The Myth of Arachne
This is one of my favourite myths: I just love the way the moral of the tale transcends time.
So to share with you, I've transcribed the myth onto scrolls.
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It was custom in Ancient Greece that its citizens learned useful arts and skills. These were taught to them by Athena the Goddess of Wisdom and Crafts. They in turn honoured Athena by looking after her most beautiful city, Athens. Here they built a glorious temple, the Parthenon, and dedicated it to Athena. In the temple they placed a statue of the goddess. It was made of ivory and gold, and its robes were spun, woven, and embroidered by the fairest of maidens. The Greek maidens all knew how to spin and embroider, and this was considered to be one of the gifts Athena had bestowed upon them. It would have been wrong to think otherwise.
One day a pretty maiden sat spinning beneath an olive tree on the shore of the Aegean Sea. Her hair was like the golden sun and her face was the fairest in the land. She was very proud of her wonderful creations and held her head high. A sea nymph happened to be watching and asked her who she was. The haughty maiden said that she was Arachne, the most skilful spinner in the land. Arachne was indeed the most skilful. Not only was she quick and neat but she was much more imaginative than all the other maidens. None could equal her in weaving of beautiful cloths. Her fame had spread far and beyond, and her woven and embroidered works were sought by great people in many lands.
As Arachne’s skills grew, she decided to weave a huge tapestry which was to be her masterpiece. In it she would feature the lives and stories of the gods. At last it was finished and the gods moved across the tapestry as if they had lives of their own. People came from near and far to see it and stared in wonder at the magnificent tapestry. Arachne, already confident in her skill, grew proud and vain with all the admiration. When people praised her work telling her that it was a gift from Athena herself, she tossed her head, flicked her hair and declared “not even Athena can match my work”, and claimed that she had created a work of art that even the gods would envy.
That of course was the beginning of Arachne’s downfall. It was unfortunate indeed, as Arachne could be charming most of the time, but at this crucial moment she lost her head and became most disagreeable indeed. Her friends had warned her that Athena had taught her all she knew and that the goddess would be most offended at her remarks. They tried to reason with her saying “surely you do not mean to compare yourself to Athena, you should beg her pardon”. Arachne would not listen and refused to apologise, saying that she had taught herself and that she Arachne could easily match her skills with those of Athena. As time passed Arachne became even more vain, if that was at all possible, and her boastful remarks spread far and wide. It did not take long for her foolish vanity to lose Arachne all her friends. It was also to earn her the wrath of Athena.
One day while Athena was sitting at her own loom she became aware of Arachne’s boasts. She appeared instantly before Arachne, with her own masterpiece, and not in disguise, but as herself in all her glory. She wanted see for herself this great tapestry and show Arachne her own work. She thought that if the girl was truly talented, she would take her under her wing and teach her even more. At Athena’s appearance, Arachne knelt before her and Athena said “rise child and show me what you have done”. Arachne obeyed and was flattered that a great goddess had come to admire her work. She showed Athena her wonderful tapestry, spread along two tables.
As Athena closely examined every stitch and blending of colours grandly sweeping across the design of the tapestry, her eyes darkened and a frown appeared across her forehead as she realised that Arachne’s was greater than her own. Although she tried not to show anger, her whole demeanour had changed. As wise as Athena was she had inherited the jealousy of her father Zeus, and it was not long before she could contain herself no longer. In a jealous rage, Athena seized the tapestry and ripped it to shreds.
The horrified Arachne snatched at some of the fragments and ran far into the dark woods, and soon her life began to fade away. Athena had calmed down by then, and half regretting her jealous rage, found Arachne. With one touch Athena brought her back to life, but not as the Arachne they all knew. Athena said “Arachne, truth and beauty must enter into all we do. That which is done only for self praise is wrong. You shall live as a warning to others who boast about their skill rather than making it a means for good”. At once Arachne’s beautiful golden hair fell off, her fair body shrivelled and she was turned into a spider. She still lives on and shows us the wonderful webs she weaves, but only a few stop to admire her work, and they do not know that she was once a beautiful but vain maiden.