THE TRANSFORMATION OF ARACHNE
INTO A SPIDER
Low was her birth, and
small her native town, She from her art alone
Idmon, her father, made it his employ, To give the spungy
fleece a purple dye:
Of vulgar strain her mother, lately dead, With her own
rank had been content to wed; Yet she their daughter,
tho her time was spent In a small hamlet, and of
Thro the great towns of Lydia gaind a name,
And filld the neighbring countries with her
Oft, to admire the niceness of her skill, The Nymphs
would quit their fountain, shade, or hill:
Thither, from green Tymolus, they repair, And leave the
vineyards, their peculiar care; Thither, from famd
Pactolus golden stream, Drawn by her art, the
curious Naiads came.
Nor would the work, when finishd, please so much,
As, while she wrought, to view each graceful touch;
Whether the shapeless wool in balls she wound, Or with
quick motion turnd the spindle round, Or with her
pencil drew the neat design, Pallas her mistress shone in
This the proud maid with scornful air denies, And
evn the Goddess at her work defies; Disowns her
heavnly mistress evry hour, Nor asks her aid,
nor deprecates her powr.
Let us, she cries, but to a tryal come, And, if she
conquers, let her fix my doom.
The Goddess then a beldames form put on,
With silver hairs her hoary temples shone; Propd by
a staff, she hobbles in her walk, And tottring thus
begins her old wives talk.
Young maid attend, nor stubbornly despise The admonitions
of the old, and wise; For age, tho scornd, a
ripe experience bears, That golden fruit, unknown to
Still may remotest fame your labours crown, And mortals
your superior genius own; But to the Goddess yield, and
humbly meek A pardon for your bold presumption seek; The
Goddess will forgive. At this the maid, With passion
fird, her gliding shuttle stayd; And, darting
vengeance with an angry look, To Pallas in disguise thus
Thou doating thing, whose idle babling tongue But too
well shews the plague of living long; Hence, and reprove,
with this your sage advice, Your giddy daughter, or your
aukward neice; Know, I despise your counsel, and am still
A woman, ever wedded to my will; And, if your skilful
Goddess better knows,
Let her accept the tryal I propose.
She does, impatient Pallas strait replies, And,
cloathd with heavenly light, sprung from her odd
The Nymphs, and virgins of the plain adore The awful
Goddess, and confess her powr; The maid alone stood
unappalld; yet showd A transient blush, that
for a moment glowd, Then disappeard; as
purple streaks adorn The opening beauties of the rosy
morn; Till Phoebus rising prevalently bright, Allays the
tincture with his silver light.
Yet she persists, and obstinately great, In hopes of
conquest hurries on her fate.
The Goddess now the challenge waves no more, Nor, kindly
good, advises as before.
Strait to their posts appointed both repair, And fix
their threaded looms with equal care:
Around the solid beam the web is tyd, While hollow
canes the parting warp divide; Thro which with
nimble flight the shuttles play, And for the woof prepare
a ready way;
The woof and warp unite, pressd by the toothy slay.
Thus both, their mantles buttond to their breast,
Their skilful fingers ply with willing haste, And work
with pleasure; while they chear the eye With glowing
purple of the Tyrian dye:
Or, justly intermixing shades with light, Their
colourings insensibly unite.
As when a showr transpiercd with sunny rays,
Its mighty arch along the heavn displays; From
whence a thousand diffrent colours rise, Whose fine
transition cheats the clearest eyes; So like the
intermingled shading seems, And only differs in the last
Then threads of gold both artfully dispose, And, as each
part in just proportion rose, Some antique fable in their
Pallas in figures wrought the heavnly Powrs,
And Marss hill among th Athenian towrs.
On lofty thrones twice six celestials sate, Jove in the
midst, and held their warm debate;
The subject weighty, and well-known to fame, From whom
the city shoud receive its name.
Each God by proper features was exprest, Jove with
majestick mein excelld the rest.
His three-forkd mace the dewy sea-God shook, And,
looking sternly, smote the ragged rock; When from the
stone leapt forth a spritely steed, And Neptune claims
the city for the deed.
Herself she blazons, with a glittring spear, And
crested helm that veild her braided hair, With
shield, and scaly breast-plate, implements of war.
Struck with her pointed launce, the teeming Earth
Seemd to produce a new surprizing birth; When, from
the glebe, the pledge of conquest sprung, A tree
pale-green with fairest olives hung.
And then, to let her giddy rival learn What just rewards
such boldness was to earn, Four tryals at each corner had
their part, Designd in miniature, and touchd
Haemus in one, and Rodope of Thrace
Transformd to mountains, filld the foremost
place; Who claimd the titles of the Gods above, And
vainly usd the epithets of Jove.
