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Arachne : the spider woman

20200217-Aracnhe-the-spider-woman Athena and Arachne - Tintoretto (Jacopo Robusti) (1519-1594) - PD-art-100

Arachne, her name meaning spider in Greek, was a beautiful woman that had a great talent in weaving. Everyone was amazed at her work and one day, Arachne boosted that she had a greater talent than goddess Athena herself. This was an offense towards the gods, which was a very serious and even deadly sin for the ancient Greeks. That is why goddess Athena transformed her into a spider to wave for all her life long.

Arachne was the daughter of Idmon of Colophon, a city that would be encompassed into the region of Lydia, although it was constructed as an Ionian city. Idmon was involved in the fabric industry, for according to Ovid, he was a noted user of purple dye, one of the most valuable substances of the ancient world.

 From an early age Arachne took up weaving, and with every passing year, her skill would increase, surpassing that of anyone in Lydia or Asia Minor. Soon news of Arachne's artistry spread far and wide and it is said that nymphs from the forests left their frolicking and gathered around Arachne to watch her weave. So moved were they by her skills that they remarked that she surely must have been trained by none other than Goddess Athena, the goddess of weaving.

Athena was so angry at Arachne’s bragging that she decides she will weave a message and a warning. She wove four stories of humans who thought themselves equal to the gods, who were later punished by the gods for their boasting. Not getting the hint, Arachne wove four scenes in which the gods punished and hurt humans without a good reason. To make the situation even more awkward, it is clear from the start that Arachne’s weaving is much better than Athena’s. Even if what she wove wasn’t very nice, it was obviously done well. On top of that, the scenes Arachne wove did not put the gods in a very nice light. Embarrassed and furious, Athena cursed Arachne. This curse transformed her into a spider. This is how the Greeks explained why spiders are constantly spinning webs both to live in and trap their prey.

Some versions of this myth end differently. In one version, Athena shows Arachne how her lack of respect is hurtful. Ashamed by her actions, Arachne takes her own life. This makes Athena bring her back to life and transform her into a spider, so she can always weave to her heart’s content.

In another version of the myth, Arachne and Athena’s contest has a different stipulation. Whoever loses the contest has to promise they will never weave on a loom or a spindle ever again. In this version, Athena wins. Arachne is so heartbroken that she can no longer do what she loves, but eventually Athena takes pity on her. Once again, Arachne is transformed into a spider so she can still weave and spin without breaking her promise to never touch a loom or spindle again.

An interesting fact that relates myth to history is that the art of weaving is said to have originated in Anatolia, a part of modern Turkey and spiders have been a constant source of inspiration for man to perfect his weaving skill. The story of Arachne from Greek myhology has also been immortalized by science and the taxonomical class name for spiders is Arachnida.