by Matthew Kiser
Come this way
Let me weave through this tunnel I made
What? You think that’s all I do
I am wiser than you imagine
And I caution you against that mistake
Don’t become a bug for wisdom to squash
I see your hand is placed on my thread
Let me guide you or be trapped instead
I’m not just a weaver but a creator
And I dispense many things
I can be generous but do not force me
To weave boundaries
Like many divine: I have poison in my fangs
And fangs I do have
I hold many talents which once got me in trouble
But many talents I can withhold
I can help you if you allow me to guide
But bear in mind that it is I that do so
The most beautiful art can come at a damning price
The best of talents sullied
The wisest can even go into a rage
All over impassioned words
Many things I can weave
Many creations can be destroyed
Any talents that one possesses
And all other things taken
Head my wisdom
What you create the gods inspire
Art is useless if burned in a fire
by Andrew S Bayless
Sing, O Muse, of Arachne: the daughter of the famous Idmon of Colophon who won notoriety for his purple dye. The skilled daughter of Idmon would also acquire fame for a god-given talent as it had been discovered that Arachne was proficient in the art of weaving. All throughout Lydia, word spread of nimble-handed Arachne and her cultivated craft and how she must have been blessed by grey-eyed Athena. Even the nymphs praised Arachne’s craft and would watch her weave in awe and admire her dexterity. Hearing these encomiums, the praise-hungry child scoffed and dared to declare that her skills surpassed even those of Tritogenia. The prideful words of the impudent maiden reached the ears of heaven and angered boiled within the heart of the Goddess. Mighty Pallas descended to the mortal realm and took on the guise of a woman wrapped in the arms of Old Age. Her back bent, the Goddess hobbled towards Arachne whose head was swollen as if pride knocked her about and spoke these words to her, “Dear child, your work is remarkable. The tapestries are finely threaded and the images seem as if they are genuine visions. But I have come to warn you, precious daughter of Idmon, your boasts might incur the scorn of Athena. The Gods are not playthings like the knucklebones that young children and girls like tossing about but are real and hold power far beyond mortal measure. It is dangerous for any mortal, especially one so young such as yourself, to insult the Gods who are the masters of all things. Sweet girl with the bloom of youth that I once knew, let me lead you to the temple where you can make amends with the Grey-eyed Goddess. Pallas Athena might yet forgive your transgressions.” The Goddess reached out to Arachne like an old maid would her grandchild but was pushed away by the precocious girl. The hussy rebuked the old woman’s admonishment and spoke sharply these words, “Wrinkled fool! Old Age has ravished you to the point of senility! Your mind is like porridge from him having his way with you! I taught myself these skills and mastered weaving without Athena’s hand guiding my own. Tritogenia may have invented this craft but I have perfected it. The thread serves me for I am its mistress, not Athena with her hips so small and shoulders so broad that she seems to be more man than woman! I’d challenge her on this very spot with the nymphs and village women as spectators if she appeared before me this instant!” Livid with the impudent girl, grey-eyed Athena revealed herself to Arachne and accepted her challenge. The women and nymphs fell at their feet in worship of the Goddess but Arachne stood though she felt a slight quake in her long legs. Her face went from pale astonishment to crimson embarrassment like a child who has been caught misbehaving by their mother but Arachne still found a way to regain her composure. The skillful Goddess and prideful mortal readied their equipment and braced for competition. When the contest commenced, the two rivals busied themselves with dexterous work. When their craft was completed, the rivals had both created marvelous works. Athena’s tapestry depicted the deathless Gods sitting on their golden thrones atop snow Olympos ruling justly and wisely from above. The achievements of the Gods were also wonderfully portrayed and so too were frightening depictions of the fates of those mortals who dared challenge the Gods. While Athena’s tapestry was of excellent quality, Arachne’s own piece was also brilliant. Inspired by the amorous adventures of the Gods, Arachne depicted the Gods chasing after mortal women and everyone was in awe at