“His Heart Barked”: Sex, Slaves, and Transgression in the Odyssey

Earlier I posted a passage from the Odyssey where the narrator tells us that Penelope raised the slave Melanthô and gave her toys. This detail is paired with the slave woman’s sexual behavior—she is now a bad slave because she is having sex with one of the suitors.

Odyssey, 18.321–5

“Then fine-cheeked Melanthô reproached him shamefully. Dolios fathered her and Penelope raised her, she treated her like her own child and used to give her delights for her heart. But she did not have grief in her thoughts for Penelope. Instead she was having sex with and feeling affection for Eurymakhos.”

τὸν δ’ αἰσχρῶς ἐνένιπε Μελανθὼ καλλιπάρῃος,
τὴν Δολίος μὲν ἔτικτε, κόμισσε δὲ Πηνελόπεια,
παῖδα δὲ ὣς ἀτίταλλε, δίδου δ’ ἄρ’ ἀθύρματα θυμῷ·
ἀλλ’ οὐδ’ ὧς ἔχε πένθος ἐνὶ φρεσὶ Πηνελοπείης,
ἀλλ’ ἥ γ’ Εὐρυμάχῳ μισγέσκετο καὶ φιλέεσκεν.

The meaning of this behavior might not be clear to modern audiences. Ancient audiences might have needed clarification too. The epic shows Odysseus witnessing this later.

20.5–24

“Odysseus was lying there, still awake, devising evils in his heart
For the suitors. And the women went from the hall
The ones who were having sex with the suitors before
Greeting one another with a welcome and a laugh.
And Odysseus’ heart rose in his dear chest.
He debated much in his thoughts and through his heart
Whether after leaping up he should deal out death to each woman
Or he should allow them to have sex with the arrogant suitors
a last and final time. The heart inside his chest barked.
And as a mother dog who stands over her young pups
When she sees an unknown man barks and waits to fight,
So his heart growled within him as he was enraged at the evil deeds.
Then he struck his chest and reproached the heart inside him.
Endure this my heart, you endured a more harrowing thing on that day
When the savage Cyclops, insanely daring, ate
My strong companions. You were enduring this and your intelligence
Led you from that cave even though you thought you were going to die.”

ἔνθ’ ᾿Οδυσεὺς μνηστῆρσι κακὰ φρονέων ἐνὶ θυμῷ
κεῖτ’ ἐγρηγορόων· ταὶ δ’ ἐκ μεγάροιο γυναῖκες
ἤϊσαν, αἳ μνηστῆρσιν ἐμισγέσκοντο πάρος περ,
ἀλλήλῃσι γέλω τε καὶ εὐφροσύνην παρέχουσαι.
τοῦ δ’ ὠρίνετο θυμὸς ἐνὶ στήθεσσι φίλοισι·
πολλὰ δὲ μερμήριζε κατὰ φρένα καὶ κατὰ θυμόν,
ἠὲ μεταΐξας θάνατον τεύξειεν ἑκάστῃ,
ἦ ἔτ’ ἐῷ μνηστῆρσιν ὑπερφιάλοισι μιγῆναι
ὕστατα καὶ πύματα· κραδίη δέ οἱ ἔνδον ὑλάκτει.
ὡς δὲ κύων ἀμαλῇσι περὶ σκυλάκεσσι βεβῶσα
ἄνδρ’ ἀγνοιήσασ’ ὑλάει μέμονέν τε μάχεσθαι,
ὥς ῥα τοῦ ἔνδον ὑλάκτει ἀγαιομένου κακὰ ἔργα.
στῆθος δὲ πλήξας κραδίην ἠνίπαπε μύθῳ·
“τέτλαθι δή, κραδίη· καὶ κύντερον ἄλλο ποτ’ ἔτλης,
ἤματι τῷ, ὅτε μοι μένος ἄσχετος ἤσθιε Κύκλωψ
ἰφθίμους ἑτάρους· σὺ δ’ ἐτόλμας, ὄφρα σε μῆτις
ἐξάγαγ’ ἐξ ἄντροιο ὀϊόμενον θανέεσθαι.”

Beyond whether or not the liaison was a good wooing strategy for Eurymachus, these closely paired statements show that despite being integrated into the family structure, Melantho has not internalized her position and has instead exercised agency in pursuing sexuality. (Or, perhaps more accurately, exercising control over her own body to choose a different master.) When the epic returns to the issue, it takes pains to depict the women as in control and to ensure that Odysseus witnesses it. When he reveals himself to the suitors in book 22, he accuses them of forcefully sleeping with the women.

