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Useful weblinks: Arachne

Pictures

  • Study Velasquez’ painting Las Hilanderas (The Spinners). There are some thought-provoking questions about this painting on the teacher’s activities section for this story.
  • Here’s a Comic strip with the Fates telling the story of the contest. Students could try drawing their own comic strip of the tale!

Athene

  • Information on her life and role as a goddess can be found at this Ancient Greece website and at theoi.com.
  • Athena appears as a character in the Disney film ‘Hercules’. Looking dignified, as her role as goddess of wisdom demands, and accompanied by her bird the owl.
  • Notice the helmet Athene wears in this statue in the Louvre.
  • On another statue, the Athena Giustiniani, she wears not only a helmet but also holds a spear and is accompanied by a snake. Observe closely her chest, with the face of a gorgon depicted on the cloth – this is meant to portray the Aegis, a magical item worn alternatively by both Zeus and Athene and sometimes shown as a cloth, at other times as a shield.

Arachne

  • Invite students to take a look at Gustave Dore’s illustration of Arachne in Dante’s Purgatorio of the divine comedy series. It clearly shows that the spider used to be woman and it is both fascinating and unpleasant to look at. Do you like this representation? Why, or why not?
  • Arachne welcomes Athene as an old woman into her house and adheres to the rules of xenia, unlike the villagers in the Baucis and Philemon tale, but she is confrontational when the goddess reveals herself. Ask students 'Do you think this is because Athene questions her skill or more generally because Athene is a goddess?' It is interesting to note that in Ovid’s version of the tale, Arachne’s tapestry depicts the gods raping mortals (and Athene’s represents the gods punishing mortals).

Weaving

  • Weaving was often seen as being very similar to writing poetry/singing songs. See, for instance, Catullus poem 64. This is a very long poem, and the relevant passage (the Fates spinning and singing a song of Achilles’ doom) is quoted here:

Her left hand held a distaff wrapped in soft wool, and then her right hand, lightly brining down the threads, would shape a mantle as her fingers faced upward; then, with her thumb facing the ground, she would turn her spindle, which is weighted with a round weight. Then her tooth would always even up the thread as she nibbled; to her dry lips there would cling woolly morsels, which had earlier been strands standing out from smooth thread. Also, before her feet, small wicker baskets contained the soft fleece of white wool. Then the Fates, beating the fleece with a clear sounding voice, uttered the following prophecies by divine incantation, a song which no age of treachery will thereafter prove wrong…

  • Indeed, the Latin word carmen means both ‘a song’ and ‘a tool for carding wool’ (the verb carminare means ‘to card wool’).
  • What is a good tapestry? Pliny, in his Natural History, suggests that it is one that deceives the eye into believing that it is real.

    [35.56.65-6] Zeuxis and Parrhasius competed to see who was the greater artist. Zeuxis unveiled his painting of grapes, so luscious and inviting that birds flew down to peck at them. Zeuxis then asked Parrhasius to pull aside the curtain from his painting, only for Parrhasius to reveal that the curtain was itself painted. Zeuxis conceded defeat: “I have deceived the birds, but Parrhasius has deceived Zeuxis.”

    Take a look at this engraving of the contest!

Rumour

  • Rumour is mentioned in the retelling. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses the personification passage of Rumour actually appears when news of the Greek ships preparing for war reaches Troy. The whole passage is quoted from Ovid below: [Met. Book XII: 39-61]

    orbe locus medio est inter terrasque fretumque | caelestesque plagas, triplicis confinia mundi; | unde quod est usquam, quamvis regionibus absit, | inspicitur, penetratque cavas vox omnis ad aures. | Fama tenet summaque domum sibi legit in arce, | innumerosque aditus ac mille foramina tectis | addidit et nullis inclusit limina portis; | nocte dieque pater. tota est ex aere sonanti, | tota fremit vocesque refert iteratque quod audit. | nulla quies intus nullaque silentia parte, | nec tamen est clamor, sed parvae murmura vocis, | qualia de pelagi, si quis procul audiat, undis | esse solent, qualemque sonum, cum Iuppiter atras | increpuit nubes, extrema tonitura reddunt. | atria turba tenet; veniunt, leve vulgus, euntque | mixtaque cum veris passim commenta vagantur | milia rumorum confusaque verba volutant. | e quibus hi vacuas implent sermonibus aures, | hi narrate ferunt alio, mensuraque ficti | crescit, et auditis aliquid novus adicit auctor. | illic Credulitas, illic temerarious Error | vanaque Laetitia est consternatique Timores | Seditioque repens dubioque auctore Susurri.

    At the world’s centre lies a place between the lands and seas and regions of the sky, the limits of the threefold universe, whence all things everywhere, however far, are scanned and watched, and every voice and word reaches its listening ears. Here Rumour dwells, her chosen home set on the highest peak, constructed with a thousand apertures and countless entrances and never a door. It’s open night and day and built throughout of echoing bronze; it all reverberates, repeating voices, doubling what it hears. Inside, no peace, no silence anywhere, and yet no noise, but muted murmurings like waves one hears of some far-distant sea, or like a last late rumbling of thunder-roll, when Jupiter has made the rain-clouds crash. Crowds throng its halls, a lightweight populace that comes and goes, and rumours everywhere, thousands, false mixed with true, roam to and fro, and words flit by and phrases all confused. Some pour their tattle into idle ears, some pass on what they’ve gathered, and as each gossip adds something new the story grows. Here is Credulity, here reckless Error, Groundless Delight, Whispers of unknown source, Sudden sedition, overwhelming Fears. [Translation by A.D. Melville]
  • Think of the game ‘Chinese whispers’ and how a simple word or phrase can get so twisted by people mishearing it or adding their own interpretations!
  • During World War II, Rumour was taken very seriously as a destructive force! Here are a couple of anti-rumour propaganda posters: 12 and 3. Do your students think they were being paranoid or were these fears justified?
  • Ask students to consider this cartoon - Is there a difference between rumour and gossip? Does it make a difference if what you say is the truth or not?
Popular Culture

  • Arachne makes an appearance in the musical SPIDER-MAN: Turn off the Dark. Here is a clip of one of the songs in which she makes an appearance, hovering above the stage.
  • This animation is by Nick Kozis. It is close to the original story in Ovid’s Metamorphoses as Arachne becomes very sad and regretful after Athene hits her and she tries to hang herself. It is then that Athene takes pity on the mortal and turns her into a spider with the words ‘Live – but hang!’ ‘vive quidem, pende tamen’.

See also: an audio and visual storyboard retelling of the myth.