views updated May 21 2018






Alternate Names


Appears In

Ovid's Metamorphoses


Daughter of Idmon

Character Overview

In Greek mythology , Arachne (pronounced uh-RAK-nee) was a peasant girl who became an expert spinner and weaver of cloth. No human could spin or weave as well as Arachne, or produce finer cloth. She became famous throughout Greece for her singular talent.

Arachne grew arrogant about her skill, boasting that she was better than Athena (pronounced uh-THEE-nuh), the goddess of wisdom, who invented spinning and weaving. At first, Athena laughed off Arachne's claims. Then many people began to believe them and stayed away from Athena's temples and from festivals held in her honor. Athena decided she had to teach the boastful girl a lesson.

Disguised as an old woman, the goddess came to earth and challenged Arachne to a weaving contest. Athena wove scenes portraying the power of the gods and the fate of humans who dared to challenge them into her cloth. Arachne's tapestry contained scenes of the romantic misadventures of the gods, a subject which Athena felt made the gods look foolish. Arachne's work was equal to Athena's, and the goddess was impressed by its quality. However, Arachne could not resist boasting that her weaving surpassed that of Athena.

At that moment, the goddess revealed her true identity. She tore apart Arachne's weaving and beat the girl with the shuttle from her weaving loom. In despair, Arachne took a rope and hung herself. Out of pity, Athena changed the rope into a web and turned Arachne into a spider, an animal known for its spinning and weaving skills. Today the class of animals to which spiders belong is called Arachnida (pronounced uh-RAK-nid-uh), after the girl who could weave so well.

Arachne in Context

In ancient Greece, all fabrics were created through handspinning and weaving. Almost every woman, regardless of social class, was expected to know how to spin and weave. For many women, weaving was as much a part of daily life as cooking or cleaning. Greek fabrics were often woven from wool that had been sheared from sheep, cleaned, and spun into yarn.

Key Themes and Symbols

Arachne is often associated with spiders and weaving looms because of her background. Like many Greek myths, Arachne's story can be seen as a warning against hubris, or overconfidence and arrogance about one's abilities. Although the goddess Athena was willing to admit that Arachne's work was as good as her own, Arachne insisted that her own work was better, which led to her downfall.

Arachne in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

Arachne is often depicted as part-human and part-spider. One of the most famous images of Arachne is Gustave Doré's engraved illustration for Dante's Divine Comedy. In the Divine Comedy, Arachne is mentioned as one of the residents of Purgatory as penance for her sin of pride.

More recently, the name Arachne has been used to represent a superheroine, formerly known as Spider-Woman, in several Marvel Comics series. “Arachne” is also the name given to an Internet web browser, as well as an archeological database.

Read, Write, Think, Discuss

Arachne was turned into a spider, a creature that shared her astounding skill at weaving. Think about your own skills and interests. Based on those, what creature do you think you most resemble? Why?

SEE ALSO Athena; Greek Mythology


views updated May 18 2018

Arachne a woman of Colophon in Lydia, a skilful weaver who challenged Athene to a contest. Athene destroyed Arachne's work and Arachne tried to hang herself, but Athene changed her into a spider. The name comes from Greek arakhnē ‘spider’.