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Arachne : Goddess, Greek

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 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 people.

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. Arachne, who now felt her work was every bit as fine as Athena's, was too proud to admit she had ever needed a teacher.

Instead she replied, "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!"

goddess Bast

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 the tapestries.

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.

 

      

Athena 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, thin legs.

 "I've 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 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.

 
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