the quality of the piece. It was if the images on the tapestry were really the Gods in miniature form conquering tiny maidens. Despite also being in awe of its flawlessness, Pallas Athena was enraged at the subject chosen for Arachne’s tapestry. The warlike Goddess jumped up from her seat and tore the tapestry to shreds but this did not assuage her rage. Grasping Arachne’s shuttle, grey-eyed Athena boxed the girl’s head multiple times, beating her without mercy. Like a remorseful child, Arachne wept and ran away in shame of what she had done. Tying a noose, dexterous Arachne prepared to hang by the neck until death to punish herself for her sins. Seeing the poor girl about to end her life, Athena’s heart softened and the Goddess performed a miracle. The noose loosened at just the right time and Arachne was saved from death but the Pallas Athena would not let her go that easily. With divine power, the young girl’s began a change; her head had shrunken, legs sprouted from places where they once were not, her countenance became hairy with many black eyes and mouthparts most horrible. What once was a girl was now a joint-legged beast which the world now calls the spider who spins silk. Arachne was sentenced to weave for all eternity as the ancestress of the spider race but this curse is also a blessing. Athena is the patron of all weavers and every stitch contains the essence of the grey-eyed one and thus, the spider is her eternal servant. A girl who was once an unholy sinner now is sanctified in the service of the Goddess. What was once profane has now been consecrated to the service of the Gods and the benefit of all they reign over. And so farewell to you, blessed Arachne of the silky web, I honor you in song but I will call to mind both you and another song.
Twilight gloom in the vineyard
summer heat laying heavy over the drooping fruit
everyone’s gone home, locked safely behind their doors
except for the spiders, unseen lovers of the grape.
They spin their webs in the field, and crawl
soundlessly over the gnarled vinewood,
hunting the insects that would devour Bacchus’ plump children.
The race of spiders has been friend of the wine-god
for as long as they have lived,
and before that, for the sweet virgin Arachne
lay with Lyaeus before she competed with the Weaver.
They met in an arbor and danced together while the Nymphai of Lydia watched
and sang the Hymenaeus song for them,
and Bromios lifted his cup to her sweet lips
and poured the holy ecstasy-inducing poison for her to drink.
Drunk on his wine, the young girl rushed through the wood,
wild as a Mainad,
a hunting companion of Lord Zagreus.
Life coursed through her supple limbs
and she grew impetuous under his yoke,
tossing back her head and calling Euoi to the dark vault of heaven.
She gave her body to him beneath the moon,
and he filled her with greater pleasure than any mortal had ever known.
And later, when Arachne returned to her father’s house and loom
she carried the memory of that night into her weaving,
letting the ecstasy she had felt guide her nimble fingers,
and she wove scenes of startling beauty and such realism
that everyone who saw them marveled and thought that the waves she wrought
would leap off the loom and that they could almost smell the sweat of the dancing girls
or the grapes near to bursting in their ripeness.
And they whispered that her skill was more than mortal,
that she had to have been taught by Pallas herself.
But Arachne just laughed and said that her skill was her own,
and the inspiration for it came from Dionysos her lord.
She would not give ground to the gods – in fact that stubbornness
was what Dionysos loved so much about her.
Athene was jealous and challenged her to a duel,
and the headstrong girl accepted
and wove the story of her seduction by Dionysos.
When Athene saw the theme of her rival she grew enraged,
for she thought Arachne was mocking the gods by weaving the stories
of Zeus’ seductions
and of Dionysos bribing Erigone with the grape,
little understanding what the girl was saying with her web.
So she beat the girl and destroyed the mantle she had worked so hard on,
and taunted her work, saying no god could love a foolish, frail mortal –
that they used them for their own pleasure and then quickly forgot them.
And Arachne was crushed, because that mantle she had meant to give to Dionysos
as a bridal present and when she saw her hard work destroyed,
and the jealous goddess mocking her love,
Arachne’s heart broke in two and she took a rope and twined it
around the rafters of her father’s home and hung herself,
a victim of love.
