The maids’ anthropology lecture can be seen as the one of the most subversive readings of the tale of Homer’s Odyssey. The maids offer a theory that completely undermines both the canonical and Penelope’s versions of the tale. Although this theory may seem far-fetched, I’ve come across some evidence that may suggest the feasibility of it after all.
Today, I was in my classics lecture looking at Greek pottery, when my professor said something that made my brain go, “ding ding ding!”. Very rarely does that kind of epiphany hit me, and so immediately, I began thinking about the possible implications it may have on my understanding of both The Odyssey and The Penelopiad.
Other than orally, the stories of famous heroes (such as Odysseus or Perseus) are passed on from one generation to the next through visual mediums. As such, these stories are often painted onto friezes or amphoras (containers that resemble large vases). What is particularly interesting however, is the painting of battle scenes onto them. Amphoras often depict Odysseus battling Scylla and Charbydis or Perseus slaying the Gorgon, Medusa. The point of this observation is that many of these mythical monsters had female characteristics attached to them even when the myths did not specify what gender they were. This motif is echoes in other mythological tales, such as Heracles’s Hydra or Oedipus’ Sphinx.
I imagine the maids would ask, “what can we discern from this trend?” The trend supports the idea of males defeating females, and possibly a patriarchal society overthrowing a matriarchal one. Moreover, it has been suggested by scholars that the depiction of young heroes slaying feminine characters acts as a symbolic representation of the coming-of-age of boys. A child’s life is a woman’s domain, as mothers rear children. But as boys reach maturity, they must leave their mothers’ realm and enter manhood. Telemachus’s slaying of the maids may symbolise this transition. Though this does not necessarily implicate the idea of a overthrown matriarchal society, in my opinion, it does reinforce the feasibility of the maids’ theory.
Perhaps the maid’s theory is complete “feminist claptrap”, perhaps it not. It is up to you, the reader, to decide which version of the tale you like. After all, the maids ask us to consider them as no more than”pure symbol”.