The Arachne is a creature from Greek mythology, whose name was later used for words like “arachnid” and “arachnophobia.” There’s very little to fear about the story of Arachne, however. Hers is a cautionary tale about pride that we can all learn from.
According to the myth, Arachne was a very famous and talented weaver. She was so proud of her skills that she challenged the goddess Athena to a contest to see who was best.
Athena was the goddess of many talents–warfare, weaving, wisdom, crafts, and learning–and she did not take kindly to the challenge. She accepted, hoping to put Arachne in her place and teach her respect.
In some versions, Arachne’s constant boasting upsets Athena so much that she’s the one to make the challenge. Patting yourself on the back had some pretty dangerous consequences in Greek myths!
Athena is so angry at Arachne’s bragging that she decides she will weave a message and a warning. She wove four stories of humans who thought themselves equal to the gods, who were later punished by the gods for their boasting. Not getting the hint, Arachne wove four scenes in which the gods punished and hurt humans without a good reason.
To make the situation even more awkward, it is clear from the start that Arachne’s weaving is much better than Athena’s. Even if what she wove wasn’t very nice, it was obviously done well. On top of that, the scenes Arachne wove did not put the gods in a very nice light. Embarrassed and furious, Athena cursed Arachne. This curse transformed her into a spider. This is how the Greeks explained why spiders are constantly spinning webs both to live in and trap their prey.
Some versions of this myth end differently. In one version, Athena shows Arachne how her lack of respect is hurtful. Ashamed by her actions, Arachne takes her own life. This makes Athena bring her back to life and transform her into a spider, so she can always weave to her heart’s content.
In another version of the myth, Arachne and Athena’s contest has a different stipulation. Whoever loses the contest has to promise they will never weave on a loom or a spindle ever again. In this version, Athena wins. Arachne is so heartbroken that she can no longer do what she loves, but eventually Athena takes pity on her. Once again, Arachne is transformed into a spider so she can still weave and spin without breaking her promise to never touch a loom or spindle again.
However the myth goes, several key parts remain intact. One is respect, or the lack of it. Arachne does not show the proper respect for Athena as both a goddess and as the source of Arachne’s own talent.
In Greek mythology, they believed that the gods and goddesses gave humans different talents and skills.
If you were good at playing music, you would give thanks to the god of music. If you were good at sports, cooking, or learning, you would thank the gods responsible for that. Arachne’s skill as a weaver was a gift of Athena. Arachne not only never thanked her for it, she thought she was better than the goddess herself!
Another key part of the myth is power, both cruel power and kind power. Athena can either curse Arachne out of spite, or she can take pity on Arachne and find a way to help her. Even though they had impressive powers, the Greek gods and goddesses could be very human in how they behaved.
They got jealous and angry, or they were sentimental and easily motivated by feelings like compassion and love. Athena may have been within her rights as a goddess to join the contest, but her reactions to Arachne show the different ways a god could use their power on a human. Maybe Arachne wasn’t wrong to show the way gods can be cruel!
Lastly, another important part of the Arachne myth is the idea of transformation and purpose. Even if spiders aren’t very nice to look at, they still serve a useful role in the bug kingdom and in our homes. Spiders trap other bugs and eat them. They mostly keep to themselves, unless you go messing with their webs. They are hard workers and carefully tend to their little homes.
In the myth, Arachne can either be cursed to be a spider or is transformed into one by Athena’s powers.
And even though we might think it’s not too fun to be a spider after being a human, we should focus on what it means to change. Everyone changes in their lives, and we don’t always end up who we think we should be. Arachne’s change was just a bit more literal than how life changes usually happen.
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