22.35-38

“Dogs, you were expecting that out of the way I would not come
home from the land of the Trojans and you ruined my home,
Took the slave women in my house to bed by force
And wooed the wife of a man who was still alive…”

“ὦ κύνες, οὔ μ’ ἔτ’ ἐφάσκεθ’ ὑπότροπον οἴκαδε νεῖσθαι
δήμου ἄπο Τρώων, ὅτι μοι κατεκείρετε οἶκον
δμῳῇσίν τε γυναιξὶ παρευνάζεσθε βιαίως
αὐτοῦ τε ζώοντος ὑπεμνάασθε γυναῖκα…

The difference in tone is in part due to the level of narrative—in the first two scenes mentioned above, the sexual acts are observed through the narrator. When Odysseus talks about it, he characterizes the acts differently because he sees the sexual acts as transgressing his control of the household. If the women—who are animate objects, not people—have sex, then they are the sexual objects of aggressors against Odysseus’ control. This transgressive behavior on their part helps to explain why Odysseus decides to slaughter them.

Who should have sex with the slave women is implied by a narrative passage from the beginning of the epic (1.428–33)

“And with him Eurykleia carried the burning torches. She knew proper things, the daughter of Ops, the son of Peisênor whom Laertes bought to be among his possessions when she was just a girl and he paid a price worth 20 oxen. And he used to honor her equal to his dear wife in his home but he never had sex with her and he was avoiding his wife’s anger.”

τῷ δ’ ἄρ’ ἅμ’ αἰθομένας δαΐδας φέρε κεδνὰ ἰδυῖα
Εὐρύκλει’, ῏Ωπος θυγάτηρ Πεισηνορίδαο,
τήν ποτε Λαέρτης πρίατο κτεάτεσσιν ἑοῖσι,
πρωθήβην ἔτ’ ἐοῦσαν, ἐεικοσάβοια δ’ ἔδωκεν,
ἶσα δέ μιν κεδνῇ ἀλόχῳ τίεν ἐν μεγάροισιν,
εὐνῇ δ’ οὔ ποτ’ ἔμικτο, χόλον δ’ ἀλέεινε γυναικός·

It is exceptional here that Laertes does not have sex with Eurykleia. This indicates an economy of sexual slavery in which the slave women are the objects to be used by those who own them. If they are used without permission or act on their own, they represent perversions.

See:

Doherty, Lillian. 2001. “The Snares of the Odyssey: A Feminist Narratological Reading.” 117-133.
Thalmann, William G. 1998. “Female Slaves in the Odyssey.” 22–34

Related image
Red-figure Kylix, c. 490 BCE

 

Lenaeus: Teacher, Chief Minister of Shade

Suetonius, Lives of Illustrious Men, On Grammarians 15

“Lenaeus, who was a freedman of Pompey the Great and his comrade in nearly every expedition, made a living with a school following the death of Pompey and his sons. He taught in Carinae near Tellus where the home of Pompey’s family had been. He remained so committed to the love of his patron that, in response to the fact that Sallust wrote that Pompey had “an honest man’s face but a rogue’s heart,” he attacked Sallust with the harshest satires, as a “victim of vice, a foodie, a cheap bastard, and a glutton, a beast for his life and writings, an uneducated thief of Cato’s ancient words.”

It is also reported that when he was still a boy, he returned to his home-country after breaking his chains, but once he received a liberal education, he returned this as a payment to his master, but was fully freed thanks to his innate ability and his education.”

Lenaeus, Magni Pompei libertus et paene omnium expeditionum comes, defuncto eo filiisque eius schola se sustentavit; docuitque in Carinis ad Telluris, in qua regione Pompeiorum domus fuerat, ac tanto amore erga patroni memoriam exstitit, ut Sallustium historicum, quod eum oris probi, animo inverecundo scripsisset, acerbissima satura laceraverit, lastaurum et lurconem et nebulonem popinonemque appellans, et vita scriptisque monstrosum, praeterea priscorum Catonis verborum ineruditissimum furem. Traditur autem puer adhuc catenis subreptis, refugisse in patriam, perceptisque liberalibus disciplinis, pretium suum domino rettulisse, verum ob ingenium atque doctrinam gratis manumissus.

