Penelope slept through Suitors’ killings in the women’s quarters, probably because Eurycleia drugged her drink. Eurycleia later described the events to Penelope, telling her how Odysseus, disguised as a beggar, watched as the suitors tried to string his bow for the archery contest. Then, when they failed, Odysseus strung the bow and successfully completed the archery challenge.
Penelope learns of the slaying of the Suitors and the Maids only through Eurycleia’s narrative, adding to the sense that the novel is a collage of second- and third- hand stories from different perspectives, each unreliable in its own way.
Then Odysseus shot Antinous in the throat and went on the kill all of the Suitors with the help of Telemachus and two herdsmen. Meanwhile, Eurycleia and the other women listened at the door of the women’s quarters. Odysseus then summoned Eurycleia and told her to indicate which Maids had been disloyal. Odysseus made those girls bring the bodies of the Suitors to the courtyard and wash the blood off of the floor.
When Eurycleia points out which of the Maids said negative things about Odysseus, she not only betrays members of her gender, but also members of her class. Eurycleia seems to thoroughly subscribe to the expectations of her class and gender, and she totally lacks solidarity with the other Maids.
Odysseus then told Telemachus to hack the Maids up. However, Telemachus decided instead to hang the Maids from a ship’s rope. Then Telemachus and Odysseus hacked up a goatherd who had betrayed him. Eurycleia thought that this would make an example for anyone else thinking about treason. When she woke up, Penelope panicked, asking Eurycleia which Maids Odysseus had killed, and Eurycleia told him he killed the twelve Maids who had been especially rude, including Melantho of the Pretty Cheeks. Eurycleia calls them “notorious whores.”
Eurycleia seems to support the murder of the Maids. Notably, and ironically, Eurycleia could have been a “notorious whore” herself had Laertes raped her in her youth, as she discusses earlier. While Eurycleia thinks he did not do so because he respected her, it was actually because of Laertes’ fear of Anticleia. Though Eurycleia judges the Maids for being rape victims, she could easily be in their place.
Penelope corrected her, saying that Odysseus had hung the rape victims, the youngest, and the most beautiful Maids. Penelope did not reveal that these were also her spies and confidantes. Eurycleia said that it would not have been proper to have such mouthy and untrustworthy girls in the palace anyway. Eurycleia then sent Penelope downstairs to see Odysseus. Penelope bit her tongue, telling herself that the Maids were already dead, and she would say prayers for them in secret.
Penelope pushes back against Eurycleia’s classification of the Maids as “notorious whores,” showing that the way that violence against women gets recounted matters. Instead of slandering the Maids for their sexual promiscuity, Penelope emphasizes their youth, beauty, and their experience of sexual violence, giving a more sympathetic account of their characters.
Penelope wonders if another explanation might be that Eurycleia knew of her Maids’ assignments and wanted to kill the Maids to maintain her privileged position with Odysseus. Penelope still has not been able to confront her about it because every time she sees her in the underworld, Eurycleia is busy happily tending to ghost babies.
Penelope’s conspiracy theory about Eurycleia’s knowledge of Penelope’s secret espionage with the Maids adds to the sense of the text being comprised of numerous, conflicting narratives without objective truth.