Source Material

The Myth of Arachne

Arachne, a peasant girl, is the daughter of Idmon of Colophon in Lydia, Greece.  A brilliant weaver and proud of it, Arachne is so graceful at her loom that others gather to watch her at work.  People say Arachne is so good that the patron goddess of weaving herself, Athena, must have taught her, but this compliment offends Arachne, who insists that her own work is superior to Athena’s.Eventually Arachne’s boasts attract Athena’s attention, and Athena disguises herself as an old woman to visit Arachne. Offended by the girl’s lack of humility, Athena challenges her to a competition to determine who is the better weaver.

Athena weaves a tapestry that glorifies herself, depicting the story of how she came to be the patron goddess of Athens. Arachne’s tapestry, by contrast, depicts the petty, dishonorable acts of the gods, such as Zeus’s seduction of Leda and rape of Europa. Athena is enraged by Arachne’s tapestry – according to some versions of the story, because of Arachne’s disrespect to the gods and, according to other versions, because Arachne’s tapestry is as good as, or better than, Athena’s.

In her anger, Athena destroys Arachne’s tapestry. Arachne, also furiously angry, hangs herself in defiance. Athena then lifts Arachne’s body from the noose and sprinkles it with magic liquid, restoring Arachne’s life and turning her into a spider – according to some versions of the story, in revenge for Arachne’s suicide, and according to other versions, out of remorse for destroying Arachne’s tapestry – so that Arachne will live forever and continue to practice the craft of weaving.