“To watch her, as she took the wool in its rude state and formed it into rolls, or separated it with her fingers and carded it till it looked as light and soft as a cloud, or twirled the spindle with skilful touch, or wove the web, or, after it was woven, adorned it with her needle, one would have said that Athena herself had taught her. But this she denied, and could not bear to be thought a pupil even of a Goddess.” (Bulfinch, 1855)
This description of the mortal woman Arachne depicts a skilled artist, but one with much hubris. Boasting of her abilities, Arachne claimed she could outweave Athena easily. Many cautioned her to guard her tongue lest she offend the goddess. Arachne was unmoved and said she’d face any punishment if she lost the contest. Athena appeared to her in the guise of an old woman and tried to counsel Arachne against the challenge. Again, Arachne refused and Athena then revealed herself in her true form. The contest was on.
Arachne and Athena both wove with beauty and grace but Athena was quicker and more delicate. Athena wove a beautiful scene of her battle with Poseidon. She depicted 12 gods including Zeus, Poseidon and herself. Arachne wove a scene depicting what she viewed as the failures of the gods. Athena was so offended by this depiction she rent the tapestry in two with her shuttle, then touched Arachne on the head to force her to feel shame and remorse.
Arachne, so filled with pain, wove a thread and hung herself from a nearby beam. Athena, then feeling sympathy, laid her hands on Arachne and said, “Arise and Live. Henceforth all of your children shall be weavers”. Arachne’s body began to transform. Her head became small, her fingers clung to the sides of her body and became eight limbs, and she released silk from her abdomen. This is how the spider was created.
It's all fairly horrific if you think about it! But definitely a tale of hubris leading to the ultimate punishment.
Want more great stories like these? Join us on March 28th for The Eternal Thread. We'll investigate the deep connection between the fiber arts and The Goddess, including: the archaeology of fiber art, the origins of spinning, weaving and knitting cross-culturally, and a selection of myths and folktales about spinning and weaving goddesses from various pantheons. A section of fun projects, visualization activities and even handmade herbal products to enhance your yarns and knitted or crocheted items are included to help weave the magic of the Goddess through your own fiber work. CLICK HERE to enroll now.