This chapter consists of the lyrics to a song performed by the Twelve Maids while wearing sailor costumes, in which they give their own account of Odysseus’s travels as told in The Odyssey. The song describes Odysseus setting sail from Troy with his boat full of treasure. His first stop was on the island of Lotus, where the sailors forgot their wartime troubles. Next, the ship sailed to the island of the Cyclops, who threatened to eat the crew. However, Odysseus tricked the Cyclops and put out his eye, then sailed away again. According to the Maids, Poseidon then cursed Odysseus, making his travels difficult.
In this song, the Maids essentially give a synopsis of Odysseus’s journey home from the Trojan War as recounted in the Odyssey. The fact that these events are produced in a song format reflects how many early epic poems would have been sung rather than recited, since, early on, they would not have been written down and so would be difficult to remember in their entirety without an accompanying melody.
The Maids toast to Captain Odysseus, describing him as “gallant” wherever he is, whether in the trees or in the arms of sea nymphs. Then they describe Odysseus meeting the cannibalistic Laestrygonians, who ate his men. After that, Odysseus sailed to the island of Circe, where he stayed and slept with the goddess for a year. The Maids toast to Odysseus’s health again, calling him a “crafty old codger” in no hurry to get home. Next, Odysseus sailed to the Isle of the Dead, where he met the prophet Teiresias and heard his prophecy.
Even as they recount the events of Odysseus’s journey home as heroically as possible, the Maids’ description of Odysseus as a “crafty old codger” and their commentary that he does not seem to be rushing back to Ithaca suggests that there is an alternative version of the story in which Odysseus is much less admirable and is simply avoiding his responsibilities.
Following that, Odysseus sailed past the Sirens’ island while tied to the mast, so he would not be able to be lured to them but could hear their song. He successfully sailed past the whirlpool Charybdis and avoided the monster Scylla. Ultimately, his men turned against him and ate Helios the sun god’s cattle, and then they all died in a storm. Odysseus, however, reached the island of Calypso, where he spent seven years in a romantic affair with the goddess.
Even in the most embellished, rosy descriptions of Odysseus’s journey home, Odysseus is supposed to have cheated on Penelope with at least two goddesses. This is important because it reveals a double standard for fidelity, especially considering Odysseus’s threat of violence should Penelope be unfaithful.
Finally, Odysseus escaped on a raft and was ultimately found by Nausicaa’s maids on a beach while they were doing laundry. The Maids say that no one can tell what the Fates have in store, not even Odysseus, and then they toast to his health once more, wherever he is.
The Maids’ toasts to Odysseus and their commentary that there is no telling what fate has in store come across as ironic, since they loathe Odysseus for killing them, and clearly know what happens next.