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
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 between weave structures and weave patterns and literary texts describing these using frame narratives to mimic the characteristic starting and finishing borders of textiles made in the warp-weighted loom, or the regular repetition of words or phrases to allude to in-woven self-band patterns.
The sound-mimicking features in Roman poetic descriptions of weaving highlight the importance of textile production and its sounds as a part of the Roman domestic soundscape. The presence of such craft-based sound-mimicking features across Latin poetry is significant: it shows that the soundscape of weaving and the practicalities of textile work were familiar to writers and readers of Latin poetry throughout the Roman period and into Late Antiquity. The texts analysed in the TEXREX project have a clear class bias: writers and ideal audiences alike belong to the educated elite. This suggests that while there is an increased emphasis on commercially produced and imported textiles from the early Empire onward, textile work continued to have a place in the home, even of those that could well afford both simple and luxurious textile goods.
TEXREX has offered insights into where textile work was conducted and contributed to discussions on shared space use in the elite Roman home. For example, a forthcoming project article in the Fasciculi Archaeologieae Historicae (open access) draws attention to the role of training in textile work undertaken by young women and child-minding – both activities conducted in common spaces of the elite home – as informing male knowledge of work processes otherwise, particularly in domestic settings, strongly connected with women.