The Greek maidens all knew how to spin and embroider. They said that Athena taught them. It would have been wrong to think otherwise. One day a Grecian maiden sat spinning beneath an olive-tree on the shore of the blue Aegean Sea. She was a pretty picture. Her hair was like spun gold, and her face was very fair to look upon. She held her head high, and turned it somewhat haughtily when a sly little nymph, who had been watching, asked her about her work. The little maid was Arachne. the most skilful spinner in Greece.
None could equal her in the weaving of beautiful webs; and her fame bad gone abroad, for the webs which Arachne wove and embroidered with her nimble fingers were sent far away, to be worn by the great people of other lands. Everybody praised the little maid so lavishly that they quite turned her head. It was unfortunate indeed that a maiden so charming in most respects should not be agreeable in all; but the foolish little Arachne was so much given to boasting of herself and of her skill that she was at times far from agreeable.
At such times the little nymphs. who stole softly near to watch her as her slender finders flew deftly to and fro, ran back to their vines and streams, while her friends grew weary and left her alone. One day Arachne made a foolish boast. She declared that she excelled even Athena herself. " Arachne, Arachne. how wicked! Why. Athena taught you all you know," cried her friends. But the vain little maiden shook her pretty head, saying, " Athena taught me not. I taught myself."
Arachne' s friends were shocked. They went home at once, while the naughty Arachne, with a toss of her proud little head, went on spinning and spinning. By and by a shadow fell across the snowy wool, and looking up, Arachne saw an old woman leaning on her staff. My daughter, I heard that remark. It was foolish; but you are young, and perchance were jesting. You do not mean to compare yourself with Athena?" " Yes, I do," said Arachne, still spinning. " Then you have greatly offended the goddess, and should beg her pardon."
"I do not care. Do you suppose that Athena could weave a mantle finer than this?' And Arachne held up a soft scarf, rich with Tyrian purple and gold. " Let Athena come and try, if she thinks she can do better. I will match my skill with hers." As Arachne said this, the cloak fell from the old woman's shoulders, and the stately goddess Athena stood before her. But Arachne was not abashed. She refused to ask pardon, and insisted upon a trial of skill.
They met on the shores of the sea, while the sea nymphs, the tritons, and Arachne's friends watched anxiously. Never before had a mortal dared to vie with a goddess; and every one knew that, should Arachne fail, her punishment would be severe. So they watched, almost breathlessly, as the hands of the spinners deftly carded the soft, fine wool, then twisted it into threads. Then these threads were stretched on frames, and soon the shuttles flew back and forth as if by magic.
Athena wove into her web the colors of the rainbow, and more beautiful pictures than mortal eyes had ever beheld. She made pictures of the gods, Zeus seated on his throne, with the stately Hera, and all the gods and goddesses in attendance; Helios in his chariot; Proserpine with her garlands of flowers; and the seagod, Poseidon, with his trident. There was truth and beauty in every line of Athene's web.
Arachne's web was also beautiful, but it was not entirely truthful, for her pictures were those which showed the errors and failings of others. When Athene's web was finished, Zephyrus bore it aloft, and stretched it across the sky in a beautiful arch. But Arachne's web grew darker and darker. She knew that she was beaten, but would not ask forgiveness of the now angry Athena, who struck the web and rent it.
Arachne snatched the fragments, and would have strangled herself; but Athena said, " Ah, Arachne, there is no pleasure in working for others unless truth and beauty enter into all which we do. That which is done for self-praise is wrong. You shall live to warn people who boast of their skill rather than make it a means of doing good." Then she touched Arachne; and, sad to tell, her beautiful hair fell off, her body shrivelled, and she turned into a spider. But she still shows us how wonderful a web she wove in those days of long ago.
The Legend and Myth about Arachne
The Myth of Arachne
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