BY JOSEPHINE PRESTON PEABODY
THERE was a certain maiden of Lydia, Arachne 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
"Maiden," they would say, shaking the leaves or the foam
from their hair, in wonder, "Pallas Athena must have taught
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
"I learned not of Athena," said she. "If she 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 the immortals."
Arachne broke her thread, and the shuttle stopped humming.
"Keep your counsel," she said. "I fear not 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 boast.
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
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 spindle.
"Live on, Arachne," she said. "And since it is 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.
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