Athena and Arachne

Athena (uh THEE nuh) was the goddess of wisdom. She was the daughter of Zeus (ZOOS), the king of the gods. The story goes that instead of being born in the normal way, she jumped straight out of his head as a grown adult wearing a full set of armor. In addition to being the goddess of wisdom, Athena was the goddess of arts and crafts, like spinning, weaving and sewing.

She was the patron goddess of the city of Athens, which means that they prayed to her to protect them from the armies of the other city-states. In fact, as you might have guessed, the city was even named after her. Originally, when the city had no name, two gods wanted it: Athena and Posiedon (poh SI dun), the god of the sea. The rest of the gods decided that they would have a competition. Both Athena and Poseidon would give people a gift, and whoever’s gift was better would get the city. Poseidon gave the people the first horse; Athena produced the first olive, which became one of the main foods of Greece. The gods decided that olive was the best gift, and so the city was named Athens, after Athena.

But lets get back to our main story. There was another contest, in which a human dared to challenge Athena to a competition. That mortal’s name was Arachne (uh RAK nee), a young woman who was very skilled at weaving blankets. It was as amazing to watch her weaving as it was to see her finished blankets. Some people said that she was so good that she must have been taught by the goddess Athena herself. But even though this was a compliment, Arachne was offended. She was so arrogant that she thought she didn’t want anyone to think of her as a student of someone else. “I challenge Athena to a contest,” she said.

This made Athena very angry. She agreed to the contest and came down to earth. The two of them started weaving side by side. Athena wove many different pictures into her blanket. Most of them showed pictures of times when mortals had challenged the gods and lost. She hoped the pictures would scare Arachne.

Arachne, on the other hand wove pictures of times when Gods did stupid things. Athena knew the blanket was beautiful, but she was insulted by the pictures. She touched Arachne’s forehead and used magic made her feel very sad. Arachne hanged herself. Then, Athena started to feel guilty. She allowed Arachne to come back to life, but she changed her into the first spider. Instead of hanging from a rope, she would hang from her web for the rest of her life. And instead of weaving blankets, she would weave webs.

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