Double Standard for Women of the Odyssey
Odysseus plans to tiptoe back into his hall through various schemes, one of which is to become beneficial and amiable to the maidservants. With this motivation, he offers to guard the hearth so that the fire won’t dwindle, but the response he receives is more than unwelcoming. Melantho, a beneficiary of Penelope, spurns him saying:
You must be crazy, punch drunk, you old goat.
Instead of going out to find a smithy—or a tavern bench—you stay
putting your oar in, amid all our men.
Numbskull not to be scared! The wine you drank
has clogged your brain, or are you always this way,
boasting like a fool? Or have you lost
your mind because you beat that tramp, that Iros?
Look out, or someone better may get up
and give you a good knocking about the ears
to send you out all bloody. (18.405-15).
Unexpectedly and unconventional for his character, Odysseus says: “One minute: let me tell Telemakhos how you talk in hall, you slut; he’ll cut your arms and legs off” (18.416-20). “This hard shot took the women’s breath away and drove them quaking to their rooms, as though knives were behind: they felt he spoke the truth” (18.421-23).
From the perspective of Melantho, her reason to believe the hungry bellied pariah, Odysseus, seems unclear. There seems to be a lapse in her reasoning. Since the old beggar’s arrival at Odysseus’ estate, Telemakhos—not ever publicly acknowledging the hunched-over man's entry—appears to wholly neglect him. Intimidated by the suitors’ death threats and revealing Odysseus’ identity, the only way out for Telemakhos, the sole means of retaining influence over his mother’s suitors, is to distance himself from the man whom he would want most to be close to, his father. More than merely a survival tactic, however, it is a strategy for Odysseus to find loyalists among the group. Thus the main focus of Telemakhos in this scene is not to side with his father, not to stand up for his guest, but to stay alive, to remain aloof and unobtrusive, and to allow Odysseus’ plan to come into focus.
Soon after Odysseus’ arrival as beggar, Penelope sends Eumaios to bring the stranger to her chambers for questioning, but, when asked to meet with the queen, the beggar replies:
I wish this instant I could tell my facts
to the wise daughter of Ikarios, Penelope…
But just now
this hard crowd worries me. They are, you said
infamous to the very rim of heaven
for violent acts: and here, just now, this fellow
gave me a bruise. What had I done to him?
But who would lift a hand for me? Telemakhos?
No. Bid the queen be patient. (17.738-49)
Only furtively through Eumaios does...