Arachne and Athena - Greek Myth
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Arachne and Athena

Weaving

February 2017 - Arachne was a girl who lived in Greece a long long time ago (in the story; this is a story). She was a very good weaver and spinner. She wove all sorts of beautiful pictures into her cloth, and people came from all around to see her beautiful cloth. But Arachne was too proud; she had what the Greeks called hubris.

greek painting of loom and women
Arachne weaving her cloth (Corinthian
perfume pot, ca. 575 BC)

Arachne began telling people she was better at spinning and weaving than the goddess Athena was. Athena was also known as a good spinner and weaver.

Athena was mad that Arachne would say that, and she challenged Arachne to a weaving contest. The two of them set up their looms in the same room and they wove from early in the morning until it got too dark to see (remember there were no electric lights then!). Then they compared what they had done.

Athena had woven a beautiful cloth showing the gods and goddesses sitting together on Mt. Olympus and doing good deeds for people. But Arachne thought she was so smart, she wove a cloth making fun of the gods and goddesses, showing them getting drunk and falling down and making a mess of things. Still it was clearly better weaving than Athena had done.

tall woman weaving cloth
Athena weaving her cloth (same pot)

When Athena saw it she was even more angry than she had been before. Even though Arachne's weaving was better, Athena didn't care. She pointed her finger at Arachne and suddenly Arachne's nose and ears shrank up, her hair all fell out, her arms and legs got long and skinny, and her whole body shrank until she was just a little tiny spider (Arachne means spider in Greek). "You want to spin," cried Athena, "go ahead and spin!"

Spider

No matter how skilled people are, they are never any match for the gods. People need to remember their place, and not try to be stronger or wiser or smarter than the gods, or bad things will happen to them. And good women, because that is their fate, should always be spinning.

(This version of Arachne's story is from Ovid's Metamorphoses. Read about Ovid's life, and then ask yourself whether Ovid really thought people should know their place.)

To read another myth about hubris, check out the story of Niobe or the story of Tantalus. Hubris also plays a big part in the Iliad.

Learn by doing: weave a piece of cloth
More about hubris

Bibliography and further reading about Arachne:

D'aulaire's Book of Greek Myths, by Edgar and Ingri D'Aulaire. (Look under Athena).

More Greek myths
Ancient Greece
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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