This chapter takes the form of a first person poem narrated by the chorus of Maids. They describe Telemachus’s birth, saying how he “sailed” through his mother’s blood for nine months in his “boat of himself.” This journey is characterized as a dangerous trip from the cave where the Fates live—where they spin the threads that determine men’s lives and then cut them when it’s time for them to die.
The Maids’ descriptions of the time before Telemachus’s birth link the female body and blood with the sea, further complicating water as a symbol in the book and suggesting that the female reproductive body, like the sea, is powerful and potentially dangerous.
The Maids state that they, who would eventually be killed by Telemachus and Odysseus, made the same journey from the Fates’ cave across the oceans of their peasant mothers’ blood until they came to shore after nine months. When Telemachus arrived on this shore, he cried and was helpless. However, the Maids say, they were even more helpless than he was, because his royal birth was celebrated while their own births were not.
The Maids bring up the Fates, female figures who spin thread to determine the length of people’s lives. The Maids’ reference to the Fates, like their descriptions of the female body, emphasizes the power of women. Telemachus, meanwhile, is characterized as weak and helpless, inverting normative gender stereotypes.
The Maids describe themselves as “animal young,” to be sold or killed at will, and highlight the contrast between Telemachus’s lineage and their own. Still, the Maids emphasize, their lives were deeply intertwined with Telemachus’s. They played together as children and they grew up together, though Telemachus was much better provided for. Telemachus saw the maids as his property even then, to serve him, or to keep him company, or to have sex with him.
The Maids draw attention to the fact that their parents’ slave status made them less valued and dehumanized them, so that people viewed them as “animal young” when they were born. While the Maids and Telemachus grew up together, Telemachus quickly internalized the class system of Ancient Greece and viewed the Maids as objects rather than people.
The Maids state that, as they played together as children, they did not know that Telemachus would one day kill them. They wonder if they would have drowned him back then had they known. Since they were twelve and he was only one, it would have been easy. They ask themselves if they would have been capable of pushing his head underwater and blaming it on the waves. Then they command the audience to ask the Fates, since only they know how history could have been altered, and only they know the Maids’ hearts.
As the Maids entertain the possibility that they could have killed Telemachus as children, thus saving themselves from their later murders, they run up against the Ancient Greek concept of fate, which essentially means that exercising free will does not lead to different outcomes. Still, the Maids do entertain the idea that they may have changed their destinies.