The Myth of Arachne

Today’s myth brings us to Colophon, in the region of Lydia, where a young and talented weaver, who went by the name of Arachne, lived. Arachne’s talents had brought her fame and respect since a young age: her weaving skills known all over Greece and sought after by many.

The young girl soon became conceited and taken by a moment of pride, declared:

"Athena herself could not create a better wonder than mine! In fact, I could challenge Athena to a weaving contest, and win it!"

Like all things said by humans, the young maiden’s outrageous words soon reached the ears of the Goddess, who decided to accept the challenge and, in the disguise of an old beggar, approached the Arachne: "My dear, the fame that precedes you is little compared to the beauty of your work. I come here to pay you my compliments. I have heard, however, that you would like to hold a public contest to challenge the patron goddess of the textile arts...If I were you, and I tell you this with maternal affection, I would be content to be the best weaver among mortals, but I would avoid arousing the disdain of Athena."

Arachne, in the typical arrogance of her young age, looked at the old woman, smiled with compassion and said: "I am happy with your words, but I do not fear comparisons, neither with humans nor with gods. In fact, according to me, Athena - who will have already known about my challenge - has not accepted for fear of losing!”

Athena was furious and in a fit of rage revealed herself to the mortal and decided to accept her challenge. And so, the Goddess and the Human, began to weave their pieces.

While the first chose to represent herself and the magnificence of her powers, the second one chose to weave the loves, the deceptions and the faults of the gods. After a long battle the verdict was clear. Athena herself had to admit Arachne's tapestry was the superior one: each character so lifelike, it seemed to come out of the cloth.

Jacopo Tintoretto, Minerva e Aracne, 1575-1579, Oil on Canvas, Florence, Italy.

CC BY-SA 4.0 y.


Just as Arachne was about to be hailed as the winner, the goddess threw a fit, destroyed her work and hit her with her spool. Humiliated by the wrathful reaction and bleeding from her forehead, Arachne ran to the nearby woods and, crying, decided to end her life.

Hanging from a large three and about to take her last breath, Athena appeared one last time: "Alive you will remain, arrogant human! You will continue to weave cloth, hanging as you are now from this tree. However, you shall no longer use your hands but, henceforth, you shall weave with thread that will slip from your mouth, and so will your descendants."

And so it was that Arachne became a large spider, whose lineage was destined to weave webs upon webs on horrid, stunted legs, dangling, down the thread coming out of their mouths, for eternity.