Arachnids in Literature

The Silkworm and Spider (550 BC) -
"True art is thoughtful, delights and endures."

A Greek writer and/or collector of fables about whose life little is known. He is said to have been born a slave and later released, but many believe he is a legendary figure. Aesop's Fables are animal stories with moral lessons, many of which are from Oriental and ancient sources dated hundreds of years before his time.

SILKWORM AND SPIDER received an order for twenty yards of silk from Princess Lioness, the Silkworm sat down at her loom and worked away with zeal. A Spider soon came around and asked to hire a web-room near by. The Silkworm acceded, and the Spider commenced her task and worked so rapidly that in a short time the web was finished. "Just look at it," she said, "and see how grand and delicate it is. You cannot but acknowledge that I'm a much better worker than you. See how quickly I perform my labors." "Yes," answered the Silkworm, "but hush up, for you bother me. Your labors are designed only as base traps, and are destroyed whenever they are seen, and brushed away as useless dirt; while mine are stored away, as ornaments of Royalty." True art is thoughtful, delights and endures.

Spider and the Flea (1812)
Jacob Ludwig Grimm and Wilhelm Carl Grimm

Jacob (1785-1863) and Wilhelm (1786-1859) - German philologists whose collection "Kinder- und Hausmarchen," known in English as "Grimm's Fairy Tales," is a timeless literary masterpiece. The brothers transcribed these tales directly from folk and fairy stories told to them by common villagers.

One day the Spider who lives with the Flea scalds herself. The Flea screams and the Door, the Broom, the Cart, the Ashes, the Tree, the little Girl, and the Stream react in turn.AND FLEA SPIDER and a Flea dwelt together in one house, and brewed their beer in an egg-shell. One day, when the Spider was stirring it up, she fell in and scalded herself. Thereupon the Flea began to scream. And then the Door asked, "Why are you screaming, Flea?" "Because little Spider has scalded herself in the beer-tub," replied she.the Door began to creak as if it were in pain; and a Broom, which stood in the corner, asked, "What are you creaking for, Door?" "May I not creak?" it replied, "The little Spider's scalded herself, And the Flea weeps." So the Broom began to sweep industriously, and presently a little Cart came by, and asked the reason. "May I not sweep?" replied the Broom, "The little Spider's scalded herself, And the Flea weeps; The little Door creaks with the pain." Thereupon the little Cart said, "So will I run," and began to run very fast past a heap of Ashes, which cried out, "Why do you run, little Cart?" "Because," replied the Cart, "The little Spider's scalded herself, And the Flea weeps;little Door creaks with the pain, And the Broom sweeps." "Then," said the Ashes, "I will burn furiously." Now, next the Ashes there grew a Tree, which asked, "Little heap, why do you burn?" "Because," was the reply, "The little Spider's scalded herself, And the Flea weeps; The little Door creaks with the pain, And the Broom sweeps; The little Cart runs on so fast." Thereupon the Tree cried, "I will shake myself!" and went on shaking till all its leaves fell off.little girl passing by with a water-pitcher saw it shaking, and asked, "Why do you shake yourself, little Tree?" "Why may I not?" said the Tree, "The little Spider's scalded herself, And the Flea weeps; The little Door creaks with the pain, And the Broom sweeps; The little Cart runs on so fast, And the Ashes burn." Then the Maiden said, "If so, I will break my pitcher"; and she threw it down and broke it.this the Streamlet, from which she drew the water, asked, "Why do you break your pitcher, my little Girl?" "Why may I not?" she replied; for "The little Spider's scalded herself, And the Flea weeps; The little Door creaks with the pain, And the Broom sweeps; The little Cart runs on so fast, And the Ashes burn; The little Tree shakes down its leavesNow it is my turn!" "Ah, then," said the Streamlet," now must I begin to flow." And it flowed and flowed along, in a great stream, which kept getting bigger and bigger, until at last it swallowed up the little Girl, the little Tree, the Ashes, the Cart, the Broom, the Door, the Flea and, last of all, the Spider, all together.

