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  • From sailors who were turned into pigs, nymphs that sprouted into trees, and a gaze that converted the beholder to stone, Greek mythology brims with shape-shifters.

  • The powerful gods usually changed their own forms at will, but for mortals, the mutations were often unwanted.

  • One such unnerving transformation befell the spinner Arachne.

  • Arachne was the daughter of a tradesman who spent his days dying cloth the deepest shades of purple.

  • She had a flair for spinning the finest threads, weaving them into flowing fabric, and creating magnificent tapestries.

  • People flocked to watch her hands flying across her loom, as if thread sprung directly from her fingertips.

  • But as praise for her work grew, so did her pride.

  • Arachne could often be heard boasting about her skills, declaring that her talent surpassed anyone else's—mortal or divine.

  • She refused to see weaving as a gift from the gods.

  • Rather, she flaunted it as her own personal genius.

  • Unfortunately, the goddess of wisdom and crafts, Athena, overheard Arachne making these claims.

  • Planning to teach the ungrateful girl a lesson, Athena disguised herself as an old woman and stole amongst the mortals.

  • She berated Arachne in public, "how dare the weaver claim herself greater than the gods?".

  • But Arachne only laughed, barely looking up from her loom.

  • Provoked, the old woman threw off her cloak to reveal her true form.

  • If Arachne insisted on defaming the gods, Athena would challenge her to a contest directly.

  • Masking her shock at the appearance of the grey-eyed goddess, Arachne accepted the challenge.

  • Athena drew up her own glittering loom as a great crowd gathered to watch.

  • The weavers began, eyes fixed and shuttles blurring.

  • Athena conjured wisps of cloud from above and slender threads of grass from below in a spectacle of strength.

  • She wove tremendous scenes that showed the power of the gods.

  • Poseidon riding the waves, Zeus firing thunderbolts and Apollo hurtling across the sky.

  • In Athena's splendid tapestry, the glory of the gods dwarfed mortal life.

  • But Arachne had no interest in boosting godly egos.

  • Her tapestry showed the gods abusing their power, squabbling amongst themselves, drinking and bragging, and meddling in the lives of mortals.

  • She represented Zeus as a philanderer, transfiguring himself to ensnare women: a swan for Leda, a bull for Europa, a shower of gold for Danae.

  • Arachne then turned to the misdemeanors of other gods, from Pluto's abduction of Persephone to Bacchus's wild pursuit of Erigone.

  • Even though she cast the gods in the most unflattering light, Arachne's work shone with her dazzling skill.

  • Her tapestry was almost alive, filled with movement and lustrous colors that winked triumphantly.

  • When Athena saw Arachne's undeniably better and flagrantly subversive work, she flew into a rage and turned on the human weaver.

  • Arachne's glee dimmed as she felt her body shrinking and contorting.

  • Her fingers waved wildly as her arms stuck to her sides, and black hair sprouted all over her body.

  • The goddess left Arachne with a single spool of thread unfurling from her belly, a slim reminder of her human talent.

  • For challenging the assumption that the gods were untouchable, Athena had shrunk her adversary into the first spider.

  • To this day, Arachne and her children spin out her penance.

  • Or is it undaunted persistence in the shadows of giants?

  • If you enjoy the myth of Arachne, check out this playlist for more epic tales.

From sailors who were turned into pigs, nymphs that sprouted into trees, and a gaze that converted the beholder to stone, Greek mythology brims with shape-shifters.

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C1 US TED-Ed athena loom tapestry goddess weaver

【TED-Ed】The myth of Arachne - Iseult Gillespie

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    April Lu posted on 2020/09/29
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