Another shewd, where the Pigmaean dame, Profaning
Junos venerable name, Turnd to an airy crane,
descends from far, And with her Pigmy subjects wages war.
In a third part, the rage of Heavns great
queen, Displayd on proud Antigone, was seen:
Who with presumptuous boldness dard to vye, For
beauty with the empress of the sky.
Ah! what avails her ancient princely race, Her sire a
king, and Troy her native place:
Now, to a noisy stork transformd, she flies, And
with her whitend pinions cleaves the skies.
And in the last remaining part was drawn Poor Cinyras
that seemd to weep in stone; Clasping the temple
steps, he sadly mournd His lovely daughters, now to
With her own tree the finishd piece is
crownd, And wreaths of peaceful olive all the work
Arachne drew the famd intrigues of Jove,
Changd to a bull to gratify his love; How
thro the briny tide all foaming hoar, Lovely Europa
on his back he bore.
The sea seemd waving, and the trembling maid Shrunk
up her tender feet, as if afraid; And, looking back on
the forsaken strand, To her companions wafts her distant
Next she designd Asterias fabled rape, When
Jove assumd a soaring eagles shape:
And shewd how Leda lay supinely pressd,
Whilst the soft snowy swan sate hovring oer
her breast, How in a satyrs form the God
beguild, When fair Antiope with twins he
Then, like Amphytrion, but a real Jove, In fair
Alcmenas arms he coold his love.
In fluid gold to Danaes heart he came, Aegina felt
him in a lambent flame.
He took Mnemosyne in shepherds make, And for Deois
was a speckled snake.
She made thee, Neptune, like a wanton steer, Pacing the
meads for love of Arne dear; Next like a stream, thy
burning flame to slake, And like a ram, for fair
Then Ceres in a steed your vigour tryd, Nor
coud the mare the yellow Goddess hide.
Next, to a fowl transformd, you won by force The
snake-haird mother of the winged horse; And, in a
dolphins fishy form, subdud Melantho sweet
beneath the oozy flood.
All these the maid with lively features drew, And
opend proper landskips to the view.
There Phoebus, roving like a country swain, Attunes his
jolly pipe along the plain; For lovely Isses sake
in shepherds weeds, Oer pastures green his
bleating flock he feeds, There Bacchus, imagd like
the clustring grape, Melting bedrops Erigones
fair lap; And there old Saturn, stung with youthful heat,
Formd like a stallion, rushes to the feat.
Fresh flowrs, which twists of ivy intertwine,
Mingling a running foliage, close the neat design.
This the bright Goddess passionately movd, With
envy saw, yet inwardly approvd.
The scene of heavnly guilt with haste she tore, Nor
longer the affront with patience bore; A boxen shuttle in
her hand she took, And more than once Arachnes
Th unhappy maid, impatient of the wrong, Down from
a beam her injurd person hung; When Pallas, pitying
her wretched state, At once prevented, and
pronouncd her fate:
Live; but depend, vile wretch, the Goddess cryd,
Doomd in suspence for ever to be tyd; That
all your race, to utmost date of time, May feel the
vengeance, and detest the crime.
Then, going off, she sprinkled her with juice, Which
leaves of baneful aconite produce.
Touchd with the poisnous drug, her flowing
hair Fell to the ground, and left her temples bare; Her
usual features vanishd from their place, Her body
lessend all, but most her face.
Her slender fingers, hanging on each side With many
joynts, the use of legs supplyd:
A spiders bag the rest, from which she gives A
thread, and still by constant weaving lives.
THE AGE OF FABLE OR STORIES OF GODS AND HEROES
There was another contest,
in which a mortal dared to come in competition with
Minerva. That mortal was Arachne, a maiden who had
attained such skill in the arts of weaving and embroidery
that the nymphs themselves would leave their groves and
fountains to come and gaze upon her work. It was not only
beautiful when it was done, but beautiful also in the
doing. To watch her, as she took the wool in its rude
state and formed it into rolls, or separated it with her
fingers and carded it till it looked as light and soft as
a cloud, or twirled the spindle with skilful touch, or
wove the web, or, after it was woven, adorned it with her
needle, one would have said that Minerva herself had
taught her. But this she denied, and could not bear to be
thought a pupil even of a goddess. "Let Minerva try
her skill with mine," said she; "if beaten I
will pay the penalty." Minerva heard this and was
displeased. She assumed the form of an old woman and went
and gave Arachne some friendly advice. "I have had
much experience," said she, "and I hope you
will not despise my counsel. Challenge your
fellow-mortals as you will, but do not compete with a
goddess. On the contrary, I advise you to ask her
forgiveness for what you have said, and as she is
merciful perhaps she will pardon you." Arachne
stopped her spinning and looked at the old dame with
anger in her countenance. "Keep your counsel,"
said she, "for your daughters or handmaids; for my
part I know what I say, and I stand to it. I am not
afraid of the goddess; let her try her skill, if she dare
venture." "She comes," said Minerva; and
dropping her disguise stood confessed. The nymphs bent
low in homage, and all the bystanders paid reverence.
