Arachne in Greek Mythology: Story Summary & Facts

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  • 0:03 Arachne in Greek Mythology
  • 0:59 Athena Wins
  • 1:58 Arachne Wins
  • 3:06 Athena Punishes Arachne
  • 4:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Adrienne Nicholson
If the name Arachne makes you think of spiders, then you may already be familiar with the myth about this tragic figure. Arachne's story is one of competition, hubris, punishment, and the will of the gods, as we'll find out in this lesson.

Arachne in Greek Mythology

The fable of Arachne is a late Roman edition of classical Greek mythology. There are several versions of the myth, but each one follows a similar pattern - the hubris of Arachne, the challenge of Athena, the victory of one or the other in a weaving contest, and the consequences. Each version has a slightly different outcome, which we'll explore in this lesson; but first, let's look at the characters in this story.

Athena is the Greek goddess of wisdom, crafts, and war, known for her calm temperament and for fighting only when she has just reason. Arachne is the daughter of a famous dyer from a town called Lydia and a weaving student of Athena. In all three versions of the myth, Arachne is presented as a talented and proud weaver who boasts of her skills and dismisses Athena as the source of her talent.

Let's see how she makes out when challenged to a weaving contest by Athena.

Arachne is a weaving student of Athena
athena teaches weaving

Athena Wins

In one version of the myth, an admirer of Arachne's work asks her where she acquired her skill and suggests that she might have learned it from Athena. Arachne responds by laughing and claiming that she could teach Athena a thing or two. Athena then appears in the doorway in a long cloak and asks Arachne if she truly believes her talent does not come from the goddess. When Arachne repeats her boast, Athena challenges her to a contest. Zeus will be the judge, and the loser must promise to never touch a loom or spindle again.

During the contest, Arachne weaves a thin but strong web; however, it's no match for the beautiful tapestry depicting the gods and their glory woven by Athena. Arachne admits defeat to Athena and falls into despair at the loss of her craft. Seeing that Arachne cannot live without weaving, Athena touches her head with the tip of her spear and transforms her into a spider so she can continue to weave without breaking the terms of their contest.

Arachne boasted of her weaving skills.
arachne weaving

Arachne Wins

In another version of the myth, Arachne responds to a question about her weaving gifts by becoming angry and declaring that she is more talented than Athena. When Athena hears her boasting, she appears in the doorway disguised as an old lady in a dark cloak. She asks Arachne to respect the gods and goddesses and their gifts, but Arachne only laughs and claims that even if Athena challenged her to a contest, she would win. Athena then reveals herself and sets forth the challenge, the terms being that the losing side would never weave again.

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