This chapter takes the form of song lyrics and stage directions, to be performed by the chorus of Maids with instruments. The first maid describes how happy her life would be as a princess loved by a young hero. The chorus then encourages the maid to sail across the ocean, warning that it is dangerous but that hope will keep her afloat.
While Penelope takes her marriage to Odysseus for granted, the Maids’ commentary shows how, to a lower class woman, marriage to a well-respected man would be a dream and a ticket to a much better life.
A second Maid describes her life as a servant running errands for her master and mistress, putting on a happy face with tears in her eyes and making up beds for other people to sleep in. A third Maid then begs the gods to change her life so she can be a hero’s wife, but knows that hard work is her “destiny.” The chorus repeats its refrain, encouraging the maids to sail away, warning of the sea’s danger, and saying hope will keep them afloat. The Maids then curtsy and one maid, Melantho of the Pretty Cheeks, passes her hat around and thanks the audience.
When the Maids describe their lives spent running errands and doing chores, it puts Penelope’s own life into perspective, highlighting how lucky she is to not have the same “destiny” as the Maids. This emphasis on the idea of destiny also brings in the important concept of fate, which was central to Ancient Greek religion, and was used as a justification for the poor treatment of slaves.