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The Greek Goddess
The First Spider
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 studied for a
while with Athena, the Greek goddess of war who was a
masterful weaver and potter. When Greece was not at war,
Athena spent much of her time teaching crafts to the Greek
Arachne returned to her home in
countryside of Lydia and perfected her skill in weaving
beautiful fabrics that had complicated designs. Word of her
talents spread and nymphs from the forests and rivers came
from afar to watch her weave her excellent tapestries.
One of the nymphs asked Arachne if her incredible
talent was a gift from the
Greek goddess Athena.
who now felt her work was every bit as fine as Athena's, was
too proud to admit she had ever needed a teacher.
"There is none in heaven or earth whose weaving could
compete with mine. Just let Athena come, if she will, and
we'll see whose work is best!"
Word soon reached Athena's ears, and
Athena, disguised as an old woman, appeared at Arachne's door,
ready to give the young woman a chance to redeem herself.
"Age and experience bring wisdom, you must be careful not to
offend the gods," she advised. "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, saying "What do you know? You're so old you're
probably senile. I don't need your advise or Athena's. Why
she even shrinks from taking me up on my challenge to see
who is really best!"
"Arachne, you've gone too far!", a
voice rang out. The old woman had disappeared and the
goddess Athena in all her golden glory stood in her place.
"I accept your challenge and, to reassure you that it's a
fair contest, the goddess Envy will be the judge."
Two looms were set up and they both worked
furiously, their fingers flying back and forth as they wove
For her design Athena chose to present all
the gods and goddesses in their glory in the center of her
masterpiece. She showed the gods seated in majesty in
the Acropolis, Poseidon striking the rock with his trident
to create a stream, and other fine devices.
Surrounding the center figures, she wove
various scenes of mortals behaving foolishly, including one
scene, a warning to her irreverent rival, that
featured girls being changed into chickens. A wreath of
olive branches, representing the olive tree that Athena's
fine gift to the city of Athens, framed the gorgeous design.
Arachne, refusing to be
humbled, decided to depict
stories that showed the
deities in the poorest
light--Zeus engaged in his
many marital infidelities, a
drunken Dionysius, and even
the revered Apollo as a
lowly shepherd. She
surrounded the work with a
beautiful border of ivy and
various flowers. Envy
reported that she was unable to declare
a winner, that both works were beautiful and flawless.
Seeing Arachne's work, Athena was so enraged with her
insolence and disrespect that she slapped her face and tore
her tapestry into shreds. Arachne, realizing what she
had done, grew so depressed that she hung herself.
Athena was a superbly rational goddess but often out of
touch with her own feelings, and often unmoved by the
emotional states of others. Consequently she was surprised
by Arachne’s suicide. It upset her greatly for she had not
meant for things to go that far.
took pity on poor Arachne and decided to let her live, but
not as a human.
Athena sprinkled her limp body with the
juice of the herb called Monkshead and watched as Arachne
transformed into a
spider. Her head began to shrink,
her hair fell out, and her nimble fingers grew into long,
let you live, but for being so vain", Athena said,
"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
We are reminded to speak the truth, not out of pride
or in an effort to "get ahead", but in the spirit of concern
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