In part 1 of “Weaving Fate”, I looked at some of the different myths associated with weaving, the fates, and life and death. In this part I will look at the myth of Athena and Arachne.
Athena and Arachne
“Like her half-brothers Hermes and Apollo, Athena… is a complex deity whose many attributes and functions encompass contradictory elements. Although born without a mother, she takes a keen interest in women’s activities, particularly the domestic arts of spinning and weaving.” (Harris and Platzner, 2001:190) The Penguin Dictionary of Classic Mythology (Grimal, 1991:66) gives a wonderful summary of Athena’s many activities and also notes that “Athena… presided over the arts and literature, though she was more closely linked with philosophy than with poetry and music …. She was the patroness of spinning, weaving, embroidery and similar household activities practised by women…”
Harris and Platzner (2001:193-194) goes on to state that Athena is “implacable toward those who offend her, [and] cruelly punishes Arachne, a young woman who foolishly challenges her to a contest of weaving skills, changing the impertinent mortal into a spider.”
“When someone was good at weaving, people said their gift came from Athena. But Arachne, a mortal girl and a fine weaver, insisted that her gift was her own.” (Wilkinson, 2009:37) Athena then challenges Arachne to a weaving contest. In her work, Athena showed the gods triumphant over the mortals, while that of Arachne “depicted the various infidelities of her father, Zeus” (Wilkinson, 2009:37) and Athena tore up Arachne’s work in a fit of rage. “A humiliated Arachne resolved to hang herself. But Athena decided that this was too harsh a punishment and transformed Arachne into a spider instead, so that she could continue weaving” (Wilkinson, 2009:37) (See also Grimal, 1991:51).
Grimal, P. (1991). The Penguin Dictionary of Classical Mythology. London, Penguin Books.
Harris, S.L. & G. Platzner. (2001). Classical Mythology: Images & Insights. Fourth Edition. New York, McGraw-Hill.
Wilkinson, P. (2009). Myths & Legends: An Illustrated Guide to Their Origins and Meanings. London, DK Publishing.