Key words£ºArachne, Minerva,  spin,  spider 
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Genre£ºMyth Topic£ºArachne Words: 900
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ESL,  English,  Story,  Tale,  Legend, Folktale, Myth, Fable, Learning, Teaching

Arachne, never having seen the goddess,
thought she owed everything to herself alone,
and began to boast of her skill.

How Arachne became the spider


Author£ºUnknown Source£º  
Nation£ºRoman Date£º2008-9-22


(Arachne was transformed into a spider by Minerva )

Arachne lived in a small village on the shores of the Mediterranean. Her parents were very poor. While her mother was busy cooking the simple meals for the family, or working in the fields, Arachne used to spin all day long. Her wheel made a steady whirring like the buzzing of some insect. She grew so skillful from constant practice, that the threads she drew out were almost as fine as the mists that rose from the sea near by.  

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 color. He thought the color of the little shellfish so pretty that he tried the experiment of dyeing Arachne¡¯s wools with them. The result was the most vivid color that had ever been seen in any kind of woven fabric. After this, Arachne¡¯s tapestries always showed some touch of the new color. They now found a ready sale, and, in fact, soon became famous.

Arachne¡¯s family moved to 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 heard admiring words on every side, and her head was a little turned by them. When, as often happened, people praised the beautiful color that had been produced by the shell-fish, she did not tell how her father had helped her, taking 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 someone say that even the great goddess, Minerva, the patron goddess of spinning, could not weave more beautiful tapestries than this 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 that 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 as the goddess, Minerva, if not better. 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 leaned 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 skillful 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 often cover the grass on a morning when the day is to be fine.


(Head of Minerva by Elihu Vedder, 1896)


*Minerva: The Roman goddess of wisdom and the arts, identified with the Greek Athena.


1. Why did Arachne¡¯s tapestries always show some touch of the new color?

2. Who was the old woman in a rusty gray cloak? 

3. Why did Minerva weave into her tapestry pictures of boastful mortals?

4. Why did Minerva transform Arachne into a spider?


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