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While the Greek gods are an entertaining bunch, there are some dark characters that you’ll find embedded throughout the fascinating stories in Greek mythology, which is likely much of the appeal.

As you probably know Athena was the goddess of war and wisdom, patron goddess of Athens and how the city got its name. Athena was worshipped for her beauty, intellect, and her craft in the art of warfare. But like all the Greek gods, she was fiercely headstrong and anybody who dared cross her wasn’t able to walk away unscathed. Which brings us to the story of Athena and Arachne.

Who Was Arachne

The story of Arachne and Athena begins in the region of Lydia (now modern day Turkey). This ancient region was once home to a beautiful maiden named Arachne. Being the daughter of a craftsman, she came from humble beginnings and learning from her father she developed an incredible talent for weaving.

She created beautiful tapestries and if you were to watch her at work it was as though the thread came from the very tips of her fingers. People would come from far and wide to watch Arachne at work. It was mesmerising. Arachne, however, was not so humble herself, and this was a trait that eventually led to her demise.

The bigger her audiences became the more she would boast. In ancient times it was assumed, especially of a gift as incredible as Arachne’s, that these were passed down by the gods. So, the fact that she denied the origin of her talent was an astonishing betrayal. It wasn’t long before the rumours of Arachne reached the goddess Athena, a fine weaver herself.

Athena And Arachne

The more you read about Greek mythology the more you’ll see the crafty nature of the Gods. The goddesses, in particular, had a love of disguising themselves as harmless old women. Being disguised as an elderly and unassuming old lady was one of the easiest ways to take advantage of mortals. This is exactly what happened to Arachne.

Upon hearing Arachne’s claims, Athena, in the body of an old woman approached her. Thinking she was merely talking to someone insignificant, Arachne boasted once again of her ability and said she would easily challenge the goddess herself if she could. Sick of Arachne’s insults the goddess revealed herself to the young maiden. The women who had been watching on dropped to their knees with fear and awe in the presence of Athena, but not Arachne. She remained determined, ready to stand by her promise of a challenge.

Athena-and-arachne-women
© Wikimedia Commons

The Challenge

The story of Arachne and Athena ends with a weaving contest, each desperately trying to better the other. Athena created a tapestry of all the Greek gods on Mount Olympus, woven from the very fabric of the earth as only a goddess could. Threads of clouds and blades of grass made for the most stunning of pieces of work. It represented the gods in all their spectacular power and glory.

Arachne’s depiction, however, was much different. While still intricate and breathtakingly beautiful she depicted the gods at their worst, drunk and disorderly and abusing their power as some of the worst Greek gods often did. You can only imagine the reaction from Athena.

Athena-and-arachne
© Public Domain

Retribution

Athena was horrified by this blatant mockery of the Olympian gods, and if she was being perfectly honest also a little taken aback by the perfect beauty of Arachne’s work. Other than the blasphemous depictions, she could find not a single fault. This extraordinary yet offensive work of art was all too much for Athena to handle, and she exploded into a violent rage.

Turning to Arachne she inflicted her punishment. The colour drained from Arachne’s face as she felt the beginnings of the Greek goddess’s spiteful curse. She began to sprout legs, one after the other. She grew more eyes until she had eight and eventually Arachne was no longer a beautiful maiden. Athena had turned her into the very first spider. To this day Arachne continues to weave delicate and intricate works of art of a different kind. The story of Arachne and Athena is, of course, where the word arachnid comes from.

Arachne-spider-greek-mythology
© Wikimedia Commons
  • Have you heard of Arachne and Athena before? Can you think of a worse punishment than being turned into a spider!!

Marcia

Kia Ora. My name is Marcia Welch and I am a traveller from New Zealand. I have always dreamed of visiting and exploring Europe and have finally begun my overseas experience, or OE as we call it. I have always been drawn to the vibrancy and beauty that embodies Greece and I am excited to document and share my experiences. I am currently in Athens.

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