Battle of the weavers

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 June, 2012, 12:00am

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Arachne brushed away a spider crawling along the top of her loom and watched it scuttle across the floor to safety behind the oil jars in the far corner of the room.

Today she hoped to complete her work. The light was good and already she had prepared her coloured threads and bobbins in neat rows on the table beside the loom.

Smiling with contentment, she began to weave. Arachne was the most talented weaver in the whole of Greece, and she took great pride in the tapestries she produced.

'You are the best,' the rich merchants of Greece told Arachne as they asked her to weave yet another beautiful tapestry to hang in their villas.

'Yes, I know,' Arachne replied, as she put away piles of gold under her bed. 'But I am worth every piece of gold you pay me. Your new tapestry will cost a thousand pieces of gold, by the way. Thank you.'

From high in the clouds on the top of Mount Olympus, the Goddess Athene watched Arachne - and grew angry at what she saw.

Talents for music, painting and weaving were gifts that Athene had selected for humans, and the goddess did not like the way Arachne boasted about her skills and the way she was using this gift to make a fortune.

Athene was so furious that she disguised herself as an old woman and travelled down to Earth to visit Arachne. But the weaver was so absorbed in her work that for a while she did not notice the old woman standing at her door.

'Yes?' Arachne asked, glancing up from her loom. 'You look too poor to order any weaving from me. What do you want?'

The old woman spoke softly. 'I, too, am a weaver, my dear. And all my life, I have thanked the gods for giving me my talent. I have never boasted like you or made vast wealth from what the gods gave me. I have always shown great humility to the goddess Athene, who blessed me with my talent.'

'Forget the gods!' laughed Arachne. 'My talent is my own. No one gave it to me. But you can't be a good weaver like me! Look at your hands! Your fingers are bent and twisted! There's no way you could weave beautiful cloths like mine.'

'Let's see about that, my dear. What about a contest to see who can weave the most beautiful tapestry? Do you accept my little challenge?'

'Why not?' scoffed Arachne. 'Even Athene herself cannot weave cloths as beautiful as mine. I'd love a contest with her, and not with a crazy old woman.'

Athene could stand no more of Arachne's boasting, and she threw off her disguise. 'No need to wish, my dear. It is Athene who challenges you, not the mad old woman who came to your door. Do you still accept?'

Arachne shuddered with shock, but she was too proud to give way. A servant brought in another loom and the contest began. The two weavers worked for hours, each one never looking up.

Arachne knew that this was going to be the best tapestry she had ever produced. The colours and ideas just flowed from her fingers onto the loom. Even the great Athene would have difficulty producing anything so beautiful.

Finally, the two weavers compared their work. Athene's finished work showed her and another god, Poseidon.

However, Arachne had woven a fine tapestry making fun of the gods on Mount Olympus. She had shown them acting drunk, doing stupid things, falling over or just lying around doing nothing.

When Athene saw Arachne's work, her temper finally snapped. She gazed at the woman and a bolt of lightening shot across the room.

Arachne's eyes popped, and her body began to shrink. Her arms and legs grew long and thin, and her tiny body began to swell. In just a few moments, Arachne had changed into a spider.

She scuttled along the frame of her loom, but Athene swatted the insect to the floor and watched in delight as it ran to safety behind the oil jars standing in the far corner of the room.

Comprehension

1 What was Arachne's claim to fame?

2 What was her weakness?

3 Who decided to bring her down a peg or two?

4 What bad mistake did Arachne make in the contest?

5 What is arachnophobia?

Answers:

1 She was the most talented weaver in the whole of Greece.

2 Arachne was too proud and boastful.

3 The goddess Athene decided to teach Arachne a lesson.

4 She mocked the gods and showed them in a bad light.

5 Arachnophobia is the fear of spiders.