This chapter, from the Maids’ perspective, is formatted as a script for a play. Melantho of the Pretty Cheeks speaks the prologue, opening by saying that there is “another story” in which Penelope was purportedly sleeping with various Suitors, and using her tears to distract from her deeds. According to these tales, Penelope conceived the god Pan from these romps. Melantho states that the truth is rarely certain, but suggests that they “peek behind the curtain.”
The Maids describe the same rumors that Penelope refers to in the preceding chapter. Their commentary casts even more doubt on her narrative, and they specifically suggest that Penelope’s crying was used as a distraction from her happiness at being free from male control and able to do what she wants.
Next, Eurycleia, played by a maid, informs Penelope that Odysseus is back, and that she identified him by his scar. Penelope, played by a Maid, says she already knew who he was from his short legs. Penelope worries he will punish her for her lust, asking rhetorically if he thought that while he was out sleeping with nymphs and goddesses, Penelope was really going to stay chaste at home. Eurycleia suggests that, rather than undoing her loom every night, Penelope used the time she was supposed to spend weaving having sex.
In the Maids’ play, their portrayal of Penelope points out the double standard of sexual behavior for men and women in Ancient Greece, since Penelope is supposed to stay chaste at home while Odysseus is out sleeping with beautiful women.
Penelope then sends her lover down some hidden stairs and asks Eurycleia to make her look decent. Eurycleia tells her that the only people who know about her affairs with the Suitors are her twelve trusted Maids, and she tells Penelope that they must be silenced or they’ll reveal her secret. Penelope tells Eurycleia that it is up to her to save her and to save Odysseus’s honor. She tells Eurycleia to tell him that the Maids are disloyal so he will kill them before they can talk. Eurycleia agrees. Penelope prepares herself to look like a model wife in front of Odysseus, and she makes herself cry. The Maids end the skit with a tap dance and song, singing “blame it on the maids,” telling Penelope to “hang them high,” and calling themselves “sluts.”
According to this poignant and bitterly ironic play, Penelope threw her maids under the bus to keep Odysseus from punishing her. Notably, Penelope is concerned that Odysseus will kill her, showing how potentially dangerous men and their expectations of female behavior can be. While it is unclear whether this actually happened, Penelope does consistently display the fact that she has difficulty forming and keeping female relationships, and she is willing to compete with and criticize other women to elevate herself.