Josephine Preston Peabody
Old Greek Folk Stories
There was a certain maiden of Lydia,
by name, renowned throughout the country for
her skill as a weaver. She was as nimble with her
fingers as Calypso, that Nymph who kept Odysseus
for seven years in her enchanted island. She
was as untiring as Penelope, the hero's wife, who
wove day after day while she watched for his
return. Day in and day out, Arachne wove too.
The very Nymphs would gather about her loom,
Naiads from the water and Dryads from the trees.
"Maiden," they would say, shaking the leaves
or the foam from their hair, in wonder, "Pallas
Athena must have taught you!"
But this did not please Arachne. She would not
acknowledge herself a debtor, even to that goddess
who protected all household arts, and by
whose grace alone one had any skill in them.
"I learned not of Athena," said she. "If
can weave better, let her come and try."
The Nymphs shivered at this, and an aged
woman, who was looking on, turned to Arachne.
"Be more heedful of your words, my daughter,"
said she. "The goddess may pardon you if you
ask forgiveness, but do not strive for honors with
Arachne broke her thread, and the shuttle
"Keep your counsel," she said. "I
Athena - no, nor any one else."
As she frowned at the old woman, she
was amazed to see her change suddenly into one tall,
majestic, beautiful, a maiden of gray eyes and
golden hair, crowned with a golden helmet. It
was Athena herself.
The bystanders shrank in fear and reverence -
only Arachne was unawed and held to her foolish
In silence the two began to weave,
and the Nymphs stole nearer, coaxed by the sound of the
shuttles, that seemed to be humming with delight
over the two webs, back and forth like bees.
They gazed upon the loom where the goddess
stood plying her task, and they saw shapes and
images come to bloom out of the wondrous colors,
as sunset clouds grow to be living creatures when
we watch them. And they saw that the goddess,
still merciful, was spinning - as a warning for
Arachne, the pictures of her own triumph over
reckless gods and mortals.
In one corner of the web she made a
story of her conquest over the sea-god Poseidon. For the
first king of Athens had promised to dedicate
the city to that god who should bestow upon it the
most useful gift. Poseidon gave the horse. But
Athena gave the olive, means of livelihood,
symbol of peace and prosperity, and the city was
called after her name. Again she pictured a vain
woman of Troy, who had been turned into a
crane for disputing the palm of beauty with a
goddess. Other corners of the web held similar
images, and the whole shone like a rainbow.
Meanwhile Arachne, whose head was quite
turned with vanity, embroidered her web with
stories against the gods, making light of Zeus
himself and of Apollo, and portraying them as
birds and beasts. But she wove with marvelous
skill - the creatures seemed to breathe and speak,
yet it was all as fine as the gossamer that you find
on the grass before rain.
Athena herself was amazed. Not even her
wrath at the girl's insolence could wholly overcome
her wonder. For an instant she stood entranced -
then she tore the web across, and three
times she touched Arachne's forehead with her
"Live on, Arachne," she said. "And since
your glory to weave, you and yours must weave
forever." So saying, she sprinkled upon the
maiden a certain magical potion.
Away went Arachne's beauty - then her very
human form shrank to that of a spider, and so
remained. As a spider she spent all her days
weaving and weaving - and you may see something
like her handiwork any day among the rafters.