. Two sufficient proofs of that are the asylum offered to Saturn by Janus and that offered to Aeneas by Latinus. Aelianus himself reports that there was a law in Lucania that fined people who refused to lodge foreigners who arrived in their homeland after dusk.

But the Romans who followed surpassed all other nations in the practice of this virtue; imitating the Greeks, they created dwellings specifically for the lodging of foreigners; they named these dwellings hospitalia or hospitia, because they gave to foreigners the name of hospites. During the solemnity of the Lectisternium in Rome, one was obligated to exercise hospitality towards all kinds of known or unknown individuals; private homes were open to all, and each had the liberty to help himself to all that was found in homes. The ordinance of the Achaeans, by which they forbade the welcoming of any Macedonian in their cities, is described by Titus-Livy as an execrable violation of the rights of humanity . Great households obtained their principal glory from the fact that their palaces were always opened to foreigners; the Marcian family was united by rights of hospitality with Perseus, king of Macedon; and Julius Caesar, not to mention many other Romans, was linked through the same bonds to Nicomedes, king of Bithynia. “Nothing is more beautiful,” said Cicero, “than seeing the homes of illustrious individuals opened to illustrious guests, and it is in the interests of the republic to maintain this type of liberality. Nothing,” he adds, “is more useful to those who want to acquire, through legitimate means, great esteem in the state, than to have a lot of esteem outside of the state.”

It is easy to imagine how, upon hearing about these sentiments, the inhabitants of other Roman cities and colonies received foreigners, following the example of the capitol. They offered a hand to lead them to the place that was destined for them; they washed their feet; they led them to public baths, to games, to spectacles, to festivities. In short, they would not forget anything that could please the guest and soothe his exhaustion.

After this, it was impossible for the Romans not to admit the same gods as those of the Greeks as the protectors of hospitality . They did not omit to grant in that capacity one of the highest ranks to Venus, goddess of kindness and friendship. Minerva, Hercules, Castor and Pollux also enjoyed the same honor, and one did not deprive the traveling gods, dii viales, of a similar honor. With good reason Jupiter obtained the first place; they declared him the supreme avenging god of hospitality and nicknamed him hospitable Jupiter, Jupiter hospitalis. Cicero, writing to his brother Quintius, always refers to Jupiter in this beautiful appellation; but one must see with what art Virgil ennobled this epithet in the Aeneid:

Jupiter, hospitibius nam te dare jura loquuntur, Hunc loetum, Tiriisque diem, Trojâque profectis Esse velis, nostroque hujus meminisse minores. Our poetry does not possess such resources as these, nor such beautiful images.

The Germans, the Gauls, the Celtiberians, the Atlantic peoples and almost all nations of the world, also observed regularly the rights of hospitality. Tacitus says that it was a sacrilege amongst the Germans to close one’s door on any man, known or unknown. He who has exercised hospitality towards a foreigner, he adds, also indicates to the foreigner another home where hospitality is exercised, wherein he will be received with the same humanity. The laws of the Celts punished much more rigorously the murder of a foreigner than that of a citizen.

The Indians, this compassionate people who treated their slaves like themselves: were they not able to welcome travelers well? They went so far as to establish hospices and specific magistracies for furnishing travelers with life’s necessities and taking care of the funerals of those who died on their land.

I have sufficiently demonstrated that in earlier times hospitality was exercised by almost all peoples around the world; but the reader will appreciate learning about a few universal practices of this virtue, and about the extent of its rights; one must try to satisfy his curiosity.

When one was told that a foreigner was arriving, he who had to receive him had to go meet him. After having greeted the foreigner and given him the name of father, of brother and of friend (more according to his age than according to his personal qualities), he would present a hand, take him into his home, offer him a seat, bread, wine and salt. This ceremony was a kind of sacrifice, one that was offered to Jupiter the hospitable.

The Orientals, before the feast, washed the feet of their guests; this practice was still in usage amongst the Jews, and Our Lord reproaches the Pharisee who greeted him to his table to have neglected the practice. Amongst the ancients, ladies of the noblest distinction would do the same to their hosts. The daughters of Cocalus, king of Sicily, took Dedalus to the bath according to Athena. Homer gives us numerous additional examples when speaking of Nausicaa, Polycasta and Helen. The bath was followed by festivities, where nothing was sparred to entertain hosts; the Persians, to please their hosts even more, allowed their wives and their daughters to join these festivities.

The celebration that started with libations ended in a similar manner, namely by invoking the protecting gods of hospitality . It was, ordinarily, only after the meal that one inquired about his guests’ names and about the purpose of their trip; afterwards one took them to the apartments that one had prepared for them.

Both in light of usage and of decency, one did not part with one’s hosts without offering them gifts, which were referred to as xenia ; those who received these kept them preciously as tokens of an alliance sanctified by religion.

To leave to posterity a mark of the hospitality contracted toward individuals, entire families and even cities created together a contract. A coin would be cut or, more typically, a piece of wood or ivory would be cut in two, with each contracting party keeping half of it; this is what the ancients referred to as tessera hospilitatatis, tessera of hospitality. See Tessera of Hospitality.

We can still find in collections of curiosities tesseraes on which the names of two friends are inscribed; and when cities offered hospitality to an individual, they sent out a formal decree to that effect and a copy was given to him.

The rights of hospitality were so sacred that one looked upon the murder of a guest as the most unforgivable crime; and even if this murder was involuntary, one believed that it would attract the vengeance of the gods. Even the law of war could not undermine the law of hospitality , since the latter was considered to be eternal unless one abdicated it in an authentic manner. One of the ceremonies that was practiced in such cases was to break the mark, the tessera of hospitality, and to declare to the disloyal friend that one had broken forever with him.

We no longer know this beautiful bond of hospitality , and we must admit that the times have produced such great changes among peoples and especially among us, that we are much less obligated by the sacred and respectable laws of this duty than the ancients were.

It even seems that, in order for one to be bound by the law of nature to the services of hospitality (understood in their widest sense): 1) the person asking for these services must be outside of his homeland, for a good reason, or at least for an innocent one; 2) that there should be grounds to presume that he is an honest man, or at least that he has no prejudicial intentions towards us; 3) and finally, that he cannot find elsewhere, or that we cannot ourselves find for him, somewhere to lodge in exchange for money. Thus, this act of humanity was incomparably more indispensable when public, convenient and variously-priced dwellings did not yet exist among us.

Hospitality was naturally lost throughout Europe as all Europeans became travelers and merchants. The circulation of money through the lettres de change , the safety of roads, the convenience of vessels, of posts and of other cars; the hostels established in all cities and on all roads to lodge travelers, have all come to replace the generous assistance of the ancients’ hospitality.

The spirit of commerce, while uniting all nations, has broken the ties of benevolence between individuals; it has caused much good and evil; it has produced incalculable commodities, more extensive knowledge, easy luxury and a love of interest. This love has replaced the secret movements of nature which formerly linked men through tender and touching bonds. In their travels, wealthy individuals have gained the enjoyment of all the delights of the country they visit, joined to the polite welcome that is offered proportionally to their expense. We see them with pleasure and without attachment, just like those rivers that fertilize more or less the lands through which they pass.