Bulfinch's Mythology The Age of Fable

Page: 72

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 shower of gold. 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 was 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 feet from the water.

Arachne filled her canvas with these and like 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 hanging by a rope. "Live, guilty woman," said she; " and that you may preserve the memory of this lesson, continue to hang, 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 grew 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 olive tree:

  "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 colors, and his glistening eyes."

  "Which when Arachne saw, as overlaid
  And mastered with workmanship so rare.
  She stood astonished long, ne aught gainsaid;
  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 rancor turn."