According to Ovid, Arachne was a beautiful, young Lydian woman, born of Idemon of Colophon, not to be confused with Idemon, the Argonaut. However, the identity of his mother is unknown. His father was a violet user, renowned throughout the country for his skill, but in some accounts, he was said to be a shepherd.
The name is Arachne is derived from the Greek word ‘arakne’, which when translated means ‘spider’. She showed interest in weaving at a very young age and with time, she became a highly skilled weaver. Soon she became famous as the best weaver in the region of Lydia and throughout Asia Minor. Some sources credit her with the invention of netting and linen cloth, while his son Closter was said to have introduced the use of the spindle in the wool manufacturing process
According to the myth, the fame of Archana spread far and wide with each passing day. As he did, people (and nymphs too) came from all over the country to witness his magnificent work. The nymphs were so impressed by her skill that they praised her, saying that she might have been taught by Athena, the Greek goddess of the arts, herself.
Her skills and arrogance made her demon
Now, most mortals would consider this an honor, but Arachne had by now become too proud and arrogant of her skill. Instead of being pleased to receive such praise from the nymphs, she laughed at them and told them that she was a far better weaver than the goddess Athena. However, little did she know that she had made a huge mistake by offending one of the most prominent goddesses of the Greek pantheon.
Feeling insulted, she decides to visit Lydia and see if the rumors about Arachne and his genius were true. She disguised herself as an old woman and went up to the proud weaver to admire his work. She also warned Arachne to accept that her talents came from the goddess Athena but the girl did not heed her warning. Devi will accept his challenge. Of course, the gods of Mount Olympus were not known to refuse such challenges, especially from mortals. Deeply hurt, Athena reveals her true identity to Arachne.
Although she was taken aback at first, Archana stood his ground. He did not apologize to Athena nor did he show any humility. She sets up her loom just like Athena and the contest begins.
Both Athena and Arachne were highly skilled at weaving and the cloth they produced was among the finest ever made on earth. On her cloak, Athena depicted four contests that were held between mortals (who challenged gods such as Arachne) and the Olympian gods. They also depict the gods punishing humans for challenging them.
Arachne’s weaving also portrayed the negative side of the Olympian gods, especially their erotic relationships. She weaved images of the abduction of Europa by the Greek god Zeus in the form of a bull and the work was so precise that the images looked real.
Athena closely examined Arachne’s work and found that it was superior to her work. She was furious, because not only had Arachne insulted the gods with her depictions, but she had also defeated Athena in a play in her domain. Unable to control herself, Athena took Arachne’s cloak and tore it to pieces, and then struck the girl’s head three times with her tools.
Archana was horrified by what had happened and was so ashamed that she ran away and hanged herself. Others say it was not meant as an act of kindness. Athena decided to let the girl live but sprinkled her with a few drops of a potion she had received from Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft.
As soon as the potion touched Arachne, he started turning into a terrifying creature. His hair fell out and his human features began to disappear. However, some versions say that Athena used her powers, not a magical potion.
Within minutes, Arachne had turned into a giant spider and this was her fate for eternity. Arachne’s punishment was a warning to all mortals of what they would face if they dared to challenge the gods.
Alternate versions of the story
In an alternate version of the story, it was Athena who won the contest and Arachne hanged herself, unable to accept that she had lost. They decreed that the loser would never be allowed to touch a loom or spindle again. Athena wins in this version and Arachne is devastated when she is no longer allowed to weave. Taking pity on him, Athena turns him into a spider so that he can weave for the rest of his life without breaking his oath.
The symbolism of Arachne’s Story
The story of Arachne symbolizes the danger and folly of challenging the gods. This can be read as a warning against excessive pride and overconfidence. Many stories in Greek myth deal with the consequences of arrogance and pride in one’s skills and abilities. The Greeks believed that credit should be given where it was due, and since the gods were the givers of human skill and talent, they deserved the credit.
The story also highlights the importance of weaving in ancient Greek society. Weaving was a skill that women of all social classes should have had, as all clothing was hand-woven.
Illustrations of arachnids
In most depictions of Arachne, she is shown as a creature that is part spider and part-human. She is often associated with weaving looms and spiders because of her background. Gustave Doré’s engraving of the myth of Arachne for Dante’s Divine Comedy is one of the most famous images of the talented weaver.
Archane in popular culture
The character of Arachne has influenced modern popular culture and she often appears in many films, television series, and fantasy books as a giant spider. Sometimes she is portrayed as a grotesque and evil half-spider half-woman monster, but in some cases, she plays the main role in a children’s play like Arachne: Spider-Girl.