Story of Filoxenia

Zeus and Hermes, disguised as poor travelers, visited a small village and began asking for a place to spend the night. They were unceremoniously turned away by everyone except a poor elderly couple - Baucis and Philemon. After generously serving the two guests food and wine, Baucis noticed that although she had refilled her guests' cups many times, the wine jug was still full. Realizing that their guests were in fact gods, Philemon offered to kill their only goose to feed them. To reward their kindness, Zeus turned their humble cottage into a beautiful stone temple and granted them their greatest wish; to be guardians of the temple, die at the same time and stay together forever as they were turned into trees -one on either side of the temple's door.

Baucis and Philemon appear in Ovid's poem Metamorphoses. They embody one of the most sacred institutions of the ancient Greeks; philoxenia, which stands for welcoming and taking care of strangers in one's home. This sacred host-guest relation was protected by Zeus and was termed ‘xenia', now known as ‘philoxenia' or ‘filoxenia'.

Meaning of Filoxenia – Origins of the Word

Hospitality, the official English translation of ‘philoxenia', doesn't do justice to the concept as it does not encompass its main element, which is generosity of spirit. The Greek noun ‘xenos' initially meant ‘guest', acquitting the meaning of ‘foreigner/stranger' at a later stage. On the other hand, it is speculated that the noun ‘philos', which now means ‘friend', actually acquired its meaning through the institution of philoxenia, while the verb ‘philo' originally meant ‘to love in a non-erotic manner'. Therefore, one could argue that the word ‘philoxenia' is more than an expression of the ‘love/friendship towards strangers'. What is certain is that it is one of the attributes of the Cypriot character and culture that we take pride in.

Cyprus and Filoxenia

Cyprus rose from the sea when the African and Eurasian plates run into each other just like two strangers coming together to form a special bond. Situated at the crossroads of three continents, this island has formed a 'bridge' connecting nations and cultures. This has been in turn a factor, which shaped its history and culture. Cyprus' history is a tale of war and conquests, but also ultimately of a magical melting pot of civilizations. From Neolithic settlements, Greek temples and amphitheatres, Roman villas with mosaic floors, old Christian basilicas, Byzantine churches and monasteries and medieval Templar castles to blossomed yards in picturesque villages, airports, ports, hotels, hospitals and academic institutions; Cyprus is made of meeting points and passages, where people and ideas intersect.

Cypriots have nurtured the notion of filoxenia. Natural curiosity as well as historical circumstances have often led to the Cypriot people residing in other countries beyond the island's shores. In many cases Cypriots abroad have been assisted and supported by the people of the host country. This deep rooted tradition of the exchange of succor and hospitality is the main reason why in Cyprus travellers or just any passerby often find themselves invited to a family celebration and presented with the best of food and drink available.

Filoxenia, the need to look after guests, also explains why we have never stopped exploring the potential of developing alternative forms of tourism; from conference and business to sports, adventure and eco-tourism, without ever putting aside the traditional recreational and honeymoon tourism, as an honour to the Goddess of Love and Beauty, Aphrodite, who, legend has it, was born in Cyprus.

But it doesn't stop there. Filoxenia is much more than the sandy beaches and the thick cedar and pine forests in a wonderful Mediterranean climate that allows you to enjoy the riches nature has bestowed on Cyprus. With an excellent infrastructure, a highly educated workforce, a stable economy and a business friendly taxation system, Cyprus welcomes investors, shipping entrepreneurs and traders of all kinds in an equally inviting business climate. Moving with the times, Cyprus trusts digital technology and advanced telecommunications to create new virtual meeting points, new passages, for people and ideas to keep flowing.

Cyprus Presidency – A ‘Filoxenos Topos'

This deep rooted and broad concept of filoxenia has lent its name to the heart of our 2012 Presidency activities, the Conference Centre in Nicosia. Moreover, it has become the idea that is acting as a central message of the Cyprus Presidency. We want to be a welcoming place, a “filoxenos topos”, while we also have the vision for Europe, our common homeland, to be a “filoxenos topos”.

Filoxenos topos is the space where Pygmalion sculptured Galatea the way committed Europeans try to shape our common destiny. Filoxenos topos is where in line with ancient Greek tradition, the space is defined and characterized by the works and the skills of the hands and the intellect of man and becomes the tangible testimony of his presence. It is a space where the worthy does more than his duty as spelled out in Saint Luc's Gospel. It is a space where the quintessence of happiness lies in the spread of those secret signs that decode infinity as Odysseas Elytis was writing. It is the space producing the grapes equal to the beauty of the beloved one in the song of the songs of Salomon, the quality label of Europe 's output. It is a space proud and grateful to be a building block in the edification of the United Europe envisioned by Jean Monnet and the other founding fathers. This becomes obvious if one considers how the moral and material obligations of the ancient institution of filoxenia are interwoven with the Cyprus Presidency's vision to contribute towards a Better Europe.

