Oh, Arachne . . .


from The Illustrated Bulfinch’s Mythology by Thomas Bulfinch, Giovanni Caselli (Illustrator)

. . . You should’ve known better. You shouldn’t’ve messed with the gods, Arachne.

Have you ever noticed how many of the myths and legends and fairy tales on which we were nurtured are cluttered with references to makers and making?

When I think back, so many of my favorite stories contain textiles and fibers and women making things of beauty and purpose. We have a princess tasked with spinning gold from straw, a mother-to-be pricking her finger while sewing and imagining her “snow white” baby, a girl making shirts from nettles, to transform her brothers from swans back to men.

Weaving, in particular, pervades old stories. Penelope weaves, and unweaves, her tapestry as she waits for Odysseus’s return. The three norns weave the fate of humans and Philomela, having been raped and her tongue cut out, uses her loom as her voice.

And then there’s foolish Arachne, a mere mortal but exemplary weaver.

Arachne, who lacks humility to a dangerous degree.

Arachne, who boasts of her skill and challenges Athena, the goddess of weaving, to a contest. Arachne, who uses her skill to weave a tapestry that mocks and belittles the gods.

Arachne, who is brought to humility by Athena, and who hangs herself.

Arachne, returned to life by Athena. Returned to life but such a different life, a life that stands as a lesson in humility to other weavers and humans:

Live,” [Athena] said, “guilty woman! And that you may preserve the memory of this lesson, continue to hang, both you and your descendants, to all future times.”

She sprinkled her with the juices of aconite, and immediately her hair came off, and her nose and ears likewise. Her form shrank up, and her head grew smaller yet; her fingers cleaved to her side and served for legs. All the rest of her is body, out of which she spins her thread, often hanging suspended by it, in the same attitude as when Athena touched her . . .

and transformed her into a spider.

Arachne, in my garden

Arachne, in my garden