Thus Spake Zarathrustra

Tarantulas, THIS is the tarantula's den! Would'st thou see the tarantula itself? Here hangeth its web: touch this, so that it may tremble.cometh the tarantula willingly: Welcome, tarantula! Black on thy back is thy triangle and symbol; and I know also what is in thy in thy soul: wherever thou bitest, there ariseth black scab; with revenge, thy poison maketh the soul giddy!do I speak unto you in parable, ye who make the soul giddy, ye preachers of equality! Tarantulas are ye unto me, and secretly revengeful ones!I will soon bring your hiding-places to the light: therefore do I laugh in your face my laughter of the I tear at your web, that your rage may lure you out of your den of lies, and that your revenge may leap forth from behind your word "justice." Because, for man to be redeemed from revenge- that is for me the bridge to the highest hope, and a rainbow after long storms., however, would the tarantulas have it. "Let it be very justice for the world to become full of the storms of our vengeance"- thus do they talk to one another."Vengeance will we use, and insult, against all who are not like us"- thus do the tarantula-hearts pledge themselves."And 'Will to Equality'- that itself shall henceforth be the name of virtue; and against all that hath power will we raise an outcry!" Ye preachers of equality, the tyrant-frenzy of impotence crieth thus in you for "equality": your most secret tyrant-longings disguise themselves thus in virtuewords!conceit and suppressed envy- perhaps your fathers' conceit and envy:you break they forth as flame and frenzy of vengeance.the father hath hid cometh out in the son; and oft have I found in the son the father's revealed secret.ones they resemble: but it is not the heart that inspireth them- but vengeance. And when they become subtle and cold, it is not spirit, but envy, that maketh them so.jealousy leadeth them also into thinkers' paths; and this is the sign of their jealousy- they always go too far: so that their fatigue hath at last to go to sleep on the snow.all their lamentations soundeth vengeance, in all their eulogies is maleficence; and being judge seemeth to them bliss.thus do I counsel you, my friends: distrust all in whom the impulse to punish is powerful!are people of bad race and lineage; out of their countenances peer the hangman and the sleuth-hound.all those who talk much of their justice! Verily, in their souls not only honey is lacking.when they call themselves "the good and just," forget not, that for them to be Pharisees, nothing is lacking but- power!friends, I will not be mixed up and confounded with others.are those who preach my doctrine of life, and are at the same time preachers of equality, and tarantulas.they speak in favour of life, though they sit in their den, these poison-spiders, and withdrawn from life- is because they would thereby do injury.those would they thereby do injury who have power at present: for with those the preaching of death is still most at otherwise, then would the tarantulas teach otherwise: and they themselves were formerly the best world-maligners and heretic-burners.these preachers of equality will I not be mixed up and confounded. For thus speaketh justice unto me: "Men are not equal." And neither shall they become so! What would be my love to the Superman, if I spake otherwise?a thousand bridges and piers shall they throng to the future, and always shall there be more war and inequality among them: thus doth my great love make me speak!of figures and phantoms shall they be in their hostilities; and with those figures and phantoms shall they yet fight with each other the supreme fight!and evil, and rich and poor, and high and low, and all names of values:shall they be, and sounding signs, that life must again and again surpass itself!will it build itself with columns and stairs- life itself into remote distances would it gaze, and out towards blissful beauties- therefore doth it require elevation!because it requireth elevation, therefore doth it require steps, and variance of steps and climbers! To rise striveth life, and in rising to surpass itself.just behold, my friends! Here where the tarantula's den is, riseth aloft an ancient temple's ruins- just behold it with enlightened eyes!, he who here towered aloft his thoughts in stone, knew as well as the wisest ones about the secret of life!there is struggle and inequality even in beauty, and war for power and supremacy: that doth he here teach us in the plainest parable.divinely do vault and arch here contrast in the struggle: how with light and shade they strive against each other, the divinely striving ones.-, steadfast and beautiful, let us also be enemies, my friends! Divinely will we strive against one another!Alas! There hath the tarantula bit me myself, mine old enemy! Divinely steadfast and beautiful, it hath bit me on the finger!"Punishment must there be, and justice"- so thinketh it: "not gratuitously shall he here sing songs in honour of enmity!" Yea, it hath revenged itself! And alas! now will it make my soul also dizzy with revenge!I may not turn dizzy, however, bind me fast, my friends, to this pillar! Rather will I be a pillar-saint than a whirl of vengeance!, no cyclone or whirlwind is Zarathustra: and if he be a dancer, he is not at all a tarantula-dancer!Thus spake Zarathustra.

