“Shuttles that sang at dawn”: a dedicatory epigram for Athena

Detail from greek vase showing women preparing wool. Diosphos Painter [CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
Detail from Greek vase showing women preparing wool. Diosphos Painter [CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

A translation by Jack Vaughan

Shuttles that sang at dawn like swallows, warp-smoothing shafts of Pallas Athena who works the loom;
And hairdresser comb and fingertip-worn spindle that swam [i.e. moved rapidly forward in a horizontal plane, as a swimmer on water] with thread whirled by [the spindle’s] whorl;
And woven reed basket which once a whole ball of wool, cleaned with a carding tooth,[1] filled—
[All these things,] a gift of her poverty, lover of woolworking goddess Pallas Athena,
Aisione, worn down by age, hung up [with a dedication] to you.

Greek Anthology 6.247

Κερκίδας ὀρθρολάλοισι χελιδόσιν εἰκελοφώνους,
Παλλάδος ἱστοπόνου λειομίτους κάμακας,
καὶ κτένα κοσμοκόμην, καὶ δακτυλότριπτον ἄτρακτον
σφονδυλοδινήτῳ νήματι νηχόμενον,
καὶ τάλαρον σχοίνοις ὑφασμένον, ὅν ποτ᾿ ὀδόντι
ἐπλήρου τολύπη πᾶσα καθαιρομένη,
σοί, φιλέριθε κόρη Παλλαντιάς, ἡ βαθυγήρως
Αἰσιόνη, πενίης δῶρον, ἀνεκρέμασεν.

We are delighted to share this translation, done by community member Jack Vaughan, of a beautiful, little epigram from the Greek Anthology. This epigram seems to be one example of a traditional dedication of wool-working tools to Athena. Other examples from the Greek Anthology include 6.160 and 6.174.

Why are the shuttles compared to swallows that sing at dawn? Why is the spindle described as “swimming?” Members can discuss this and more in the forums.

[1] Hermann Beckby, Anthologia Graeca, has a note at vol. I, p. 695, indicating he takes “tooth” to be the name of a carding tool: “Kamm: der Wollkratze.” Wilhelm Kroll’s commentary (Teubner, 4th ed. 1960)  on Catullus line 315 of Catullus carmen 64 notes that since the fingers are fully engaged with the spinning, the weavers’ teeth have to be used to remove unevenness from the raw wool.  Further Kroll notes that such use of teeth in weaving is clearly represented on a red figure dish from Orvieto (Blümner, Archäologische Zeitung vol. 35, Plate 6.)