Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2006.02.03

S. Edmunds, P. Jones, G. Nagy, Text & Textile: An Introduction to Wool-Working for Readers of Greek and Latin.   New Brunswick, NJ:  Department of Classics, Rutgers University, 2004.  ISBN 0-9759617-0-5.  $30.00.  

Reviewed by Kevin F. Daly, Bucknell University (
Word count: 499 words

This 30-minute DVD successfully answers pedagogical questions common in today's introductory and intermediate classroom: how can scholars show students that a knowledge of material culture helps to interpret ancient texts and to inform reading? How do you demonstrate this relationship in a straightforward way to an image-hungry and media-savvy audience?

The production takes the form of a illustrated discussion among Edmunds, Jones, and Nagy. The interlocutors focus on ancient textile technology and metaphors of spinning and weaving in Greek and Latin literature. While the participants are not actors, they do not seem nervous, and the dialogue is remarkably organic and well-paced.

Edmunds takes the lead in demonstrating the techniques of spinning and weaving and in narrating informative video segments that take us from shearing through weaving. Jones cites literary passages and elucidates what these passages tell us of the ancient world (with a particular eye toward the lives of women). Nagy synthesizes and expands, often choosing a particular word (or word group) as a starting point, and then showing how metaphors (both ancient and modern) spring from these terms.

The title underestimates the reach of the content: knowledge of a task in which at least half the ancient population regularly engaged for a great portion of their waking hours should be welcome to most any student of the ancient world, whether a reader of Greek and Latin or not. Furthermore, the terms presented are few, are accompanied by on-screen text, and are always translated and explained. All extended passages are given in translation. Nagy especially takes time to show that Greek and Latin terms for textiles and textile production have come into English.

Presented as a series of digital slide-shows, bonus material includes a (very) brief annotated bibliography, a list of passages cited, a list of the Greek and Latin terms appearing in the presentation, a short teachers' guide, and an introduction to weaving and spinning for those wishing to try it themselves. A clear and user-friendly website (a link to which can be found at the Department of Classics homepage at Rutgers University) reiterates and supplements much of the discussion.

While the content of the DVD has much to recommend it, the production values could be better. At times the images from vase-painting (particularly the well-known scene of weaving from the black-figure lekythos in New York attributed to the Amasis painter) have pixilated quite a bit. Although these problems could have originated at the user end, in the two players with which I viewed the DVD (a new laptop running WinDVD and a stand-alone DVD player) the video was rather halting, and a noticeable buzz accompanied the audio on the bonus section.

In addition to being appropriate for broader civilization courses, this DVD provides valuable introductory material for classes on archaeology, women in the ancient world, ancient technology, and gender studies. As a former teacher of the AP syllabus, I would like to note that the tone and content are also suitable for a high school audience.

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