Arachne was the daughter of Idmon, and lived in the Greek city of Colophon in Lydia (the western part of modern-day Turkey). She was a fine weaver and dyer, but unfortunately she was also a very self-important and conceited young lady, and claimed that she was a better weaver than Athene.

Athene was, amongst her other attributes and responsibilities, the goddess of weaving, and she was naturally angered by Arachne's declaration. She confronted Arachne in the guise of an elderly crone and warned her of the danger of offending the gods.

Arachne, however, declined to heed the warning. She mocked the old woman, and announced that she would willingly compete with Athene in weaving at any time.

Athene dropped her disguise and the contest was under way. Athene's tapestry showed her victory over Poseidon, while Arachne's work focussed on Zeus; his seduction of Leda, his seduction of Europa, his seduction of Danae. Athene had to concede that Arachne's work was superb, but the young woman's outrageous choice of subject and disrespect to the father of the gods infuriated her; she lashed out at the tapestry and loom, tearing it apart and striking Arachne on the head.

Arachne realised then just how foolish she had been to behave with such impertinence and impiety towards the gods, and hung herself in remorse.

Athene took pity on the silly young woman and, sprinkling her body with aconite, turned her into a spider, from whence we get the word arachnids as the class-name for the spider family.



Arachne and Athene. Painting by Jean-Jacques-Francois LeBarbier

 Athene's Contest with Poseidon

Cecrops, the first king of Athens, wanted to find a patron god for his city. Two gods were particularly interested, Poseidon and Athene. Cecrops asked them to each produce a gift for his city.

Poseidon struck the ground with his trident, and a sparkling stream appeared. The water, however, proved brackish, and barely drinkable.

Athene then stepped forth, stuck her spear in the ground, and produced the olive tree as a symbol of peace and prosperity.

Cecrops declared Athene the winner of the contest, and named his city after her.

Poseidon was mightily displeased and cursed Athens with a shortage of water. Athens has suffered from water supply problems since that time.

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