Image result for pompey the great
Pompey the Great

Freed By Literature, Teaching Children for Free

Suetonius, Lives of Illustrious Men: On Grammarians 13

“Staberius Eros, who was bought with his own money at a public auction and was then freed because of his dedication to literature, taught Brutus and Cassius, among others.

There are those who report that he was so noble that during the Sullan period he accepted the children of proscribed men into his school free and without any additional payment.”

XIII. Staberius Eros, suomet aere emptus de catasta et propter litterarum studium manumissus, docuit inter ceteros Brutum et Cassium. Sunt qui tradant tanta eum honestate praeditum, ut temporibus Sullanis proscriptorum liberos gratis et sine mercede ulla in disciplinam receperit.

 

  1.  He taught the republican assassins.
  2. He taught children of political assassinations for free.
  3. Staberius Eros sounds like a good man.
A Roman teacher home-schooling, about 200 AD
Image found here

“His Heart Barked”: Sex, Slaves, and Transgression in the Odyssey

Earlier I posted a passage from the Odyssey where the narrator tells us that Penelope raised the slave Melanthô and gave her toys. This detail is paired with the slave woman’s sexual behavior—she is now a bad slave because she is having sex with one of the suitors.

Odyssey, 18.321–5

“Then fine-cheeked Melanthô reproached him shamefully. Dolios fathered her and Penelope raised her, she treated her like her own child and used to give her delights for her heart. But she did not have grief in her thoughts for Penelope. Instead she was having sex with and feeling affection for Eurymakhos.”

τὸν δ’ αἰσχρῶς ἐνένιπε Μελανθὼ καλλιπάρῃος,
τὴν Δολίος μὲν ἔτικτε, κόμισσε δὲ Πηνελόπεια,
παῖδα δὲ ὣς ἀτίταλλε, δίδου δ’ ἄρ’ ἀθύρματα θυμῷ·
ἀλλ’ οὐδ’ ὧς ἔχε πένθος ἐνὶ φρεσὶ Πηνελοπείης,
ἀλλ’ ἥ γ’ Εὐρυμάχῳ μισγέσκετο καὶ φιλέεσκεν.

The meaning of this behavior might not be clear to modern audiences. Ancient audiences might have needed clarification too. The epic shows Odysseus witnessing this later.

20.5–24

“Odysseus was lying there, still awake, devising evils in his heart
For the suitors. And the women went from the hall
The ones who were having sex with the suitors before
Greeting one another with a welcome and a laugh.
And Odysseus’ heart rose in his dear chest.
He debated much in his thoughts and through his heart
Whether after leaping up he should deal out death to each woman
Or he should allow them to have sex with the arrogant suitors
a last and final time. The heart inside his chest barked.
And as a mother dog who stands over her young pups
When she sees an unknown man barks and waits to fight,
So his heart growled within him as he was enraged at the evil deeds.
Then he struck his chest and reproached the heart inside him.
Endure this my heart, you endured a more harrowing thing on that day
When the savage Cyclops, insanely daring, ate
My strong companions. You were enduring this and your intelligence
Led you from that cave even though you thought you were going to die.”

ἔνθ’ ᾿Οδυσεὺς μνηστῆρσι κακὰ φρονέων ἐνὶ θυμῷ
κεῖτ’ ἐγρηγορόων· ταὶ δ’ ἐκ μεγάροιο γυναῖκες
ἤϊσαν, αἳ μνηστῆρσιν ἐμισγέσκοντο πάρος περ,
ἀλλήλῃσι γέλω τε καὶ εὐφροσύνην παρέχουσαι.
τοῦ δ’ ὠρίνετο θυμὸς ἐνὶ στήθεσσι φίλοισι·
πολλὰ δὲ μερμήριζε κατὰ φρένα καὶ κατὰ θυμόν,
ἠὲ μεταΐξας θάνατον τεύξειεν ἑκάστῃ,
ἦ ἔτ’ ἐῷ μνηστῆρσιν ὑπερφιάλοισι μιγῆναι
ὕστατα καὶ πύματα· κραδίη δέ οἱ ἔνδον ὑλάκτει.
ὡς δὲ κύων ἀμαλῇσι περὶ σκυλάκεσσι βεβῶσα
ἄνδρ’ ἀγνοιήσασ’ ὑλάει μέμονέν τε μάχεσθαι,
ὥς ῥα τοῦ ἔνδον ὑλάκτει ἀγαιομένου κακὰ ἔργα.
στῆθος δὲ πλήξας κραδίην ἠνίπαπε μύθῳ·
“τέτλαθι δή, κραδίη· καὶ κύντερον ἄλλο ποτ’ ἔτλης,
ἤματι τῷ, ὅτε μοι μένος ἄσχετος ἤσθιε Κύκλωψ
ἰφθίμους ἑτάρους· σὺ δ’ ἐτόλμας, ὄφρα σε μῆτις
ἐξάγαγ’ ἐξ ἄντροιο ὀϊόμενον θανέεσθαι.”