Filoxenia and the Presidency Priorities

The sacred duty, which dictated that all be treated with equal respect, irrespective of their social and political standing or economic situation, drives our aim to help find those common, fair and effective solutions that guarantee high standards of protection for refugees throughout the EU and finalize the Common European Asylum System by the end of our Presidency. Because filoxenos topos is a space where the foreigner is more of a guest than of a stranger. It is the space where Arthur Rimbaud found provisional asylum in his quest to escape from himself. It is the space where a self-exiled Solon the Athenian found refuge and his host, the King of Vouni, had a city built and named after him, Soloi located at the north coast of Cyprus. By his absence Solon was protecting the presence and sustainability of the legal order he prepared for the Athenians, establishing the principles of neutrality of the laws and their protection against political expediency, vindicating Antigone and laying the ground for Socrates. This is about Europe as a space of law. This is about our institutions and co-decision, one of the main tasks of the rotating Presidency.

The ritual of welcoming, looking after the strangers, offering them dinner, a bath and a place to sleep, not raising a weapon against them and biding them goodbye with gifts -Xenia gifts- inspires us to work for the implementation of the ambitious Europe 2020 Strategy objectives; to provide a home for innovation, promote social inclusion, make peace with the environment and offer young people the tools to shape and change the world. Because filoxenos topos is a space where enterprise, services, industry, shipping, trade and all other economic activities are at the service of a better life for all. It is a space where the elder feel that they delivered unscratched and ideally better off the trust they inherited and the young feel welcome. This is our job creating growth ambition. This is our important task of continuing the negotiation and working towards reaching the conclusion on the next Multiannual Financial Framework for a budget that responds to today's challenges and creates opportunities for tomorrow. Filoxenos topos is a land where civilization and history lay the ground for innovation and a forward looking and open society where ideas are brewed together to produce new horizons. It is a place where technology is user friendly and its achievements and ambition lofty and high. This is a site for our Digital Agenda to thrive.

The notions of kindness, thoughtfulness and generosity are encompassed in our aspiration to promote joint actions, which will prevent the emergence of new dividing lines between the enlarged EU and its neighbours and instead strengthen the prosperity, stability and security for all through the European Neighbourhood Policy, yet another significant priority of our Presidency. Because filoxenos topos is a space of proximity, where shared values and principles lead by example and respect and tolerance for the other are co-substantial to life in society. It is the space creating the theory of justice of our compatriot the stoic philosopher Zenon Kitieus. It is the space where Shakespeare could locate Othello as a Moor, a Venetian governor and a Cypriot, all at the same time. This is about Europe as a space where democracy and human rights worship the sanctity of human life and primacy of humanism, pluralism and cultural diversity.

Finally, in the same manner that those moral and material obligations bounded all members of a family and connected the host and the guest with bonds of friendship so strong that it was even inherited by their descendants, we are motivated to pursue our other two important priorities: to take account of the inter-connectedness human activities centred on the sea and build up close cooperation between decision-makers in the different sectors both inside and outside Europe via an Integrated Maritime Policy and to help create a new partnership between Europe and its farmers through the Reform of Common Agricultural Policy . Because filoxenos topos is a serene and friendly sea, the unfolding space where nature and the ecosystem can flourish without the fear of pollution and climate change. It is a space where the activity of man is in osmosis with the environment and agriculture is the friend of the land. This is our greener Europe ambition. Filoxenos topos is the Mediterranean of Fernard Braudel which in "its physical landscape as in its human landscape, as a crossroads and heteroclitic realm appears in our memories as a coherent image, as a system in which everything mingles and recomposes itself in an original unity". This augurs the consolidation of the single market that we will be promoting.

Above all, filoxenos topos is our vision for a European Union closer to its citizens; a place where everyone is granted the wish for a better quality of life, inspiring them to work each from their own position for a Better Europe and share with the rest of the world a message of thoughtfulness, hospitality, generosity, tolerance and love, just as Baucis and Philemon did.

Filoxenia in the Justus Lipsius building

The Justus Lipsius building is the headquarters in Brussels of the Council of the EU. During the Cyprus EU Presidency the Presidency Room is transformed by a structure that is independent of the space’s architectural design; a living room within a room. Circular in shape, it resembles the round houses of Khirokitia, a Neolithic settlement near the southern coast of Cyprus, known as one of the most important and best preserved prehistoric sites of the eastern Mediterranean and a World Heritage Site. The translucent curtain wall enclosure suggests a sense of gathering in a place where people can engage into a relaxed, yet mentally inviting conversation. The artistic decoration is based on a proposal made by the world acclaimed Cypriot designer Michael Anastassiades.