Weaving the Body Politic

The ἐπίνητρον (pl. ἐπίνητρα) is a ceramic shape used in ancient Greece to card wool; as such, it is a form created for women. What can the imagery on these works reveal gender and identity in ancient Athens during the period of democratic rule? This study closely examines a number of Athenian ἐπίνητρα that date to around 500-420 BCE (spanning the Early to Late Classical Periods; from the beginning of democracy almost to its end). The figural scenes often center around the activities engaged in by women in the οἶκος (plural: οἶκοι) (home); as Danielle Smotherman Bennett has aptly observed, the imagery is “embedding social cues, representing familiar social tasks, and depicting anonymous figures with which women of wide-ranging social statuses could self-identify.” This paper offers close readings of such ἐπίνητρα as that of the Sappho Painter and the Eretria Painter that are both in the National Archaeological Museum, Athens and the unattributed object in the British Museum (1814,0704.1205) in order to address how such scenes might be read by women as reflecting their role in the continued success of Athenian democracy through their textile contributions to the πόλις (city-state).

Democracy, Greece, Textile, Women

Arts Theory and History

Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

  • Prof. Dena Gilby
    • Walter J. Manninen Endowded Chair for Art History, Fine Art, Endicott College
    • Dr. Dena Gilby received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature and Classical Humanities Phi Beta Kappa and with honors from St. Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri. She obtained both Master’s and Doctorate degrees in Art History from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is currently a Full Professor of Art History at Endicott College in Beverly, Massachusetts. Her areas of research include women in antiquity, the perception of antiquity in contemporary American culture, identity and American art, and art objects' use in film.