Beyond whether or not the liaison was a good wooing strategy for Eurymachus, these closely paired statements show that despite being integrated into the family structure, Melantho has not internalized her position and has instead exercised agency in pursuing sexuality. (Or, perhaps more accurately, exercising control over her own body to choose a different master.) When the epic returns to the issue, it takes pains to depict the women as in control and to ensure that Odysseus witnesses it. When he reveals himself to the suitors in book 22, he accuses them of forcefully sleeping with the women.

22.35-38

“Dogs, you were expecting that out of the way I would not come
home from the land of the Trojans and you ruined my home,
Took the slave women in my house to bed by force
And wooed the wife of a man who was still alive…”

“ὦ κύνες, οὔ μ’ ἔτ’ ἐφάσκεθ’ ὑπότροπον οἴκαδε νεῖσθαι
δήμου ἄπο Τρώων, ὅτι μοι κατεκείρετε οἶκον
δμῳῇσίν τε γυναιξὶ παρευνάζεσθε βιαίως
αὐτοῦ τε ζώοντος ὑπεμνάασθε γυναῖκα…

The difference in tone is in part due to the level of narrative—in the first two scenes mentioned above, the sexual acts are observed through the narrator. When Odysseus talks about it, he characterizes the acts differently because he sees the sexual acts as transgressing his control of the household. If the women—who are animate objects, not people—have sex, then they are the sexual objects of aggressors against Odysseus’ control. This transgressive behavior on their part helps to explain why Odysseus decides to slaughter them.

Who should have sex with the slave women is implied by a narrative passage from the beginning of the epic (1.428–33)

“And with him Eurykleia carried the burning torches. She knew proper things, the daughter of Ops, the son of Peisênor whom Laertes bought to be among his possessions when she was just a girl and he paid a price worth 20 oxen. And he used to honor her equal to his dear wife in his home but he never had sex with her and he was avoiding his wife’s anger.”

τῷ δ’ ἄρ’ ἅμ’ αἰθομένας δαΐδας φέρε κεδνὰ ἰδυῖα
Εὐρύκλει’, ῏Ωπος θυγάτηρ Πεισηνορίδαο,
τήν ποτε Λαέρτης πρίατο κτεάτεσσιν ἑοῖσι,
πρωθήβην ἔτ’ ἐοῦσαν, ἐεικοσάβοια δ’ ἔδωκεν,
ἶσα δέ μιν κεδνῇ ἀλόχῳ τίεν ἐν μεγάροισιν,
εὐνῇ δ’ οὔ ποτ’ ἔμικτο, χόλον δ’ ἀλέεινε γυναικός·

It is exceptional here that Laertes does not have sex with Eurykleia. This indicates an economy of sexual slavery in which the slave women are the objects to be used by those who own them. If they are used without permission or act on their own, they represent perversions.

See:

Doherty, Lillian. 2001. “The Snares of the Odyssey: A Feminist Narratological Reading.” 117-133.
Thalmann, William G. 1998. “Female Slaves in the Odyssey.” 22–34

Related image
Red-figure Kylix, c. 490 BCE

 

Lenaeus: Teacher, Chief Minister of Shade

Suetonius, Lives of Illustrious Men, On Grammarians 15

“Lenaeus who was a freedman of Pompey the Great and his comrade in nearly every expedition made a living with a school following the death of Pompey and his sons. He taught in Carinae near Tellus where the home of Pompey’s family had been. He remained so committed to the love of his patron that, in response to the fact that Sallust wrote that Pompey had “an honest man’s face but a rogue’s heart” he attacked Sallust with the harshest satires, as a “victim of vice, a foodie, a cheap bastard, and a glutton, a beast for his life and writings, an uneducated thief of Cato’s ancient words.”

It is also reported that when he was still a boy, he returned to his home-country after breaking his chains, but once he received a liberal education, he returned this as a payment to his master, but was fully freed thanks to his innate ability and his education.”

