NOT among mortals alone were there contests of skill, nor
yet among the gods, like Pan and Apollo. Many sorrows befell
men because they grew arrogant in their own devices and
coveted divine honors. There was once a great hunter,
Orion, who outvied the gods themselves, till they took him
away from his hunting-grounds and set him in the heavens,
with his sword and belt, and his hound at his heels. But at
length jealousy invaded even the peaceful arts, and disaster
came of spinning!
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 in them.
"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
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 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
 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 marvellous 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.