Ruth (just_ruth) wrote in spnwriterlounge,


We can thank Publius Ovidius Naso (aka Ovid) for the story of Arachne.

The story comes from one of his most translated works Metamophoses. Metamorphoses is a fifteen book hexameter poem. Hexameter means there are six words per line, each word containing either two long or one short and one long syllables and not necessarily rhymed.

Arachne was a weaver of great talent. She boasted of her skill. An old woman comes to her and admonishes her that she should remember her skill comes as a gift from the goddess Athene.

Arachne says "let the goddess come and compete against me!"

The old woman turns into the goddess and says "You asked for it!" Two looms are set up in the village square and the weaving begins. Here is where the translator's intention affects the translation of the tale - there are three outcomes depending on translation:

Outcome 1: Athene and Arachne produce tapestries of equal beauty - Athene's tapestry exhaults the gods but Arachne's mocks the gods. Athene destroys her tapestry and turns her into a spider.

Outcome 2: Arachne's tapestry surpasses Athene's. Enraged, the goddess destroys the tapestry and turns Arachne into a spider.

Outcome 3: Athene's tapestry is superior. Shamed, Arachne destroys her tapestry and hangs herself. Athene turns her into a spider so her weaving skills will not be lost.

Modern tales of Arachne tend to forget the lesson of Ovid's original which was how much trouble too much pride can get you into. They tend to be influenced by Gustav Dore's illustration of Dante encountering Arachne as he passes through Purgatory.

The half-spider half-woman monster was first seen in the original Dunegeon's and Dragons game: Lollith (note resemblence to Lillith) the spider queen of the Dark Elves.

In 1997 - she appears in 'Hercules: The Legendary Journeys' in episode 4.04 "Web of Desire". Hercules and Iolaus encounter a pirate in search of treasure.

(one of the first screen appearences of Gina Torres: Zoe from 'Firefly')

Landing on a mysterious island the pirates start to disappear one by one until Hercules finds the cave of Arachne.

Note the "snacks" in her larder. Executive producer Phil Sgriccia was a director for several episodes of 'the Legendary Journeys.'

Perhaps the saddest of the modern retellings is the brown spider from Peter S. Beagle's 'The Last Unicorn.' Mommy Fortuna's Carnival features illusions in the form of mythological animals. Lost in her illusion, the little spider believes herself Arachne - able to capture stars in her web or hold together the strands of the universe with her weaving. When the witch is killed by the harpy Celaneo, the spider is heard weeping for her lost illusions.
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