Lenaeus, Magni Pompei libertus et paene omnium expeditionum comes, defuncto eo filiisque eius schola se sustentavit; docuitque in Carinis ad Telluris, in qua regione Pompeiorum domus fuerat, ac tanto amore erga patroni memoriam exstitit, ut Sallustium historicum, quod eum oris probi, animo inverecundo scripsisset, acerbissima satura laceraverit, lastaurum et lurconem et nebulonem popinonemque appellans, et vita scriptisque monstrosum, praeterea priscorum Catonis verborum ineruditissimum furem. Traditur autem puer adhuc catenis subreptis, refugisse in patriam, perceptisque liberalibus disciplinis, pretium suum domino rettulisse, verum ob ingenium atque doctrinam gratis manumissus.

Image result for pompey the great
Pompey the Great

Freed By Literature, Teaching Children for Free

Suetonius, Lives of Illustrious Men: On Grammarians 13

“Staberius Eros, who was bought with his own money at a public auction and was then freed because of his dedication to literature, taught Brutus and Cassius, among others.

There are those who report that he was so noble that during the Sullan period he accepted the children of proscribed men into his school free and without any additional payment.”

XIII. Staberius Eros, suomet aere emptus de catasta et propter litterarum studium manumissus, docuit inter ceteros Brutum et Cassium. Sunt qui tradant tanta eum honestate praeditum, ut temporibus Sullanis proscriptorum liberos gratis et sine mercede ulla in disciplinam receperit.

 

  1.  He taught the republican assassins.
  2. He taught children of political assassinations for free.
  3. Staberius Eros sounds like a good man.
A Roman teacher home-schooling, about 200 AD
Image found here

The Weakest Slave: The Millwoman’s Sorrowful Sign

In this often overlooked scene we find an unnamed slave at the end of a long night’s work. 

Odyssey 20.97-120

[Odysseus] carried it outside and then prayed
while raising his hands to Zeus,
“Zeus, father, if you have willingly led me
over the soil and swell to this land,
after you have made me a much lesser man,
let someone of those gathered within utter my fame
and let some other sign of Zeus appear without.”

So he spoke while praying and Zeus the advisor was listening to him.
He immediately thundered from shining Olympus
high above from the clouds. And brilliant Odysseus smiled.
A woman from the house near the mill released a sound [phêmê]
where the twelve mills were set for the shepherd of the host.
There were twelve women working there
regularly working the barley and the wheat, men’s marrow.
The others were sleeping, since they had finished grinding their grain.
But she alone was not yet stopping, since she was the weakest of all.
But then she stopped her mill and spoke, a sign for her master.

“Zeus, father, you who rule over the gods and people,
how you have thundered from the starry sky
where there is no cloud! In this you show your sign.
Now grant to wretched me this word which I speak:
may this be the last and final day on which the suitors
take their lovely feast in the halls of Odysseus.
These men wear the knees of tired, heart-pained me
as I make their meal. Let them dine now for the last.”

So she spoke and Odysseus took pleasure in the speech and the thunder. For he was thinking that he would pay the guilty back.”

