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1001 deeds, sayings, curiosities and anecdotes of the ancient world


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Few students, heavily loaded with their “textbooks " will suspect that the word" text " means "tissue "and that, what they do with that expression, is to continue using an old metaphor.

The word “text” comes from the Latin word textus,  which literally means knitting, crocheting, network. It is the past participle of the verb "texo, texere" which means to weave, to knit, crochet.

According to the Royal Spanish Academy it means a 'coherent statement or set of oral or written statements "  and "a quoted passage of written or oral work. "

However, a fabric, a cloth  is the result of the action of interlocking or weaving a thread or wool filament  or other fiber for building a stable and robust structure. Similarly to weave or to interlace sound is  to produce "words" and contrive or interlacing  words in coherent groups is to made significant structures. In both cases it is a process of "building" from certain elements.

Then "text" as an oral or written discourse or statement is a metaphor based,  like all metaphors, on the relation of similarity. What happens is that in Spanish and in other languages  the  origin is so remote that the metaphor has been lexicalized, has become a name with his own sense independent of its origin. Moreover, by the existence on Spanish  of the doublet "tejido" / "texto", one has been to refer to interlaced filaments  and the other to interlaced word, ie, a speaker text or tissue.

It is interesting to note how the language uses  to create many words this procedure of to create a metaphor and then to be lexicalized  or turn it into a name.

Another interesting question is to see how the semantic field of "textum”, “tissue" has been very productive in the history of Western languages and cultures (also in others no doubt), until  to the extent that we are unable to conceive everything related to the oral or written text or otherwise  and whit other different terms.

This is probably due to the importance of the "weave" has had in the history of mankind. The task of weaving and the invention of the tissue is one of the greatest creations of man. Originally it appears to be a particularly female labor, so certainly in antiquity, in which one of the exclusive task of women is "to card wool and knit dresses."

Recall the famous epitaph of Claudia, which  once is commented on this blog: http://en.antiquitatem.com/matron-lanam-fecit-epitaph-lapidary

But the sexist prejudices are at least as old as antiquity itself. Take, for example, what Lucretius says apropos of the origin of weaving in his De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things), V, 134 ff.

And nature forced the men,
Before the woman kind, to work the wool:
For all the male kind far excels in skill,
And cleverer is by much- until at last
The rugged farmer folk jeered at such tasks,
And so were eager soon to give them o'er
To women's hands, and in more hardy toil
To harden arms and hands.
(Traslation by William Ellery Leonard. E. P. Dutton. 1916.)

Et facere ante viros lanam natura coegit
quam muliebre genus (nam longe praestat in arte
et sollertius est multo genus omne virile),
agricolae donec vitio vertere severi,
ut muliebribus id manibus concedere vellent
atque ipse partier durum sufferer laborem
atque opere in duro durarent membra manusque.

Some people with unnecessary imagination has seen in the nests of birds the model that women continued to build the cradles of their children. But this is to directly confront the man with nature as a newcomer and ignore the lengthy evolutionary process of Homo sapiens.

Anyway, as I said, the semantic field of "textum, tissue" has been very productive in defining and naming concepts, many of them relating to the field of oral or written language expression itself.

The use of "text" in the metaphorical expressed sense is very old.

The Greek word “rhapsodos” “rhapsody”, "bard", (from ῥαψωδός, of ῥάπτειν, sewing, mending, fixing, concoct, compose, concoct, and ᾠδή, singing) makes us suspect that seniority.

The RAE dictionary defines “rapsoda, rhapsodos” as "walking Sayer who in ancient Greece sangs epic Homeric poems or other poems " and Greek dictionaries define it as darner or adjuster of epics, reciter ..."

The first written Greek text that we have and in the which the word "text" appears  in this sense is the poem attributed to Simmias of Rhodes (third century BC) entitled "Egg", which is one of the curious "tecnopaignía",  visual poems or caligrama, referenced in Anthology, XV, 27;  in verse 3 he uses the term ἄτριον, atrion structure. Although it is actually more common in other Greek authors the term ὕφος , hýphos, of ὑφάὠ, hyfáo, knit, weave, weave.

Then Dionysus of Halicarnassus (first century before and after Christ) refers to it in his work De compositione verborum, 23.3:

From this point of view the style resembles finely woven stuffs, or pictures in which the lights melt insensibly into the shadows (Translation by W. Rhys Roberts)

ἔοικέ τε κατὰ μέρος εὐητρίοις ὕφεσιν ἢ γραφαῖς συνεφθαρμένα τὰ φωτεινὰ τοῖς σκιεροῖς ἐχούσαις.
Another example is the use of text wich Longinus makes in his work "On the sublime" 1.4:

Similarly, we see skill in invention, and due order and arrangement of matter, emerging as the hard-won result not of one thing nor of two, but of the whole texture of the composition, whereas Sublimity flashing forth at the right moment scatters everything before it like a thunderbolt, and at once displays the power of the orator in all its plenitude  (Translation by W. Rhys Robertsn)

The most interesting example in Latin is certainly  what Quintilian makes precisely in his Institutiones Oratoriae, IX, 4,13:

But if there is such secret power in rhythm and melody alone, this power is found at its strong est in eloquence, and, however important the selection of words for the expression of our thoughts, the structural art which welds them together in the body (text) of a period or rounds them off at the close, has at least an equal claim to importance.  ( English translation  by H. E. Butler,  1920 1922 for  the Loeb Classical Library).

