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Monday, September 29, 2014

Hello... My Name Is Arachne

I am a huge fan of the Mythology of the Ancient Greco-Roman Cultures. I grew up hearing the stories of the Gods, and watching movies like "Clash of the Titans" (which is still one of my favorites). And although the majority of my beliefs aren't tied to these myths now, I still love them and see their place. One of my favorites is the story of Arachne. I'm sure it's no coincidence that I happen to love Spiders also, but that's a different post.

The story of Arachne, like many myths, is the story of how a mere mortal got tied up in the affairs of the Gods, and got hurt... Not unlike popular mythology of today, the ancient Greeks myths often show the flaws of mortals being punished by vengeful gods... But the story of Arachne has a great lesson to it, one which even today is in need!

Arachne, according to Greek mythology was the worlds first spider. But she didn't start out that way! She was a beautiful young woman, the virgin daughter of a shepherd. Gifted in weaving and spinning wool, she would become known throughout her land for beautiful wool creations.

As a child she had studied under Athena herself. While Athena is commonly known as the Goddess of War, she was also highly masterful when it came to crafts dealing with clay and thread, and she would often teach her crafts to people. This was often how, according to the myths, that people came to hold such knowledge and craftsmanship.

Once Arachne finished her training under Athena, she returned home to her father in Lydia and practiced her weaving until she reached the point of perfection. In time her weavings came to include beautifully intricate designs and pictorials. Upon viewing some of her work a forest nymph once asked her if her talents were in fact a gift from the Gods. But, Arachne was proud and would not admit that she had been taught her craft, insisting instead that it were all her own doing. "There is non is heaven or earth whose weaving could compete with mine. Just let Athena come, if she will, and we shall see who's work is best!" she said.

Unbeknownst to Arachne though, Athena was listening. And she then and there, as the gods often did, decided to avenge her name and challenge Arachne. Disguised as an old hag, Athena suddenly appeared at Arachne's door.

Looking Arachne in the eyes she said "Age and experience bring wisdom, my dear. You need be careful not to offend the Gods so. Recognize the power of the Goddess, for she helps those who honor her. No human work is quite so perfect that it can not be improved!"

But Arachne's humerus was stronger than her common sense. She snapped at the old woman, making cracks about the woman's age and challenging Athena a second time saying:  "Athena's advice would be of no use to me, nor would her help. She has not taken me up on my challenge because she knows I am superior."

In a flash the crone disappeared and in her place stood the Goddess Athena. "YOU, Arachne, have gone to far! I accept your challenge."

Athena produced two looms in a single room, and she appointed the Goddess Envy to judge. The two women worked furiously from dawn to dusk to produce the best tapestry.

When dark had fallen, the two designs were compared. Athena's tapestry showed the Gods & Goddesses of Olympus in all their glory, helping humans, blooming flowers and overall blessing humanity. However, while the center of Athena's design showed the Gods beautifully, surrounding this, the mortals of the day were shown in a less kind way, disrespecting and abusing their gifts from above.  Arachne's tapestry was much of the same, but with the Gods being shown in the ugly light, drunken and falling down, some stories even speak of the Gods being shown in mid orgy.

Both works, however insulting to the other, were beautifully woven. And after inspecting them both the Goddess Envy said she could not choose a winner, as both were equally perfect.  But Athena could find no perfection in Arachne's work.

Angered and insulted by the scenes shown in Arachne's tapestry Athena flew in to a rage. She tore Arachne's work in to tiny slivers and slapped Arachne so hard she knocked her over. As Arachne sat on the floor looking at her now destroyed work, she realized the pain she had caused her once generous mentor. Her depression was so strong that Arachne hung herself.

Athena, shocked by the death of her student, was deeply upset, for she did not mean for this to be the outcome.  Athena took pity and decided to let Arachne live. But, because of her hubris, Arachne would not be returned to humanity.

Athena sprinkled the hanging body of Arachne with the juice of Monkshead (a local herb) and Arachne was transformed in to a spider. Holding Arachne in her hand Athena said "I have allowed you to live, but, for your bride, you will hang and spin for all eternity." And so it is that Arachne came to be the first and mother of all other spiders.

In some circles Arachne is risen to the level of a Goddess herself, however this seems to be a more recent addition to the story.

Numerous versions of the myth abound, as can be said of nearly any Ancient mythology. In some versions of this story, the Goddess Athena is replaced by the Goddess Minerva, however the core of the story is the same.

As for a moral, I have to think that in some ways how we see things has changed a bit and so has some of the way we read the morals here. Some of the "what does this story mean" statements that I've read talk about a women's place and are in my mind rather sexist. But, we do need to remember that gender roles in Ancient Greece, and in today's world are far from equal. To me though, this story is still one with a moral that is usable today. Gender aside, everyone can remember that pride bites back. For Arachne, her pride proved to not only be deadly, but to carry an eternity of punishment. For us, it can ruin relationships, torch our self esteem and stop growth, both in a spiritual and a mental sense. Humility is a lesson we all must learn, and sometimes it's a painful one... Thankfully for us though, we aren't learning it in the way Arachne has!

*Originally published on my One Witch's Wonderland Blog, which has since closed.

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