θῆκε θύραζε φέρων, Διὶ δ’ εὔξατο χεῖρας ἀνασχών·
“Ζεῦ πάτερ, εἴ μ’ ἐθέλοντες ἐπὶ τραφερήν τε καὶ ὑγρὴν
ἤγετ’ ἐμὴν ἐς γαῖαν, ἐπεί μ’ ἐκακώσατε λίην,
φήμην τίς μοι φάσθω ἐγειρομένων ἀνθρώπων
ἔνδοθεν, ἔκτοσθεν δὲ Διὸς τέρας ἄλλο φανήτω.”
ὣς ἔφατ’ εὐχόμενος· τοῦ δ’ ἔκλυε μητίετα Ζεύς,
αὐτίκα δ’ ἐβρόντησεν ἀπ’ αἰγλήεντος ᾿Ολύμπου,
ὑψόθεν ἐκ νεφέων· γήθησε δὲ δῖος ᾿Οδυσσεύς.
φήμην δ’ ἐξ οἴκοιο γυνὴ προέηκεν ἀλετρὶς
πλησίον, ἔνθ’ ἄρα οἱ μύλαι εἵατο ποιμένι λαῶν.
τῇσιν δώδεκα πᾶσαι ἐπερρώοντο γυναῖκες
ἄλφιτα τεύχουσαι καὶ ἀλείατα, μυελὸν ἀνδρῶν·
αἱ μὲν ἄρ’ ἄλλαι εὗδον, ἐπεὶ κατὰ πυρὸν ἄλεσσαν,
ἡ δὲ μί’ οὔ πω παύετ’, ἀφαυροτάτη δὲ τέτυκτο·
ἥ ῥα μύλην στήσασα ἔπος φάτο, σῆμα ἄνακτι·
“Ζεῦ πάτερ, ὅς τε θεοῖσι καὶ ἀνθρώποισιν ἀνάσσεις,
ἦ μεγάλ’ ἐβρόντησας ἀπ’ οὐρανοῦ ἀστερόεντος,
οὐδέ ποθι νέφος ἐστί· τέρας νύ τεῳ τόδε φαίνεις.
κρῆνον νῦν καὶ ἐμοὶ δειλῇ ἔπος, ὅττι κεν εἴπω·
μνηστῆρες πύματόν τε καὶ ὕστατον ἤματι τῷδε
ἐν μεγάροισ’ ᾿Οδυσῆος ἑλοίατο δαῖτ’ ἐρατεινήν,
οἳ δή μοι καμάτῳ θυμαλγέϊ γούνατ’ ἔλυσαν
ἄλφιτα τευχούσῃ· νῦν ὕστατα δειπνήσειαν.”
ὣς ἄρ’ ἔφη, χαῖρεν δὲ κλεηδόνι δῖος ᾿Οδυσσεὺς
Ζηνός τε βροντῇ· φάτο γὰρ τείσασθαι ἀλείτας.
αἱ δ’ ἄλλαι δμῳαὶ κατὰ δώματα κάλ’ ᾿Οδυσῆος
ἐγρόμεναι ἀνέκαιον ἐπ’ ἐσχάρῃ ἀκάματον πῦρ.

This scene illustrates the extent to which minor characters exist and in fact suffer pointlessly for Odysseus’ benefit: we get the briefest glimpse into the life and suffering of one of the mill-working women in order to satisfy Odysseus’ own desire to hear that he is remembered.  For me, this scene is a metonym for the narrative’s use of marginalized peoples in the generic instrumentalization of another’s pain to satisfy Odysseus’ narrative ends.

Pottery: black-figured amphora showing a scene of olive-gathering. A naked youth seated in a tree shakes down olives with sticks. Two bearded figures beat the trees with sticks, and a naked youth collects the fallen olives in a basket. The other side show
A vase from the British Museum

“His Heart Barked”: Sex, Slaves, and Transgression in the Odyssey

Earlier I posted a passage from the Odyssey where the narrator tells us that Penelope raised the slave Melanthô and gave her toys. This detail is paired with the slave woman’s sexual behavior—she is now a bad slave because she is having sex with one of the suitors.

Odyssey, 18.321–5

“Then fine-cheeked Melanthô reproached him shamefully. Dolios fathered her and Penelope raised her, she treated her like her own child and used to give her delights for her heart. But she did not have grief in her thoughts for Penelope. Instead she was having sex with and feeling affection for Eurymakhos.”

τὸν δ’ αἰσχρῶς ἐνένιπε Μελανθὼ καλλιπάρῃος,
τὴν Δολίος μὲν ἔτικτε, κόμισσε δὲ Πηνελόπεια,
παῖδα δὲ ὣς ἀτίταλλε, δίδου δ’ ἄρ’ ἀθύρματα θυμῷ·
ἀλλ’ οὐδ’ ὧς ἔχε πένθος ἐνὶ φρεσὶ Πηνελοπείης,
ἀλλ’ ἥ γ’ Εὐρυμάχῳ μισγέσκετο καὶ φιλέεσκεν.

The meaning of this behavior might not be clear to modern audiences. Ancient audiences might have needed clarification too. The epic shows Odysseus witnessing this later.

20.5–24

“Odysseus was lying there, still awake, devising evils in his heart
For the suitors. And the women went from the hall
The ones who were having sex with the suitors before
Greeting one another with a welcome and a laugh.
And Odysseus’ heart rose in his dear chest.
He debated much in his thoughts and through his heart
Whether after leaping up he should deal out death to each woman
Or he should allow them to have sex with the arrogant suitors
a last and final time. The heart inside his chest barked.
And as a mother dog who stands over her young pups
When she sees an unknown man barks and waits to fight,
So his heart growled within him as he was enraged at the evil deeds.
Then he struck his chest and reproached the heart inside him.
Endure this my heart, you endured a more harrowing thing on that day
When the savage Cyclops, insanely daring, ate
My strong companions. You were enduring this and your intelligence
Led you from that cave even though you thought you were going to die.”