Quintiliano. Inst. Or.IX, 4,13 3. Quod si numeris ac modis inest quaedam tacita vis, in oratione ea vehementissima, quantumque interest sensus idem quibus verbis efferatur, tantum verba eadem qua compositione vel in textu iungantur vel in fine cludantur.

And later, in Inst. Orat. IX, 4, 17

They may not perhaps have pursued the same ideals as Demosthenes and Plato, and even these latter differed in their methods. For it would never have done to spoil the fine and delicate texture of Lysias by the introduction of richer rhythms, since he would thus have lost all that surpassing grace which he derives from his simple and unaffected tone, while he would also have sacrificed the impression of sincerity which he now creates. (English translation  by H. E. Butler)

Quintiliano. Inst. Or.IX, 4, 17. Genus fortasse sint secuti non idem quod Demosthenes aut Plato, quamquam et hi ipsi inter se dissimiles fuerunt. Nam neque illud in Lysia dicendi textum tenue atque rasum laetioribus numeris corrumpendum erat: perdidisset enim gratiam, quae in eo maxima est, simplicis atque inadfectati coloris, perdidisset fidem quoque.

I quote also some passages in Ammianus Marcellinus: Historiae (Translation by John C. Rolfe, Ph.D., Litt.D., Ed.):

15,7,6: During the administration of this Leontius, a priest of the Christian religion, Liberius by name, by order of Constantius  was brought before the privy council on the charge of opposing the emperor's commands and the decrees of the majority of his colleagues in an affair which I shall run over briefly (quam brevi textu).

15,7,6: 6. Hoc administrante Leontio Liberius Christianae legis antistes a Constantio ad comitatum mitti praeceptus est tamquam imperatoriis iussis et plurimorum sui consortium decretis obsistens in re, quam brevi textu percurram.

15,8, 1 This, then, was the situation at Rome, as the preceding text has shown.

15,8,1: Et haec quidem Romae, ut ostendit textus superior, agebantur.

27,12,11 On learning of this course (textu) of events, Sapor was filled with superhuman wrath, and mustering greater forces began to devastate Armenia with open pillage.

27,12,11: Hoc conperto textu gestorum Sapor ultra hominem efferatus, concitis maioribus copiis Armenias aperta praedatione vastabat.

From there the use of "textus" in various European languages is over lexicalized to the current situation. It is available in Spanish as texto, in French text, Italian testo, in English text, in German text.

But this already happened many centuries ago with the Latin word "nihil”, meaning "nothing" and that is also a metaphor related to the world of" weave ", because it comes from ne-hilum, no a thread, nothing. (Another day I will comment on something as interesting as denial, which is nothing but the destruction of reality: rem natam, nada,  res, rien, none, nobody, nothing,  niente, nessuno ..)

As I said, the semantic field of fabric of tissues (textum) has had huge linguistic success not only to generate meanings referring to oral or written language itself but to other areas of human  creativity.
And still to weave, text,  has a great creative force, although women do not weave, the fabric is not a home, it is just a residual entertainment at least in the developed world.

Without being exhaustive, I will cite numerous examples of terms from the world of textile task metaphorically applied to speech or to writing or to other aspects of life. I will rely primarily on the Dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy.


Text,  which is what gave rise to the article.

It is compound of this  pretext (from Lat. praetextus) or sham reason or apparent cause that is  alleged to do something or to apologize for not having executed.

Also modern in relation to the digital world it has coined the term hypertext (hyper, over, more and text), text that contains items from which you can access to another information, it is a more-text-or super-text ..
Weave, Plot, storyline, connection, link, correlation: When it is weaving, the weft, the warp (set of wires placed in parallel and along the loom to pass them the plot and form a tissue) or the shuttle were well known realities. The term weave, in the textile fabric designs the  fixed frame work or  the base yarns in which a warp interlaces. In the speech, or oral or written text the "plot" is the structure of the story on which the details are hatched. To plot  can also mean preparing a plan, an intrigue with caution, as warping.

Concoct:  Prepare the wires,  the threads, in the loom . / To machine  and cautiously have anything against anyone, or to achieve some purpose.

