Did you know that Venus de Milo was a spinner?
You and the goddess of love have something in common
I imagine you’ve all had the experience when something seemingly insignificant changes your view of things. When you look back, you remember how innocently you looked at it and then later revel in changes it made in your life and perspective. There’s a book that had that impact on my life—I stumbled upon it in the library at Colorado State University when I was a student. I didn’t identify myself as a spinner at that time, though I knew how to spin (barely). I was an art history student, and I was on my way to becoming a fiber artist—exploring many mediums, including weaving, dyeing, felting, papermaking, sculpture, drawing, and painting. One art history class opened a new world of thought for me—it was about the role of goddesses in ancient Greek and Roman art.
I had always devoured books about Greek and Roman mythology—I loved the stories of hardworking heroes and temperamental deities. This class added another element by focusing on the stories of women, the role of textiles, and child rearing (mostly left out in other classes I had taken up to that point). And then I found an intriguing little book (Venus de Milo: The Spinner: The Link Between a Famous Art Mystery and Ancient Fertility Symbols by Elmer G. Suhr, New York: Exposition Press, 1958) that touted that the famous Venus di Milo statue, which in modern times is missing her arms, depicted the Roman goddess of love spinning. And not only spinning as in making yarn because that is what people did in ancient times to clothe themselves, but spinning as a metaphor.
She was spinning the thread of life.
Further delving led me on a path in which I found many scholars supporting the theory—ancient people believed that Aphrodite (later identified as Venus by the Romans) spun the neuma (clouds) into a life-force. For ancient people, the mysteries of the beginning of life—the knitting of tissue, blood, and bone into life in the womb—were explained with the similar mysterious process—the spinning of thread from a cloud of fiber. These threads could be interlocked into a strong fabric that would become a second skin, keeping you dry in the rain, warm in the cold, and cool under the heat of the sun. Suddenly, the everyday—the mundane—becomes magical and powerful. The simple act of spinning is a connection to the meaning of life, the universe and…well, that’s another story.
Mmmm. I love reading about spinning almost as much as I love doing it.