ἔνθ’ ᾿Οδυσεὺς μνηστῆρσι κακὰ φρονέων ἐνὶ θυμῷ
κεῖτ’ ἐγρηγορόων· ταὶ δ’ ἐκ μεγάροιο γυναῖκες
ἤϊσαν, αἳ μνηστῆρσιν ἐμισγέσκοντο πάρος περ,
ἀλλήλῃσι γέλω τε καὶ εὐφροσύνην παρέχουσαι.
τοῦ δ’ ὠρίνετο θυμὸς ἐνὶ στήθεσσι φίλοισι·
πολλὰ δὲ μερμήριζε κατὰ φρένα καὶ κατὰ θυμόν,
ἠὲ μεταΐξας θάνατον τεύξειεν ἑκάστῃ,
ἦ ἔτ’ ἐῷ μνηστῆρσιν ὑπερφιάλοισι μιγῆναι
ὕστατα καὶ πύματα· κραδίη δέ οἱ ἔνδον ὑλάκτει.
ὡς δὲ κύων ἀμαλῇσι περὶ σκυλάκεσσι βεβῶσα
ἄνδρ’ ἀγνοιήσασ’ ὑλάει μέμονέν τε μάχεσθαι,
ὥς ῥα τοῦ ἔνδον ὑλάκτει ἀγαιομένου κακὰ ἔργα.
στῆθος δὲ πλήξας κραδίην ἠνίπαπε μύθῳ·
“τέτλαθι δή, κραδίη· καὶ κύντερον ἄλλο ποτ’ ἔτλης,
ἤματι τῷ, ὅτε μοι μένος ἄσχετος ἤσθιε Κύκλωψ
ἰφθίμους ἑτάρους· σὺ δ’ ἐτόλμας, ὄφρα σε μῆτις
ἐξάγαγ’ ἐξ ἄντροιο ὀϊόμενον θανέεσθαι.”

Beyond whether or not the liaison was a good wooing strategy for Eurymachus, these closely paired statements show that despite being integrated into the family structure, Melantho has not internalized her position and has instead exercised agency in pursuing sexuality. (Or, perhaps more accurately, exercising control over her own body to choose a different master.) When the epic returns to the issue, it takes pains to depict the women as in control and to ensure that Odysseus witnesses it. When he reveals himself to the suitors in book 22, he accuses them of forcefully sleeping with the women.

22.35-38

“Dogs, you were expecting that out of the way I would not come
home from the land of the Trojans and you ruined my home,
Took the slave women in my house to bed by force
And wooed the wife of a man who was still alive…”

“ὦ κύνες, οὔ μ’ ἔτ’ ἐφάσκεθ’ ὑπότροπον οἴκαδε νεῖσθαι
δήμου ἄπο Τρώων, ὅτι μοι κατεκείρετε οἶκον
δμῳῇσίν τε γυναιξὶ παρευνάζεσθε βιαίως
αὐτοῦ τε ζώοντος ὑπεμνάασθε γυναῖκα…

The difference in tone is in part due to the level of narrative—in the first two scenes mentioned above, the sexual acts are observed through the narrator. When Odysseus talks about it, he characterizes the acts differently because he sees the sexual acts as transgressing his control of the household. If the women—who are animate objects, not people—have sex, then they are the sexual objects of aggressors against Odysseus’ control. This transgressive behavior on their part helps to explain why Odysseus decides to slaughter them.

Who should have sex with the slave women is implied by a narrative passage from the beginning of the epic (1.428–33)

“And with him Eurykleia carried the burning torches. She knew proper things, the daughter of Ops, the son of Peisênor whom Laertes bought to be among his possessions when she was just a girl and he paid a price worth 20 oxen. And he used to honor her equal to his dear wife in his home but he never had sex with her and he was avoiding his wife’s anger.”

τῷ δ’ ἄρ’ ἅμ’ αἰθομένας δαΐδας φέρε κεδνὰ ἰδυῖα
Εὐρύκλει’, ῏Ωπος θυγάτηρ Πεισηνορίδαο,
τήν ποτε Λαέρτης πρίατο κτεάτεσσιν ἑοῖσι,
πρωθήβην ἔτ’ ἐοῦσαν, ἐεικοσάβοια δ’ ἔδωκεν,
ἶσα δέ μιν κεδνῇ ἀλόχῳ τίεν ἐν μεγάροισιν,
εὐνῇ δ’ οὔ ποτ’ ἔμικτο, χόλον δ’ ἀλέεινε γυναικός·

It is exceptional here that Laertes does not have sex with Eurykleia. This indicates an economy of sexual slavery in which the slave women are the objects to be used by those who own them. If they are used without permission or act on their own, they represent perversions.

