What is the difference between a text and a textile? Originating in the same Latin root meaning “weave,” the two words in English bear a canny resemblance. As material phenomena, their similarities abound: both are woven into being from disparate threads, resulting in a product that is more than the sum of their parts, bearing visual and tactile significance. Since ancient times, craftspeople have used their skills to tell stories without words, making meaning with color, image, and texture. Today, as texts increasingly lose contact with their tactile and material forms and populate the virtual space of the digital page (like this one), we may need reminding of the underlying connection between the two art forms. We hope this issue is a nudge in that direction.
Within, you’ll find threads that lead to many times and places. Scroll fragments bearing an obscure love poem are sewn together in a translation by Claudio Sansone. Tall tales spun by ancient partygoers gain new resonances in a translation by Margaret Danaher. Two poems co-translated by Nancy Naomi Carlson and Esperanza Hope Snyder resurrect the rhythms of medieval itinerant poetry. An artifact inscribed with multilingual histories takes shape in a tactile translation by Carl Lewandowski. Intricacy is intertwined with intimacy in three Tang-dynasty poems translated by Lucas Klein. A translation in verse by James Owens brings a premodern portrait of the porcupine to life. A philosophical translation by Hillary Yip charts new orbits for age-old musings on the nature of the universe. Epic myths of power and violence unravel in a translation by Maia Lee-Chin. The textures of a cí poem are revealed and remade in translation variations by Chengru He. An essay by Alton Melvar M Dapanas examines interconnected legacies of colonization and and translation. In this issue’s pedagogy feature, Stephanie McCarter advocates for interdisciplinary teaching methods that work to bring disparate threads together in the classroom.
An idealistic knight once famously compared the art of translation to viewing a tapestry from the “wrong” side. Anyone who has dabbled in needlework will recall that it is on that side where every loose thread, knot, and frayed edge is visible, serving as a record of sorts for the time and craft that went into the making of the piece. As with every issue of Ancient Exchanges, we hope our readers find here the opportunity to view the many-sided art of translation from new angles and perspectives. Follow the threads; see where they lead.
the Ancient X team