And when Dionysos came and saw,
he was doubled over in grief,
for this girl had been more than just a trophy to him.
Athene saw her brother’s grief and was moved to tears herself,
so she caught up the girl’s soul and made a new vessel for it,
giving her a spider’s body so that she could continue to weave and
be the grape’s lifelong companion.
And Dionysos picked her up and carried her to his vineyard
and set her up there to be Queen of the Fields.
So when you see a spider creeping along the vine,
nestled tightly beneath the green covering of its leaf,
hunting even yet the vermin that would devour the young plant before it’s time,
remember this story and the power that love has to triumph over the grave.
by Alex Conall
She’s bigger on the inside:
this creating creature
who knows herself to be simply
better than any
who is not a goddess—
better than She.
Test her, and you will find her to be
not proud, but arrogant
to the point of hubris.
Not to go,
she has learned,
to a challenge
is to risk
What would she be without her pride?
is to risk
She has learned
not to go
to the point of hubris—
not arrogant, but proud.
Test her, and you will find her to be
better than she,
who is not a goddess
better than any,
who knows herself to be simply
this creating creature—
she’s bigger on the inside.
by Fiona Husch
Arms that were once hands
Given because two were not enough
You who weaves holy tapestries for the Most Holy of All.
You who spins webs between the horns of the Starry Bull.
In first life your eyes saw much
So in your second They gave you six more
Hail to you, honored Weaver.
We honor you with this rite, Arakhne
by Alex Conall
Arakhne threads the warp and picks the weft
with gentle hands on vibrantly dyed thread.
She whisks the shuttle back and forth, so deft,
her work without a hint of her strong dread.
What if she lost? Her reputation would
be tarnished, and then who would come to her
for weaving, once proven that she could
not weave the best? That title, once transferred,
could not be hers again. Her family
would suffer, for her work’s what pays for food.
Arakhne faces wise Athena, She
whose gifts to her made tapestries all viewed,
for family’s sake, as well as her own pride;
she prays for their wellbeing once she’s died.
She dances in the air,
swinging from an invisible rope
that binds together heaven and earth,
yet belongs wholly to neither.
Who, on passing by, would spare the little spider
so much as a second glance
or trouble to wonder at what secrets
this unassuming creature might hold.
Yet spider finds her way wherever she pleases,
and knows well how to hide herself in plain sight.
Nothing happens in the world without her knowing it,
and she is the one in whom the gods confide their plans.
by Alex Conall
Her sin, her falling-short
they all say.
Arakhne proclaimed herself
a better weaver
and, proven wrong,
asked her goddess
to change her
to teach her humility.
Our sin, our falling-short
no one says.
We are greater than the gods,
than all gods save one
(or three that some call one),
than Grandmother Gaia.
If we are not careful,
the gods will exact as punishment
what Arakhne asked as lesson.
It will be nothing but our fault,
no one’s doing but our own.
The gods simply will not save us,
and the world, its climate changed,
will pass to the next species
wise enough to know
they have much wisdom yet to gain.
Arakhne’s children will likely live,
for arachnids all are small,
but Pandora’s children
may have doomed
leaving none but the gods
to mourn our passing.
by Alex Conall
She seeks out other people:
makes her home in the dusty
corners of their homes,
corners she is chased from
as brooms sweep away her
Through being swatted with
any solid object come to hand,
When she finds a place where
she can for a time
she watches the people go by,
live their lives:
the illusion of human connection
now forever denied her
because long ago
she made the arrogant mistake
of calling herself better
than a goddess.
as she watches,
how it is that people
making the same mistake now
are not accorded
similar fates to hers.
Why do they stay human,
and she a spider,
an arachnid forever weaving?
Yes, she asked to be taught humility,
and no one has yet shown these people
the magnitude of their mistakes
and the necessity of turning away from hubris,
But it seems unjust
that they have what she longs for
and waste it
and all she builds for herself
they sweep away.