Hilo (from Latin filum), thread.  Long, thin strand of a textile / The Continuation or the series of speech.
The thread of life, life hangs by a thread, thread of death, storyline, in line ... get the thread ,lose the thread, refresh the thread, follow the thread, pull the thread, the thread is removed the ball, cut the thread (of the speech), he does not take the thread, (he raves), pull the strings, the threads, not stitching without thread,  keep the thread, hang by a thread.

Retahila (from recta and hila), string:  Series of many things that are, occur or are mentioned by order. That is, a straight line, or a line or row, or a series of objects or of expressions

To  hilar, to spin: To reduce yarn flax, hemp, wool, silk, cotton to yarn/ To reason, draw or infer from other; to split hairs.

Tell me while spinning.

Baste: Join with basting what will be sewing after / It is said about  a person who speaks or writes: To bind or coordinate ideas, phrases or words, sometimes precipitously.

Entangle: Tangle, stir something / confuse, entangle an issue getting harder.

Winding: Go successive turns giving a yarn about an axis, reel, etc.etc. / Develop the plot of an issue.
Winding the skein,  (try to remember)

Unwrapping, to develop: Extend the winding / Decrypt, discover or clarify something that was dark and tangled..

Explain: (from Latin explain and this from plicare = ex and develop, extend, deploy.). Declare, demonstrate, publicize what anyone thinks. To declare or display any material or doctrine  or difficult text, whit very clear words to make them more noticeable. Teaching in the chair. Justify, exculpate words or actions, stating that there was no intention to insult them. Spreading the cause or reason for something.

Roll: (Lat. Rotulus cylinder.). Subject taking cylindrical shape by rolling or spinning. / Portion of tissue, paper, etc.., which is rolled into a cylindrical / person or thing that is dull, heavy or annoying way. / Papyrus or other laminated material, wrapping, which was the book in antiquity.

to develop, to go roll

Entangle: to take  with network; extend  nets or arm them for hunting / Link, weave something  / to put  discord or sow discord; Entertaining, waste the time.....

Tangle. Complications and tangle that is by bind each other wildly flexible wires or other things, Deception, lie that brings unrest, dissension and strife. Difficult complication to save or remedy in any event or affair of life / Confusion of ideas, lack of clarity in them / In the epic and dramatic poetry and the novel, all the events linked to each other, preceding the catastrophe or denouement.

cloth for paintings

Stitch: Garnish with embroideries fabric or other material. Embroidering a tablecloth. / embroider a speech.

Strand: . Portion of thread, yarn, spun silk or other material, which usually get something to sew through the eye of a needle. / Thread of speech.

Pin, he takes it all with pins,

Node: (Lat. nudus  for nodus ). Tie that narrows and closes so troubles can drop by itself, and the more you strip any of the two ends, more tightened. / In the trees and plants, trunk why leave the branches, and in this part where the rods cast. It is usually rounded. / In various literary genres, bond or interlocking of events that precede the outcome.

A knot is made,

Unlink: Unleashing ties, disengage and drop what you are tied with them / Resolve the plot of a dramatic narrative or cinematic work, until you reach the end.

The summary or culmination of all reported can be summarized in the phrase "Plot, weave  and dénouement," three terms in the textile world which explain the structure or skeleton of a novel, a literary work.

From another point of view, weaving and unraveling has generated important myths and legends from ancient times, the best known of Penelope, but also Ariadne, Philomela, the Fates.

Ariadne gave Theseus, which was infatuated, the ball of yarn was knitting with which he could leave the Labyrinth of Crete after finishing with the Minotaur. She Theseus fled with Theseus from her own country, but she was abandoned by him.

The myth of Philomel is told by Ovid in Metamorphoses, 6, 424 ff. During a visit to her sister,  Philomela is raped by her brother in law Tereus, who cuts her  tongue;  so she can not tell his crime. Philomela weaves a tapestry with de crime. Noting her sister Procne, they prepared a terrible revenge: they kill the son of Tereus, cook him and serve him  to his father. The merciful gods make Procne into a swallow and Philomela into a nightingale;  so they can escape from the wrath of Tereus.

Penelope is the wife of Odysseus or Ulysses, whose return she expects faithfully. She entertains suitors weaving by day and unraveling at night a tapestry because she undertook to accept one of the suitors when the work was completed.

The Fates or the Moirai are goddesses of men’sfate men. Hesiod calls them the "spinners of fate"  who  weave with their spinning wheels and spindles. Cloto handled the distaff, Lachesis rotates the spindle with thread, Atropos cuts the thread with her scissors when he pleases it.

Catullus says about the Fates in his poem number 64 v. 310:

while their hands duly plied the eternal task.

Aeternumque manus carpebant rite laborem

And soon after, from verse 327 repeats a dozen times:

Run, run spindles, following  the woof-threads.

Currite ducentes subtegmina, currite, fusi


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