Arachne and Athena – the Arachne story in Greek mythology

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Two women weaving on a black-figure vase, as in the Arachne story

The Arachne story: Greek women weaving at a warp-weighted loom – Athens, 500s BC

Who was Arachne?

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.

Arachne 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.

What did Arachne do wrong?

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.

Arachne weaving her cloth (Corinthian perfume pot, ca. 575 BC)

Arachne weaving her cloth (from a Corinthian perfume pot, ca. 575 BC)

Arachne’s weaving contest

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.

What did the goddess Athena weave?

Athena had woven a beautiful cloth showing the gods and goddesses sitting together on Mt. Olympus and doing good deeds for people.

(More about the goddess Athena)

What did Arachne weave?

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.

Athena weaving her cloth (same pot)

Athena weaving her cloth (same pot)

What happened to poor Arachne?

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!”

spiderWhat is the moral of the Arachne story?

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.

(More about women in ancient Greece)

(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.)

Other Greek myths about hubris

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

Other Greek myths that explain things

The Arachne story also explains why there are spiders in the world. In the same way, the story of Echo and Narcissus explains why there are echoes. And the story of Pandora’s Box explains why there are diseases.

Did you find out what you needed to know about the Arachne story in Greek mythology? Let us know in the comments!

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
Quatr.us home

By |2018-05-25T17:58:44+00:00July 14th, 2017|Greeks, Literature|7 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Arachne and Athena – the Arachne story in Greek mythology. Quatr.us Study Guides, July 14, 2017. Web. July 18, 2018.

About the Author:

Dr. 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 Facebook, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

7 Comments

  1. nazmeen Qureshi June 1, 2018 at 9:40 am - Reply

    Nice👌👌👌👌

    • Karen Carr June 1, 2018 at 10:10 am

      Thanks, Nazmeen!

  2. iorfiojbiwrj May 29, 2018 at 10:00 am - Reply

    whatta legend

  3. dave May 24, 2018 at 11:26 am - Reply

    she got roasted

    • k May 29, 2018 at 9:59 am

      true

  4. Clara April 9, 2018 at 11:42 am - Reply

    What is the science behind this myth?

    • Karen Carr April 9, 2018 at 11:50 am

      This is a story, not based on any sort of factual historical event. The only historical truth in it is that Athenian women did spend a lot of time weaving. You can see more about that here: https://quatr.us/greeks/women-ancient-greece.htm

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