Warp, Weft, and Womanly Wiles: Weaving as an Expression of Female Power

Jillian Grant Shoichet


This paper considers how weaving—an activity traditionally emblematic of classical feminine virtues such as modesty, chastity, and obedience—is used by Homer and Ovid to symbolize women’s resistance to the mores of a social patriarchy. Homer’s Penelope and Ovid’s Philomela and Arachne all use weaving to redefine themselves and their roles within a limited—and limiting—social environment. The women use this traditional symbol of a woman’s domestic role to wield power that has repercussions far beyond the domestic sphere. Not only do Homer and Ovid challenge the conventional idea of womanly virtue in the classical world, but they recast these women as authors of their own destinies, resisting social pressures, challenging patriarchal and Olympic authority, and defying the expectations of those who would exert control over them.

By using weaving as a metaphor for resistance, Ovid and Homer demand that we re-examine our understanding of social power in the classical world. Though their environment and social roles limit their authority within the public sphere, Penelope, Philomela, and Arachne defi ne on their own terms how they will respond to their physical circumstances. Wielding a shuttle is not quite like wielding a sword, but by exercising traditional roles in untraditional ways, Homer and Ovid’s female characters still wield extraordinary social power, with profound social consequences.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.18357/illumine6120071518

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ISSN (Print): 1705-2947
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