Book 6: Arachne and Minerva, cont.
Reading time: 4 minutes. Word count: 800 words.
Pallas Athene depicts the hill of Mars, and the court of the Aeropagus, in Cecrops's Athens, and the old dispute between Neptune and herself, as to who had the right to the city and its name. There the twelve gods sit in great majesty, on their high thrones, with Jupiter in the middle. She weaves the gods with their familiar attributes. The image of Jupiter is a royal one. There she portrays the Ocean god, standing and striking the rough stone, with his long trident, and seawater flowing from the centre of the shattered rock, a token of his claim to the city. She gives herself a shield, a sharp pointed spear, and a helmet for her head, while the aegis protects her breast. She shows an olive-tree with pale trunk, thick with fruit, born from the earth at a blow from her spear, the gods marvelling: and Victory crowns the work.
Then she adds four scenes of contest in the four corners, each
with miniature figures, in their own clear colours, so that her rival might
learn, from the examples quoted, what prize she might expect, for her outrageous
daring. One corner shows Thracian Mount Rhodope and Mount Haemus, now icy peaks,
once mortal beings who ascribed the names of the highest gods to themselves.
A second corner shows the miserable fate of the queen of the Pygmies: how Juno,
having overcome her in a contest, ordered her to become a crane and make war
on her own people. Also she pictures Antigone, whom Queen Juno turned into a
bird for having dared to compete with Jupiter's great consort: neither her father
Laomedon, nor her city Ilium were of any use to her, but taking wing as a white
stork she applauds herself with clattering beak. The only corner left shows
Cinyras, bereaved: and he is seen weeping as he clasps the stone steps of the
temple that were once his daughters' limbs. Minerva surrounded the outer edges
with the olive wreaths of peace (this was the last part) and so ended her work
with emblems of her own tree.
The Maeonian girl [Arachne] depicts Europa deceived by the form of the bull: you would have thought it a real bull and real waves. She is seen looking back to the shore she has left, and calling to her companions, displaying fear at the touch of the surging water, and drawing up her shrinking feet. Also Arachne showed Asterie, held by the eagle, struggling, and Leda lying beneath the swan's wings. She added Jupiter who, hidden in the form of a satyr, filled Antiope, daughter of Nycteus with twin offspring; who, as Amphitryon, was charmed by you, Alcmena, of Tiryns; by Danaë, as a golden shower; by Aegina, daughter of Asopus, as a flame; by Mnemosyne, as a shepherd; by Proserpine, Ceres's daughter, as a spotted snake.
She wove you, Neptune, also, changed to a fierce bull for Canace,
Aeolus's daughter. In Enipeus's form you begot the Aloidae, and deceived Theophane
as a ram. The golden-haired, gentlest, mother of the cornfields, knew you as
a horse. The snake-haired mother of the winged horse, knew you as a winged bird.
Melantho knew you as a dolphin. She gave all these their own aspects, and the
aspects of the place. Here is Phoebus like a countryman, and she shows him now
with the wings of a hawk, and now in a lion's skin, and how as a shepherd he
tricked Isse, Macareus's daughter. She showed how Bacchus ensnared Erigone with
delusive grapes, and how Saturn as the double of a horse begot Chiron. The outer
edge of the web, surrounded by a narrow border, had flowers interwoven with
Neither Pallas nor Envy itself could fault that work. The golden-haired warrior goddess was grieved by its success, and tore the tapestry, embroidered with the gods' crimes, and as she held her shuttle made of boxwood from Mount Cytorus, she struck Idmonian Arachne, three or four times, on the forehead. The unfortunate girl could not bear it, and courageously slipped a noose around her neck: Pallas, in pity, lifted her, as she hung there, and said these words, 'Live on then, and yet hang, condemned one, but, lest you are careless in future, this same condition is declared, in punishment, against your descendants, to the last generation!' Departing after saying this, she sprinkled her with the juice of Hecate's herb, and immediately at the touch of this dark poison, Arachne's hair fell out. With it went her nose and ears, her head shrank to the smallest size, and her whole body became tiny. Her slender fingers stuck to her sides as legs, the rest is belly, from which she still spins a thread, and, as a spider, weaves her ancient web.
Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:
Source: Ovid's Metamorphoses. English translation by A.S.Kline. 2000. "This work MAY be FREELY reproduced, stored and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any NON-COMMERCIAL purpose." Website: Ovid and Others.
MLLL-2003. World Literature: Frametales. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D.
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