Arachne, The Greek Goddess Who Became the First Spider
Arachne, the goddess in Greek mythology
who was the world's first spider, was originally a young mortal, daughter of a shepherd famous for the beautiful wools that he dyed purple.
Gifted in the art of weaving,
Arachne became famous for her excellent tapestries, but was too proud to admit she had once been in the inferior position of being a student, insisting that she was a better weaver than the Greek Goddess Athena, the goddess who had been her teacher. Proud of her skills, she issued a challenge to Athena to a contest to see who had the greater talent.
Athena, disguised as an old woman, cautioned Arachne that "You should recognize the power of the goddess for she helps those who honor her. No human work is so perfect that it cannot be improved."
But Arachne told the crone to save her breath and even accused her of being senile. Suddenly the goddess Athena appeared in the old woman's place and accepted the challenge.
The two immediately set to weaving, Athena's design depicting the glory of the gods and goddesses and Arachne's illustrating stories of the gods' less honorable moments, including depictions of the various seductions and infidelities of Athena's father, Zeus.
Athena was furious and tore Arachne's tapestry to shreds. Realizing that she had gone too far in insulting the deities, Arachne grew so depressed that she hung herself.
Athena took pity on poor Arachne and decided to let her live, but not as a human, and turned Arachne into a
spider. "For being so vain", Athena swore, "you will hang and spin forever".
Arachne and her story teach us to be mindful of the risks women, even extraordinarily talented women, take when they speak out against the established order, the patriarchy in particular.
We are reminded to speak the truth, not out of pride or in an effort to "get ahead", but in the spirit of concern and love.
Learn more about the Greek Goddess Arachne
Read the stories of the other Goddesses
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