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TEXTILE REFLECTIONS: MULTI-SENSORY REPRESENTATION OF TEXTILE WORK IN LATIN POETRY AND PROSE

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - TEXREX (TEXTILE REFLECTIONS: MULTI-SENSORY REPRESENTATION OF TEXTILE WORK IN LATIN POETRY AND PROSE)

Reporting period: 2016-09-01 to 2018-08-31

The project Textile Reflections: Multi-sensory Representation of Textile Work in Latin Poetry and Prose (TEXREX) explores and re-interprets the representations of textile work in Latin literature. Building on the rapid development in research on ancient textiles in recent decades, it combines three fields of study (experimental archaeology, ancient sound studies, and literary analysis) to create a new methodology for analysing the literary reflection of ancient soundscapes and offers a re-evaluation of the use of literary sources for research on ancient textiles and their place in society.
Drawing on previous experimental work undertaken at the host institution of the Centre for Textile Research (CTR) at the University of Copenhagen, TEXREX reconstructed Roman weaving processes in collaboration with expert craftswomen from Lejre the Land of Legends and CTR. Weaving both on the warp-weighted loom and on the two-beam loom was trialled to capture the working processes of the two main loom types used in the Roman world. In two dedicated TEXREX experiments, sound recordings were made to allow acoustic and spectrographic analysis of sound patterns arising from the weaver’s work; as a result, TEXREX has provided a solid evidence base for the typical features of the soundscape of ancient weaving. Open-to-the-public experiential and experimental workshops at CTR formed an important part in the preparation of the TEXREX experiments and contributed to a continuing dialogue with craftspeople. Similarly, the weave produced in the final TEXREX experiment continues life in the China National Silk Museum’s 2018 World of Looms exhibition, where it, and, of course, the warp-weighted loom used to produce it, represent weaving technology used in Europe before the Medieval period.

Acoustic spectrograms of the sounds arising from weaving on both types of ancient looms emphasise the strong cyclical character of the weaving soundscape: a sound cycle of clanking heddle rods, swishing, rasping warp-threads separated by the weaver’s hands, dull thunks from the weaving sword used to beat in the new weft, and the soft scratching of the pin-beater used to position the next line of weft thread, is repeated again and again. The analysis of TEXREX sound recordings shows that the rhythmical clanking of the heddle rods especially characterises the soundscape of ancient weaving.

TEXREX furthermore collated references to textile tools, materials, and processes in Latin literature using both published specialist resources (the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae and the database Brepols Library of Latin texts) and research at the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae archives at the Bayrische Akademie der Wissenschaften. While passages from both prose and poetry were collated, the later stages of the project focussed on poetic texts only and centred on weaving processes. Texts identified ranged from the Late Republican period to the end of Late Antiquity. More than 30 poetic passages of varying length were selected for detailed analysis: they all display textile work in progress and exhibit aspects of detail either by mentions of weaving tools or materials (using technical terms like ‘warp’ or ‘weft’). Many also put the craftsperson centre-stage.

The literary content, phrasing, and stylistic expression of the selected literary passages (including texts like Lucretius’ On the Nature of the Universe and Ausonius’ Epigrams) was compared to both working processes observed in experimental weaving and, importantly, to the soundscape of weaving as established in TEXREX experiments. Through detailed literary and stylistic analysis, TEXREX was able to demonstrate that poetic authors describing weaving in progress often transpose the working rhythm and the sounds arising from the weaver’s work into the new medium of the text, by means of different types of sound play and stylistic effects. In passages on weaving in process, poetic texts often foreground specific sounds to mimic the acoustic and sensory experience of the weaver’s work – e.g. opting for vocabulary and word order that create clusters of plosive sounds to mimic the clanking of heddle rods against the loom frame or sequences of sibilant and rhotic sounds to recall the hissing of warp threads against each other or the weaver’s hand. While such features occur in the majority of the identified passages, acoustic or phonetic cues to the ancient experience of weaving are also complemented by other allusions to the materiality of ancient textile work: correspondences were also established betw
The three-pronged methodological approach developed in the TEXREX project offers a new way of studying ancient sensory and acoustic experience, complementing archaeoacoustic approaches relying on acoustic modelling and data collection from well-preserved archaeological sites. It also takes forward the study of ancient textile production in context, highlighting how ever-present ancient crafts impacted even on those not themselves involved in textile production.
An experimental weave by Ida Demant (Land of Legends) displayed at the China National Silk Museum