Although weaving would have been a daily activity for many people in the ancient Greek world, the nature of the practice remains somewhat unknown to the modern view. The archaeological record contains loom weights and spindle whorls, but the looms and textiles themselves have almost entirely decomposed. Scholars have attempted to reconstruct what weaving looked like in the ancient world through a combination of literary sources, archaeological methods, and visual representations. Based on this research, and in order to better understand the process and difficulties of ancient weaving, I have constructed and woven fabric on a model of an ancient upright warp-weighted loom.
Recent scholarship notes the gaps in our understanding of ancient textile production, citing a shortage of writing on the topic in both ancient and modern times due to a lack of focus on the work of women and slaves. One place where depictions of weaving are more frequent, however, is in mythology. The mythological record, while preserved somewhat by sculpture and on pottery, mostly comes down to us through written records; while these records only preserve individual points in a long oral tradition, they capture moments in history where weaving is a central focus. Notably, Helen’s weaving of the battle in book three of Homer’s Iliad has been compared to a bard weaving a story. Penelope’s weaving in Homer’s Odyssey is one of her key characteristics, and it is the act of weaving and unweaving which preserves her position in the household. Later Roman depictions of Greek myths, notably in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, depict women’s weaving as playing a key role in their storylines: Arachne’s weaving is her method of challenging the authority of the gods, and Philomela uses weaving as her voice to communicate with other women and to combat the injustice done to her by a man. In all of these , weaving provides the characters with agency. I aim to investigate the differences in how these mythological figures are portrayed in respect to spinning and weaving, and how those differences align with other aspects of their characters.