Myths of Greece and Rome Narrated with Special Reference to Literature and Art

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Arachne, in her conceit, fancied that no one could equal the work done by her deft fingers, so she boasted far and wide that she would have no fear to match her skill with Minerva’s. She made this remark so loudly and so frequently, that the goddess was finally annoyed, and left her seat in high Olympus to come down upon earth and punish the maiden. In the guise of an old crone, she entered Arachne’s house, seated herself, and began a conversation. In a few minutes the maiden had resumed her usual strain, and renewed her rash boast. Minerva gently advised her to be more modest, lest she should incur the wrath of the gods by her presumptuous words; but Arachne was so blinded by her conceit, that she scorned the well-meant warning, saucily tossed her head, and declared she wished the goddess would hear her, and propose a contest, in which she would [59] surely be able to prove the truth of her assertions. This insolent speech so incensed Minerva, that she cast aside her disguise and accepted the challenge.

Both set up their looms, and began to weave exquisite designs in tapestry: Minerva choosing as her subject her contest with Neptune; and Arachne, the kidnapping of Europa. In silence the fair weavers worked, and their webs grew apace under their practiced fingers. The assembled gods, the horse, the olive tree, seemed to live and move under Minerva’s flashing shuttle.

“Emongst these leaves she made a Butterflie,
With excellent device and wondrous slight,
Fluttring among the Olives wantonly,
That seem’d to live, so like it was in sight:
The velvet nap which on his wings doth lie,
The silken downe with which his backe is dight,
His broad outstretched hornes, his hayrie thies,
His glorious colours, and his glistering eies.”

Arachne, in the mean while, was intent upon her swimming bull, against whose broad breast the waves splashed, and upon a half-laughing, half-frightened girl, who clung to the bull’s horns, while the wind played with her flowing tresses and garments.

“Sweet Europa’s mantle blew unclasp’d,
From off her shoulder backward borne:
From one hand droop’d a crocus: one hand grasp’d
The mild bull’s golden horn.”

The finishing touches all given, each turned to view her rival’s work, and at the very first glance Arachne was forced to acknowledge her failure. To be thus outstripped, after all her proud boasts, was humiliating indeed. Bitterly did Arachne now repent of her folly; and in her despair she bound a rope about her neck, and hung herself. Minerva saw her discomfited rival was about to escape: so she quickly changed her dangling body [60] into a spider, and condemned her to weave and spin without ceasing,—a warning to all conceited mortals.

Worship of Minerva.

Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, was widely worshiped. Temples and altars without number were dedicated to her service, the most celebrated of all being the Parthenon at Athens. Naught but the ruins of this mighty pile now exist; but they suffice to testify to the beauty of the edifice, which served, in turn, as temple, church, mosque, and finally as powder magazine.

“Fair Parthenon! yet still must Fancy weep
For thee, thou work of nobler spirits flown.
Bright, as of old, the sunbeams o’er thee sleep
In all their beauty still—and thine is gone!
Empires have sunk since thou wert first revered.
And varying rites have sanctified thy shrine.
The dust is round thee of the race that rear’d
Thy walls; and thou—their fate must soon be thine!”

Statues of Minerva—a beautiful, majestic woman, fully clothed and armed—were very numerous. The most celebrated of all, by the renowned Greek sculptor Phidias, measured full forty feet in height. Festivals were celebrated in honor of Minerva wherever her worship was held,—some, the Greek Panathenæa, for instance, only every four years; others, such as the Minervalia and Quinquatria, every year. At these festivals the Palladium, a statue of the goddess, said to have fallen from heaven, was carried in procession through the city, where the people hailed its appearance with joyful cries and songs of praise.




The most glorious and beautiful among all the gods was Apollo (Phœbus, Sol, Helios, Cynthius, Pytheus), god of the sun, of medicine, music, poetry, and all fine arts.

“Bright-hair’d Apollo!—thou who ever art
A blessing to the world—whose mighty heart
Forever pours out love, and light, and life;
Thou, at whose glance, all things of earth are rife
With happiness; to whom, in early spring,
Bright flowers raise up their heads, where’er they cling
On the steep mountain side, or in the vale
Are nestled calmly. Thou at whom the pale
And weary earth looks up, when winter flees,
With patient gaze: thou for whom wind-stripped trees
Put on fresh leaves, and drink deep of the light
That glitters in thine eye: thou in whose bright
And hottest rays the eagle fills his eye
With quenchless fire, and far, far up on high
Screams out his joy to thee, by all the names
That thou dost bear—whether thy godhead claims
Phœbus or Sol, or golden-hair’d Apollo,
Cynthian or Pythian, if thou dost follow
The fleeing night, oh, hear
Our hymn to thee, and willingly draw near!”