Arachne alone was unterrified. She blushed, indeed; a
sudden colour dyed her cheek, and then she grew pale. But
she stood to her resolve, and with a foolish conceit of
her own skill rushed on her fate. Minerva forbore no
longer nor interposed any further advice. They proceed to
Each takes her station and attaches the web to the beam.
Then the slender shuttle is passed in and out among the
threads. The reed with its fine teeth strikes the woof
into its place and compacts the web. Both work with
speed; their skilful hands move rapidly, and the
excitement of the contest makes the labour light.
Wool of Tyrian dye is contrasted with that of other
colours, shaded off into one another so adroitly that the
joining deceives the eye. Like the bow, whose long arch
tinges the heavens, formed by sunbeams reflected from the
shower, 12 in which, where the colours meet they seem as
one, but a little distance from the point of contact are
Minerva wrought on her web the scene of
her contest with Neptune. Twelve of the heavenly powers
are represented, Jupiter, with august gravity, sitting in
the midst. Neptune, the ruler of the sea, holds his
trident, and appears to have just smitten the earth, from
which a horse has leaped forth. Minerva depicted herself
with helmed head, her AEgis covering her breast. Such was
the central circle; and in the four corners were
represented incidents illustrating the displeasure of the
gods at such presumptuous mortals as had dared to contend
with them. These were meant as warnings to her rival to
give up the contest before it was too late.
Arachne filled her web with subjects designedly chosen to
exhibit the failings and errors of the gods. One scene
represented Leda caressing the swan, under which form
Jupiter had disguised himself; and another, Danae, in the
brazen tower in which her father had imprisoned her, but
where the god effected his entrance in the form of a
golden shower. Still another depicted Europa deceived by
Jupiter under the disguise of a bull. Encouraged by the
tameness of the animal Europa ventured to mount his back,
whereupon Jupiter advanced into the sea and swam with her
to Crete, You would have thought it was a real bull, so
naturally was it wrought, and so natural the water in
which it swam. She seemed to look with longing eyes back
upon the shore she was leaving, and to call to her
companions for help. She appeared to shudder with terror
at the sight of the heaving waves, and to draw back her
feel, from the water.
Arachne filled her canvas with similar subjects,
wonderfully well done, but strongly marking her
presumption and impiety. Minerva could not forbear to
admire, yet felt indignant at the insult. She struck the
web with her shuttle and rent it in pieces; she then
touched the forehead of Arachne and made her feel her
guilt and shame. She could not endure it and went and
hanged herself. Minerva pitied her as she saw her
suspended by a rope. "Live," she said,
"guilty woman! and that you may preserve the memory
of this lesson, continue to hang, both you and your
descendants, to all future times." She sprinkled her
with the juices of aconite, and immediately her hair came
off, and her nose and ears likewise. Her form shrank up,
and her head grew smaller yet; her fingers cleaved to her
side and served for legs. All the rest of her is body,
out of which she spins her thread, often hanging
suspended by it, in the same attitude as when Minerva
touched her and transformed her into a spider.
Spenser tells the story of Arachne in his
"Muiopotmos," adhering very closely to his
master Ovid, but improving upon him in the conclusion of
the story. The two stanzas which follow tell what was
done after the goddess had depicted her creation of the
"Amongst these leaves she made a Butterfly, With
excellent device and wondrous slight, Fluttering among
the olives wantonly, That seemed to live, so like it was
in sight; The velvet nap which on his wings doth lie, The
silken down with which his back is dight, His broad
outstretched horns, his hairy thighs, His glorious
colours, and his glistening eyes."
"Which when Arachne saw, as overlaid And mastered
with workmanship so rare, She stood astonied long, ne
And with fast-fixed eyes on her did stare, And by her
silence, sign of one dismayed, The victory did yield her
as her share:
Yet did she inly fret and felly burn, And all her blood
to poisonous rancour turn."
And so the metamorphosis is caused by Arachnes own
mortification and vexation, and not by any direct act of
The following specimen of old-fashioned gallantry is by
"UPON A LADYS EMBROIDERY
"Arachne once, as poets tell, A goddess at her art
defied, And soon the daring mortal fell The hapless
victim of her pride.
"O, then beware Arachnes fate; Be prudent,
Chloe, and submit, For youll most surely meet her
hate, Who rival both her art and wit."