See:

Doherty, Lillian. 2001. “The Snares of the Odyssey: A Feminist Narratological Reading.” 117-133.
Thalmann, William G. 1998. “Female Slaves in the Odyssey.” 22–34

Related image
Red-figure Kylix, c. 490 BCE

 

Always in Fear: The Justice (?) of Servants

Homer, Odyssey 14. 55-72

“Then you answered him in address, swineherd Eumaios

“It is not right for me, not even if someone worse than you should come,
To dishonor a guest. For all guests and beggars come
From Zeus and our gift to them is small and dear.
This is the justice of servants
Of those who are always afraid, when their masters rule over them,
Young men. For the gods have kept him from his homeland
The one who would have cared for me rightly and given me possessions,
A house, some land, and a much-wooed wife—
The kinds of things a good-spirited master gives to his servant
Who works hard for him and then a god increases his labor.
So for me my labor—to which I attend—always produces.
This is why my lord would have repaid me if he grew old here.
But he died. I wish the entire race of Helen had perished
Since it brought many men to their knees.
For he too went for the sake of Agamemnon’s honor
To well-horsed Troy so that he might fight the Trojans”

τὸν δ’ ἀπαμειβόμενος προσέφης, Εὔμαιε συβῶτα·
“ξεῖν’, οὔ μοι θέμις ἔστ’, οὐδ’ εἰ κακίων σέθεν ἔλθοι,
ξεῖνον ἀτιμῆσαι· πρὸς γὰρ Διός εἰσιν ἅπαντες
ξεῖνοί τε πτωχοί τε. δόσις δ’ ὀλίγη τε φίλη τε
γίνεται ἡμετέρη· ἡ γὰρ δμώων δίκη ἐστίν,
αἰεὶ δειδιότων, ὅτ’ ἐπικρατέωσιν ἄνακτες
οἱ νέοι. ἦ γὰρ τοῦ γε θεοὶ κατὰ νόστον ἔδησαν,
ὅς κεν ἔμ’ ἐνδυκέως ἐφίλει καὶ κτῆσιν ὄπασσεν,
οἷά τε ᾧ οἰκῆϊ ἄναξ εὔθυμος ἔδωκεν,
οἶκόν τε κλῆρόν τε πολυμνήστην τε γυναῖκα,
ὅς οἱ πολλὰ κάμῃσι, θεὸς δ’ ἐπὶ ἔργον ἀέξῃ,
ὡς καὶ ἐμοὶ τόδε ἔργον ἀέξεται, ᾧ ἐπιμίμνω.
τῶ κέ με πόλλ’ ὤνησεν ἄναξ, εἰ αὐτόθ’ ἐγήρα·
ἀλλ’ ὄλεθ’. ὡς ὤφελλ’ ῾Ελένης ἀπὸ φῦλον ὀλέσθαι
πρόχνυ, ἐπεὶ πολλῶν ἀνδρῶν ὑπὸ γούνατ’ ἔλυσε·
καὶ γὰρ κεῖνος ἔβη ᾿Αγαμέμνονος εἵνεκα τιμῆς
῎Ιλιον εἰς εὔπωλον, ἵνα Τρώεσσι μάχοιτο.”
ὣς εἰπὼν ζωστῆρι θοῶς συνέεργε χιτῶνα,

Schol. HQ ad Od. 14.68

“How would the father of Penelope, Ikarios, the Laconian be in race? Or what would it mean that Penelope is a cousin of Helen? For master-loving Eumaios would not curse Telemachus and Penelope in wishing that the race of Helen be destroyed…”

πῶς ἂν ὁ Πηνελόπης πατὴρ ᾿Ικάριος Λάκων εἴη τὸ γένος; ἢ πῶς ἂν ἡ Πηνελόπη τῆς ῾Ελένης ὑπάρχοι ἀνεψιά; οὐ γὰρ ἂν ὁ φιλοδεσπότης Εὔμαιος Τηλεμάχῳ καὶ Πηνελόπῃ κατηρᾶτο βουλόμενος διεφθάρθαι τὸ τῆς ῾Ελένης γένος. H.Q.

For Ikarios and Tyndareus as brothers, see these details.