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Saturday, January 9, 2021

Epinetrae: Women and weaving in the ancient world

 Producing cloth for garments and other fabrics needed in a household was a significant task for women. It required special equipment such as a loom and loomweights as well as this utensil, known as an onos or epinetron. It is a generally semicircular tile that is closed at one end. It was placed over the lower thigh and knee. Although its exact function is not clear, the roughened upper surface suggests that it served to prepare wool for spinning. - Metropolitan Museum of Art

 Epinetra were often decorated, sometimes depicting black figure Amazon women, as in the case of an epinetron painted by Sappho between 500-490 BCE. A female head was often placed on the closed end where the knee was covered. Because of the strong association between wool-working and the ideal woman and wife, as in the case of Penelope weaving in the Odyssey, it was associated with weddings so decorated epinetra were placed on the graves of unmarried girls, or dedicated at temples of female deities.

Black-figured decorated epinetron, 500 BCE, depicting a scene of women weaving at The Louvre courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Marie-Lan Nguyen.

Red-figured decorated epinetron, 450 BCE, decorated on both sides with youths and women at the Antikensammlung in Berlin courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Marcus Cyron.

Black-figured Terracotta epinetra (leg guard used in carding wool) ca. 510–500 BCE at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Illustration of the use of an epinetron courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor MM.

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