Arachne

There are several versions of the Greek myth of Arachne. I’m sharing the version conceived by Ovid the Roman poet.

Arachne, a young woman of common birth, but of uncommon skill as a weaver. She lived in the village of Hypaepa in Lydia. Her father was a humble wool dyer, and her mother was deceased. Despite her lowly rank, Arachne became famous throughout the towns of Lydia for her expert ability to spin and weave wool. Even the local nymphs came to marvel at her. Though spinning and weaving were specifically Athena’s arts, Arachne would not admit that the goddess had been her teacher. Instead, she made it known that she would gladly challenge the goddess to a weaving contest. Athena could not bear this insult and, appearing to her in the guise of an old woman, cautioned Arachne not to dishonor the gods with such arrogance. Arachne still would not relent, so Athena revealed herself to the girl in her full divinity.

The contest thus commenced. Athena wove into her design the contest in which she had prevailed over Poseidon to win the stewardship of the city of Athens by producing an olive tree. As a clear warning to Arachne, she also depicted a host of mortals who had challenged the gods and been punished terribly. Arachne, for her part, wove vignettes depicting misdeeds of the gods, a twofold affront to the goddess. There appeared Zeus taking on the shape of a bull to seduce Europa, of a swan to make advances on Leda, of her own husband to lie with Alcmena, of a shower of gold to penetrate the cell of Danae, and of a flame to approach Aegina. Poseidon, too, was shown. He assumed the shape of a dolphin in pursuit of Melantho, of a bird to approach Medusa, and of a ram, river, and stallion to make advances on other maidens still. Apollo, Dionysus, and Cronus, all behaving ignobly, also found a place in Arachne’s design.

Arachne’s work was perfection, flawless even in Athena’s eyes. So great was the goddess’s anger that she tore apart Arachne’s weaving and struck Arachne on the head until, unable to bear this assault, she hanged herself. Arachne did, however, live on, now as a spider, misshapen but spinning for all time.

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