A Warped Version: Manipulating Roman Looms for Metaphorical Effect – Potamius of Lisbon’s Epistula de Substantia 5-9


  • Magdalena Ohrman University of Wales Trinity Saint David, Faculty of Humanities




Potamius of Lisbon, Epistula de Substantia, Weaving metaphors, Warp-weighted loom, Roman textile tools


Potamius of Lisbon’s highly metaphorical explication of the indissoluble nature of the Trinity in the 4th C theological treatise Epistula de Substantia combines technical knowledge of textile crafts with stylistic manipulation of Latin intertexts and terminology in a metaphor for the unity of the Trinity. This paper explores several passages in De Substantia densely packed with textile terminology and deemed obscure in earlier Potamian criticism, and shows how, based on a detailed knowledge of the practicalities of wool‑preparation as well as of weaving, Potamius enhances the effectiveness of his metaphor by carefully manipulating the presentation of technological detail and intertextual references to earlier descriptions of textile work in Latin literature. Potamius includes references to different loom types to strengthen the impact of his weaving metaphor, and to create correpondences between the set‑up of a loom and crucifixion. Potamius’ understanding of the workings of the warp‑weighted loom is related both to intertexts in Ovid and Seneca and to the archaeological evidence for the continued contextual relevance of this loom type in Lusitania and the Iberian peninsula, and to domestic and traditional craft practices.


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