Archive for February, 2011










Arachne lived in a small village on the shores of the Mediterranean with her very poor parents.  Arachne used to spin all day long, while her mother was busy cooking the simple meals for the family, or working in the fields. Her wheel made a steady whirring like the buzzing of some insect. From constant practice , she became so skillful. The threads she drew out were almost as fine as the mists that rose from the nearby sea. The neighbours used to hint, sometimes, that such fine-spun threads were rather useless, and that it might be better if Arachne would help her mother more and spin less.

One day Arachne’s father, who was a fisherman, came home with his baskets full of little shell-fish, which were of a bright crimson or purple colour. He thought the colour of the little fish so pretty that he tried the experiment of dyeing Arachne’s wools with them. The result was the most vivid hue that had ever been seen in any kind of woven fabric. This was the colour which was afterward called Tyrian purple,—or sometimes it was called royal purple, because kings liked to wear it.

Her tapestries found a ready sale and soon became famous after this as all her tapestries always showed some touch of new colour.

And because of this, Arachne’s family could chang their little cottage for a much larger house. Her mother did not have to work in the fields any more, nor was her father any longer obliged to go out in his boat to catch fish.

Arachne, herself, became as famous as her tapestries. She heard admiring words on every side, and I am sorry to say that her head was a little turned by them. When, as often happened, people praised the beautiful colour that had been produced by the little shell-fish, she did not tell how her father had helped her, but took all the credit to herself.

While she was weaving, a group of people often stood behind her loom, watching the pictures grow. One day she overheard some one say that even the great goddess, Minerva, the patron goddess of spinning and weaving, could not weave more beautiful tapestries than this plain fisherman’s daughter. This was a very foolish thing to say, but Arachne thought it was true. She heard another say that Arachne wove so beautifully fhat she must have been taught by Minerva herself.

Now, the truth is, that Minerva had taught Arachne. It was Minerva who had sent the little shell-fish to those coasts ; and, although she never allowed herself to be seen, she often stood behind the girl and guided her shuttle.

But Arachne, never having seen the goddess, thought she owed everything to herself alone, and began to boast of her skill. One day she said : “It has been said that I can weave quite as well, if not better, than the goddess, Minerva. I should like to have a weaving match with her, and then it would be seen which could do best.”

These wicked words had hardly left Arachne’s mouth, before she heard the sound of a crutch on the floor. Turning to look behind her, she saw a feeble old woman in a rusty gray cloak. The woman’s eyes were as gray as her cloak, and strangely bright and clear for one so old. She teaned heavily on her crutch, and when she spoke, her voice was cracked and weak.

“I am many years older than you,” she said. “Take my advice. Ask Minerva’s pardon for your ungrateful words. If you are truly sorry, she will forgive you.”

Now Arachne had never been very respectful to old persons, particularly when they wore rusty cloaks, and she was very angry at being reproved by this one.

“Don’t advise me,” she said. “Go and advise your own children. I shall say and do what I please.”

At this an angry light came into the old woman’s gray eyes ; her crutch suddenly changed to a shining lance ; she dropped her cloak ; and there stood the goddess herself.

Arachne’s face grew very red, and then very white, but she would not ask Minerva’s pardon, even then. Instead, she said that she was ready for the weaving match.

So two weaving frames were brought in, and attached to one of the beams overhead. Then Minerva and foolish Arachne stood side by side, and each began to weave a piece of tapestry.

As Minerva wove, her tapestry began to show pictures of mortals who had been foolhardy and boastful, like Arachne, and who had been punished by the gods. It was meant for a kindly warning to Arachne.

But Arachne would not heed the warning. She wove into her tapestry pictures representing certain foolish things that the gods of Olympus had done.

This was very disrespectful, and it is no wonder that when Arachne’s tapestry was finished, Minerva tore it to pieces.

Arachne was frightened now, but it was too late. Minerva suddenly struck her on the forehead with her shuttle. Then Arachne shrank to a little creature no larger than one’s thumb.

“Since you think yourself so very skilful in spinning and weaving,” said Minerva, “you shall do nothing else but spin and weave all your life.”

Upon this Arachne, in her new shape, ran quickly into the first dark corner she could find. She was now obliged to earn her living by spinning webs of exceeding fineness, in which she caught many flies, just as her father had caught fish in his nets. She was called the Spinner.

The children of this first little spinner have become very numerous ; but their old name of spinner has been changed to that of spider. Their delicate webs, which are as mist-like as any of Arachne’s weaving, often cover the grass on a morning when the day is to be fine.

Blessed Be




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