Alighieri Dante


O fond Arachne! thee I also saw, Half spider now, in anguish, crawling up The unfinish’d web thou weaved’st to thy bane.

Alighieri Dante


Nor spread Arachne o’er her curious loom.
As ofttimes a light skiff, moor’d to the shore, Stands part in water, part upon the land; Or, as where dwells the greedy German boor, The beaver settles, watching for his prey; So on the rim, that fenced the sand with rock, Sat perch’d the fiend of evil. In the void Glancing, his tail upturn’d its venomous fork, With sting like scorpion’s arm’d. Then thus my guide, “Now need our way must turn few steps apart, Far as to that ill beast, who couches there."

Edmund Spenser

And over them Arachne did lifte Her cunning web, and spred her subtile nett, Enwrapped in fowle smoke and clouds more black than Jett.

Mark Twain

Pretty soon a spider went crawling up my shoulder, and I flipped it off and it lit in the candle; and before I could budge it was all shriveled up. I didn’t need anybody to tell me that was an awful bad sign and would fetch me some bad luck, so I was scared and most shook the clothes off of me. I got up and turned around in my tracks three times and crossed my breast every time; and then I tied up a little lock of my hair with a thread to keep witches away. But I hadn’t no confidence.

Robert Louis Stevenson


WHEN at home alone I sit And am very tired of it, I have just to shut my eyes To go sailing through the skiesTo go sailing far away To the pleasant Land of Play; To the fairy land afar Where the Little People are; Where the clover-tops are trees, And the rain-pools are the seas, And the leaves like little ships Sail about on tiny trips;
And above the daisy tree Through the grasses High o’erhead the Bumble Bee Hums and passes.
In that forest to and fro I can wander, I can go; See the spider and the fly, And the ants go marching by Carrying parcels with their feet Down the green and grassy street.
I can in the sorrel sit Where the ladybird alit.
I can climb the jointed grass; And on high See the greater swallows pass In the sky, And the round sun rolling by Heeding no such things as I.
Through that forest I can pass Till, as in a looking-glass,
Humming fly and daisy tree And my tiny self I see, Painted very clear and neat On the rain-pool at my feet.
Should a leaflet come to land Drifting near to where I stand, Straight I’ll board that tiny boat Round the rain-pool sea to float.
Little thoughtful creatures sit On the grassy coasts of it; Little things with lovely eyes See me sailing with surprise.
Some are clad in armor green(These have sure to battle been!)Some are pied with every hue, Black and crimson, gold and blue; Some have wings and swift are gone;But they all look kindly on.
When my eyes I once again Open, and see all things plain:
High bare walls, great bare floor; Great big knobs on drawer and door; Great big people perched on chairs, Stitching tucks and mending tears, Each a hill that I could climb, And talking nonsense all the timeO dear me, That I could be A sailor on the rain-pool sea, A climber in the clover tree, And just come back, a sleepy-head, Late at night to go to bed.

Edgar Allan Poe

Tied to the hornets shardy wings; Tossed on the pricks of nettles stings; Or seven long ages doomed to dwell With the lazy worm in the walnut shell; Or every night to writhe and bleed Beneath the tread of the centipede, Or bound in a cobweb dungeon dim His jailer a spider huge and grim, Amid the carrion bodies to lie Of the worm and the bug and the murdered fly.

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Last Updated: February 18, 2007