Hymn to Spider
I weave a web of words in honor of the eight ladies who are one,
wise in the ways of magic, spinners of fate’s delicate thread,
hunters by night, silent and stealth-footed ones,
travelers between worlds, who speak with gods,
poisonous death-bringers, dangerous to know,
whose beauty haunts the mind and won’t let go.
Hail to you, mothers of untold multitudes,
more ancient than men, and found in every part of the earth,
you who protect the fields and slay the disease-bearing pests
that would otherwise afflict us. You who bring good luck
to those sage souls who let your children live when found indoors.
May you find this hymn pleasing and remember me fondly for its singing.
La pizzica tarantata
You’ve heard the story as Ovid told it;
there’s no denying the man was god-inspired,
his account beautiful and true.
But myth is complex
and has many forms, changing like the sea with each telling.
We here in Apulia know a different version.
The sorrowful maiden — Arachne the Greeks called her,
but she was known as Ragno when she danced in our woods so long ago.
She was lovely with skin brown as the wheat of summer
with dark, dark hair that she wore in braids
and her voice was all honey and roses
when she sang the sacred hymns on festival days.
She could put on a good face,
pretend to be the daughter her father wanted her to be,
was a model of sweetness and decorum when out in her village,
never causing tongues to wag except in praise of her filial piety
— even if she had to hide everything she was and felt to do so.
The only times she could be truly herself were when she was alone,
wandering among strange forests and the ancient creatures that live there,
or when she was engaged in her art, spinning fabulous stories at the loom,
breathing her soul and its dark contents into the products of her nimble fingers.
And all the people who saw her tapestries
— so lifelike, and oh so monstrous —
were filled with an intense admiration
tinged with something akin to horror.
Such visions should not come from one so young and fair
— yet no one could deny the powerful compulsion they held.
It was impossible to look away and filled the people with that feeling
like when you wake from a nightmare only to realize that you weren’t dreaming.
Once Ragno, who said she saw with eyes of the nymphs,
depicted one of the peasant boys, handsome as Antinous
with black hair that spilled down his broad shoulders like
the rushing currents of the river Styx,
naked from the waist up — but missing his head,
which had tumbled down to the earth and gazed up in longing,
a victim of the harvest.
And a week after she finished the final stitch he died,
just as she had predicted.
The village built a shrine to him on that spot
and offered heroic holocausts to the strong youth.
The priest, as he sacrificed, wore the image she made emblazoned on his robes.
Such was the gift that Ragno bore;
to see what others dared not
and to make it manifest through her art.
The gifts of the gods are heavy and demanding;
they consume those who bear them until they are hollow
so the divine voice will echo all the more loudly.
Once she came into her art
Ragno was often inconsolable,
gnawed by despair, an indefinable sadness
tinging even her gayest moments
so that all appeared to her with a sallow hue.
It was always worse when she was around others.
Their expectations of her stung
like a thousand cuts washed with vinegar
— they bound her with their eyes and thoughts
and she clawed to be free,
raging and convulsing until she collapsed
to the earth and slept.
It got so bad that she couldn’t even leave the home.
She knew the shame of her father,
like a heavy stone around his neck
— but she couldn’t do anything about it.
Until one day a strange dark man came from the sea
with eyes that never quite met yours,
and when they did they seemed to see right past you, through you,
into a whole other world tilted slightly from this one.
He wore tall hunting boots,
a fox-skin pelt thrown across the left shoulder
over wine-dark dyed robes with even darker ivy along the trim,
a crown of green foliage fresh from the countryside
and braids strung with bones and precious jewels.
As he played his drum and sang hymns of the phallos
Ragno came alive, leaping up like a fawn
and rushing through her father’s door to dance free in the streets,
under the maniac’s spell.
She danced until she had sweated out her delirium,
and danced on even after that until she had lost all memory
of who she was and her soul wandered free
among the fire-breathing stars in heaven.
