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Then to herself [Athena said]—‘To praise is not enough; I should have praise myself, not suffer my divinity to be despised unscathed.’ She had in mind Arachne’s doom, the girl of Lydia, who in the arts of wool-craft claimed renown (so she had heard) to rival hers. The girl had no distinction in her place of birth or pedigree, only that special skill. Her father was Idmon Colophonius, whose trade it was to dye the thirsty wool with purple of Phocaea. She had lost her mother, but she too had been low-born and matched her husband. Yet in all the towns of Lydia Arachne’s work had won a memorable name, although her home was humble and Hypaepae where she lived was humble too. To watch her wondrous work the Nymphae would often leave their vine-clad slopes of Tmolus, often leave Pactolus’ stream, delighted both to see the cloth she wove and watch her working too; such grace she had. Forming the raw wool first into a ball, or fingering the flock and drawing out again and yet again the fleecy cloud in long soft threads, or twirling with her thumb, her dainty thumb, the slender spindle, or embroidering the pattern—you would know Pallas [Athena] had trained her.
Yet the girl denied it [all such gifts were god-given so her denial was blasphemous], a teacher so distinguished hurt her pride, and said, ‘Let her contend with me. Should I lose, there’s no forfeit that I would not pay.’ Pallas [Athena] disguised herself as an old woman, a fringe of false grey hair around her brow, her tottering steps supported by a stick, and speaking to the girl, ‘Not everything that old age brings,’ she said, ‘we’d wish to avoid. With riper years we gain experience. Heed my advice. Among the world of men seek for your wool-craft all the fame you will, but yield the goddess place, and humbly ask pardon for those rash words of yours; she’ll give you pardon if you ask.’
With blazing eyes Arachne stared at her and left her work. She almost struck her; anger strong and clear glowed as she gave the goddess (in disguise) her answer : ‘You’re too old, your brain has gone. You’ve lived too long, your years have done for you. Talk to your daughters, talk to your sons’ wives! My own advice is all I need. Don’t think your words have any weight. My mind’s unchanged. Why doesn’t Pallas come herself? Why should she hesitate to match herself with me?’ Then Pallas said, ‘She’s come!’ and threw aside the old crone’s guise and stood revealed.
The Nymphae and Lydian women knelt in reverence. Only Arachne had no fear. Yet she blushed all the same, a sudden colour tinged her cheeks against her will, then disappeared; so when Aurora [Eos] rises in the dawn, the eastern sky is red and, as the sun climbs, in a little while is pale again. She stood by her resolve, setting her heart, her stupid heart, on victory, and rushed to meet her fate. Nor did the child of Jove [Zeus] refuse or warn her further or postpone the contest. Then, with no delay, they both, standing apart, set up their separate looms and stretched the slender warp. The warp is tied to the wide cross-beam; a cane divides the threads; the pointed shuttles carry the woof through, sped by their fingers. When its through the warp, the comb’s teeth, tapping, press it into place. Both work in haste, their dresses girdled tight below their breasts; the movements of their arms are skilled and sure; their zeal beguiles their toil. Here purple threads that Tyrian vats have dyed are woven in, and subtle delicate tints that change insensibly from shade to shade. So when the sunshine strikes a shower of rain, the bow’s huge arc will paint the whole wide sky, and countless different colours shine, yet each gradation dupes the gaze, the tints that touch so similar, the extremes so far distinct. Threads too of golden wire were woven in, and on the loom an ancient tale was traced [Athena depicted her contest with Poseidon for Athens] . . .
Yet to provide examples to instruct her rival what reward she should expect for her insensate daring, she designed in each of the four corners four small scenes of contest, brightly coloured miniatures . . . That was the end, and she finished her picture with her own fair tree.
Maeonis [Arakhne] shows [in her weaving the seduction of various mortals by gods in animal disguise] . . . Round the edge a narrow band of flowers she designed, flowers and clinging ivy intertwined.
In all that work of hers Pallas could find, envy could find, no fault. Incensed at such success the warrior goddess, golden-haired, tore up the tapestry, those crimes of heaven, and with the boxwood shuttle in her hand (box of citrus) three times, four times, struck Arachne on her forehead. The poor wretch, unable to endure it, bravely placed a noose around her neck; but, as she hung, Pallas in pity raised her. ‘Live!’ she said, ‘Yes, live but hang, you wicked girl, and know you’ll rue the future too: that penalty your kin shall pay to all posterity!’ And as she turned to go, she sprinkled her with drugs of Hecate, and in a trice, touched by the bitter lotion, all her hair falls off and with it go her nose and ears. Her head shrinks tiny; her whole body’s small; instead of legs slim fingers line her sides. The rest is belly; yet from that she sends a fine-spun thread and, as a spider, still weaving her web, pursues her former skill. All Lydia rang; the story raced abroad through Phrygia’s towns and filled the world with talk.
— Ovid