A Book of Myths

Page: 43

To Pallas Athené, goddess of craftsmen, came tidings that at Colophon in Lydia lived a nymph whose skill rivalled that of the goddess herself, and she, ever jealous for her own honour, took on herself the form of a woman bent with age, and, leaning on her staff, joined the little crowd that hung round Arachne as she plied her busy needle. With white arms twined round each other the eager nymphs watched the flowers spring up under her fingers, even as flowers spring from the ground on the [Pg 84] coming of Demeter, and Athené was fain to admire, while she marvelled at the magic skill of the fair Arachne.

Gently she spoke to Arachne, and, with the persuasive words of a wise old woman, warned her that she must not let her ambition soar too high. Greater than all skilled craftswomen was the great goddess Athené, and were Arachne, in impious vanity, to dream that one day she might equal her, that were indeed a crime for any god to punish.

Glancing up for a moment from the picture whose perfect colours grew fast under her slim fingers, Arachne fixed scornful eyes on the old woman and gave a merry laugh.

“Didst say equal Athené? old mother,” she said. “In good sooth thy dwelling must be with the goat-herds in the far-off hills and thou art not a dweller in our city. Else hadst thou not spoken to Arachne of equalling the work of Athené; excelling were the better word.”

In anger Pallas Athené made answer.

“Impious one!” she said, “to those who would make themselves higher than the gods must ever come woe unutterable. Take heed what thou sayest, for punishment will assuredly be thine.”

Laughing still, Arachne made reply:

“I fear not, Athené, nor does my heart shake at the gloomy warning of a foolish old crone.” And turning to the nymphs who, half afraid, listened to her daring words, she said: “Fair nymphs who watch me day by day, well do ye know that I make no idle [Pg 85] boast. My skill is as great as that of Athené, and greater still it shall be. Let Athené try a contest with me if she dare! Well do I know who will be the victor.”

Then Athené cast off her disguise, and before the frightened nymphs and the bold Arachne stood the radiant goddess with eyes that blazed with anger and insulted pride.

“Lo, Athené is come!” she said, and nymphs and women fell on their knees before her, humbly adoring. Arachne alone was unabashed. Her cheeks showed how fast her heart was beating. From rosy red to white went the colour in them, yet, in firm, low voice she spoke.

“I have spoken truth,” she said. “Not woman, nor goddess, can do work such as mine. Ready am I to abide by what I have said, and if I did boast, by my boast I stand. If thou wilt deign, great goddess, to try thy skill against the skill of the dyer’s daughter and dost prove the victor, behold me gladly willing to pay the penalty.”