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Hanna Holborn Gray Fellow: Vivian Sandifer '24

October 10, 2023
Vivian Sandifer '24

The Hanna Holborn Gray Fellowships offer funded independent research in the humanities. We're highlighting the research of this year's fellows in a series of online profiles.

Vivian Sandifer '24
Greek, Latin, and Classical Studies major

"Women’s Work: Weaving as Place, Process, and Product in Homer"

Abstract: My project examines weaving imagery in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. Using the scene of Helen weaving her web of the Trojan War in Iliad 3 as a case study, I analyze the significance of weaving in Homer and show that weaving can signify place, process, product, or a combination thereof. When weaving signifies place, the image of the loom is used to indicate that a woman is in her proper place in the household and thus also in society. Weaving as a process is more indicative of metaphorical weaving, where the emphasis is on the aspect of creation inherent in both physical and metaphorical weaving. The last category, weaving as a product, refers to when the textiles produced by weavers are emphasized rather than the process of weaving or the placement in domestic contexts of women at the loom; these products act as symbols of the weaver’s identity. Each of the three types of weaving, place, process, and product, I argue, assists the poet in crafting more nuanced and variegated identities for his female characters.

Was there anything surprising about the work you did?

At the start of my project, I believed that my research would primarily focus on exploring a potential connection between weaving and female agency in Homer. As I progressed further into my research, though, the project turned more into an exploration of why women weave in Homer rather than an analysis of whether weaving is a signifier of agency for women. In examining my primary source material and engaging with the secondary scholarship, I realized that weaving imagery is much too complicated to be entirely associated with agency or with subjugation. I discovered that the questions I was more interested in considering were why women weave and what weaving signifies in the various contexts in which it is deployed.

How will you use your research in future studies?

I will be building upon the work I did in my HHG project in writing my senior thesis. My thesis will examine the ways in which women use manipulation in Homer. I touch on how Helen in particular uses manipulation as a source of power in my project. I intend to use the bibliography and research I have already completed to expand upon this idea, incorporating other examples and other women in my thesis.

How did you choose your topic?

I first became interested in the significance of weaving after exploring the Iliad in a Greek class on Homer in my sophomore year. Helen, as she appears in Iliad 3, sitting at the loom weaving the arc of the Trojan War as it unfolds before her first captured my interest. I noticed that Helen’s weaving situates her in her place, that is, in a domestic context, acting as a proper wife and woman, while also granting her disproportionate agency, since she is allowed to weave stories, a role normally reserved for only the poet and Zeus. I wanted to consider what weaving signifies for Helen, but I also wanted to expand my analysis beyond Helen to the other women in Homer (of which there are many) who weave.

The Hanna Holborn Gray Fellowships offer funded independent research in the humanities. Each summer, Bryn Mawr College awards up to 15 students a summer fellowship of $4,500 to undertake an independent research project in the humanities or humanistic social sciences.  The research may either be the beginning of the senior thesis or a project that stands alone, but is relevant to their intellectual interests and must be supported by a faculty advisor.

Hanna Holborn Gray Undergraduate Research Fellowships

Greek, Latin, and Classical Studies