From the commentary of W.B. Stanford
on the Odyssey, published 1948.
On 19.500-502 (Odysseus has just been recognized by Eurycleia, he's threatened that if she reveals what she knows, he will not spare her "though you are my nurse, when I kill all the other slave-women in my house." She responds with an assurance that she will be as silent "as barren stone or iron... but I'll tell you about the household women, which did you dishonor and which are innocent." Odysseus responds: "Granny, why are you to tell me about them? It isn't your place. For you can be sure that I will investigate it and learn about each one."
O. rather curtly cuts short Eurycleia's tale-bearing about her fellow-servants. He prefers to see to this sort of thing himself
On 22.195-199 (Eumaeus and Philoetius tie up the treacherous Melanthius during the slaughter of the suitors and stick him in a store room). Stanford:
no one is so hard on a faithful servant as an unfaithful servant.
on 22.474 (execution of Melanthius -- his nose, ears, and genitals are cut off and fed to the dogs, then he is dismembered. Stanford finds this much more disturbing than the execution of the maidservants, which he annotates in detail. Although he does note that the last line of that section ("their feet writhed a little while, but not for long") contributes to "the horror of their agony.")) But about Melanthius:
ἦγον sc. from the θάλαμος : the subject is presumably the swineherd, the cowherd, and perhaps -- one hopes not -- Telemachus. O. himself was inside the house and had no part in the following barbarities, which are best excused as the revenge of servants on a traitorous servant. Even Antinous when he threatened similar indignities on Irus, did not propose to inflict them himself.
Of course, Telemachus is the one who decrees that they are going give the maidservants the unclean death of hanging rather than the execution by the sword that Odysseus had ordered (nb. the first thing he does is
to ask Eurycleia which ones are guilty* and which are innocent.)
It's maybe also interesting that Stanford's introduction includes under CHARACTERS
people like Anticleia (Odysseus's mother) and Ajax, and mentions that the Suitors and Odysseus' Companions are individuated characters, but doesn't even signal the existence of Eurycleia and Eumaeus, two of the main characters of the last third of the poem. The introductory essay to the second half of the Odyssey has a bit more:
Instead of queer folk rapidly sketched we are now shown ordinary folk searchingly portrayed...Who would not rather face the anger of Aeolus and the blandishments of Circe, and even the terrors of the Cyclops and Scylla, than suffer, in constant danger of detection and death, the taunts and missiles of insolent princelings and the derision of his own disloyal servants? Truly it needed a heart and face as hard as steel and horn (19.211) for a husband after nearly twenty years' separation from his wife to witness her deep sorrow, for a father to watch the humiliations of his only son, for a kingly householder, disguised as a beggar, to see the anarchy, extravagance, insolence, and immorality that prevailed in his own palace, without betraying himself prematurely.
*that is, "guilty." Melantho is about on same snide-and-mean level as O'Brian from Downton Abbey
, though Melantho doesn't, as I recall, actually do
anything particularly wicked (contra
, O'Brian). Otherwise, what the maidservants are guilty of is sleeping with the suitors. (Let's just say that I have a hard time reading this part of the Odyssey straight and believing that sexual relationships between insolent and violent aristocratic young men and slave-girls were consensual seduction.)