Arachne, Myth of Arachne, Mythology, Myth, Greek Mythology

Arachne, Myth of Arachne, Mythology, Myth, Greek Mythology



Detail of Purgatory, Divine Comedy, canto XII
Illustration by Gustave Doré (1832 - 1883)

Arachne, daughter of the dyer Idmone, was a girl who lived in the city of Colofone, in Lydia, famous for its purple. She was well known for her skill as a weaver and embroiderer as her canvases were considered a gift from heaven so much they were full of grace and delicacy and people came from all over the kingdom to admire them.

Arachne was very proud of her skill so much that one day she had the imprudence to say that not even the skilledAthena, also famous for her skill as a weaver, would have been able to compete with her so much that she had the audacity to challenge the same goddess in a public contest.

Triumph of Minerva
Francesco del Cossa (1435 - 1478), Fresco, Palazzo Schifanoia, Ferrara (Italy)

Athena, as soon as she heard the news, was overcome with anger and presented herself to Arachne in the guise of an old woman, suggesting that she withdraw the challenge and be content with being the best weaver among mortals. In response Arachne said that if the goddess did not accept the challenge it was because she did not have the courage to compete with her. At that point Athena revealed herself in all her greatness and declared the challenge open.

One in front of the other Athena and Arachne began to weave their canvases and as the skeins unraveled the scenes they had decided to represent appeared: in Athena's canvas the great deeds performed by the goddess and the divine powers that they were proper to her; Arachne instead, depicted the loves of some gods, their sins and their deceptions.

When the canvases were completed and placed one in front of the other, Athena herself had to admit that her rival's work was unparalleled: the characters who were represented seemed to jump out of the canvas to accomplish the feats depicted. Athena, not tolerating the obvious defeat, grabbed the rival's canvas, reducing it to a thousand pieces and holding the shuttle tightly in her hand, she began to hit her rival until it bled.

Purgatory, Divine Comedy, Canto XII
Illustration by Gustave Doré (1832 - 1883)

Arachne, shocked by the goddess's reaction, ran away and attempted to commit suicide by trying to hang herself from a tree. But Athena, thinking that this was too mild a punishment, decided to condemn Arachne to weave for the rest of her days and to swing from the same tree from which she wanted to kill herself but she would no longer spin with her hands but with her mouth because she was transformed into a giant spider.

Ovid recounts (Metamorphosis, IV, 23 et seq.): "(...) Minerva accepts the challenge ... the blond-haired goddess frowned at the happy success and tore the canvas quilt that discovers the faults of the gods and hit Arachne's forehead with the spool of boxwood several times. The unhappy man did not suffer: furiously he tightened his throat with a halter and remained dangling. Athena, moved, freed her, but said to her: - Alive or wicked, and hanging as you are now. And why do you torment yourself in the future time, for your lineage you continue the punishment and for the late nephews -. Then, starting, she sprinkles it with sauces of magical herbs: immediately the crime touched by the fatal medicine fell and her nose and ears fell out with the horsehair: the head became small and all the limbs shrink: the slender fingers stick instead of the feet, in the hips: belly is what remains, from which it comes drawing the stamens and, transformed into a spider, counted the web of the past" .

Paolo Veronese (1528 - 1588), Doge's Palace, Venice (Italy)

Dante Alighieri (Purgatorio, XII, 43-45) writes:
«O mad Aragne, yes I saw you
Already half a spider, sad up the rags
De the work that he did badly for you ».

Even today, when you see a spider weaving its web, you think back to the fate of the weaver of Lydia who was condemned for the rest of her life to that sad fate because she had dared to be more skilled than a goddess.

Dr. Maria Giovanna Davoli

Video: Miscellaneous Myths: Arachne