Eventually he stopped
and she came crashing back to herself.
She would have wailed
but she was too exhausted
— all Ragno could manage was to lay there at the feet of the prophet
and shudder with tears and laughter.
Then there was shouting,
some men of the village shoving the musician, insulting him,
spitting on him and threatening worse.
They said he was an evil magician
who had snared Ragno in the net of his song
and planned to drag her off to the mountain,
never to return. But he would,
hungry for more of their wives and daughters.
“I serve one who is greater than me,” was all he said in defense,
“And I must do what I must do.”
This stoked their rage into a murderous fire
and one of them picked up a heavy rock
and smashed his face in with it, saying, “You will sing no more.”
Spitting blood the stranger whispered,
“You may prune the vine, but it always comes back.”
And then he expired.
Ragno threw herself on his corpse,
kissed the tender mouth until her face was covered in his blood like a mask,
then she felt the iron grip of hands on her,
dragging her back to the home of her father.
He locked her away in her room,
saying it was all for her own good and one day she’d understand.
But that day never came.
Foolishly her father had left Ragno’s loom with her,
a half-finished portrait of some Egyptian queen on it,
fondling a serpent as it rested its head on her bare bosom,
and Ragno smashed the loom in her anguish and wrath,
destroying the work for she would weave no more after this.
Then she took a ball of dark red yarn
— red like blood, red like wine —
and prayed the gods to make her thread strong
as she fashioned it into a rope.
And they complied.
She strung the thread-woven rope from the rafters
and made a noose for her slender neck
— a lovely throat, oh soft flesh never kissed! —
and she ended her life by swinging like a broken doll.
But the goddess who had heard and answered was not done with Ragno.
She recognized in the girl something of herself,
something dark and mad and beautiful,
an artist whose work should not perish from the earth
and so Ariadne, the golden wife of Dionysos, the Aphrodite of the underworld,
put on a material form and scooped up the frail body of fair Ragno in her arms,
cutting her loose and laying her out on the floor
like a delicate flower arrangement.
Ariadne covered her cooling flesh in a salve
of aconite and other poisonous herbs
and then touched her soft lips to those of the girl,
breathing divine life into her body.
Ragno awoke to the world once more,
as Ariadne had done so long before on Naxos,
loosed from the halls of Haides by the love of the bull,
but everything was different for Ragno
since she now saw with four sets of eyes.
And when she reached out to touch
the shoulder of her benefactor,
she discovered that she possessed eight limbs.
Ariadne said, “You weave with such grace
that even we gods envy your skill; I have made it
so that you can go on creating forever. Henceforth
men shall know you as my companion,
the reflection of my image in the labyrinth.
You will have a share in the mad blessings of my husband and myself,
he who is your second father, the father of your freedom,
and you will teach many to dance in remorse.”
So spoke the goddess Ariadne,
and so it has been with us ever since,
as our daughters and wives flee their homes
especially during the dog days of summer,
stung by the spider to dance with the strange god
of forests and mountains.
Things did not always go smoothly between Ragno and Ariadne
— natures too similar often repulse —
but that is a tale for another time.
by Alex Conall
The many-eyed peers at the mirror
on which her many legs rest.
She has almost begun to know
that image as herself.
when you do not recognize
the face in the mirror,
think back to when you did.
Arakhne used to be
pale of skin and deft of touch.
She did good work,
with the spindle
and the loom.
Thus her ascent.
Thus her downfall.
Now she has spinnerets
and thus she spins,
and thus she weaves.
She does good work,
Metal so thin
would be less strong.
She watches herself for hubris,
and every so often
finds a mirror to gaze into
to remind herself of its price.
by Amanda Artemisia Forrester
O Arakhne, foolish and proud
Why would you challenge a Goddess so?
O Arakhne, large-eyed and sad
What did you hide from all?
Where does your father’s body lie?
Is that you, swinging from a tree?
Is that you, a noose around your neck?
Do you have another name?
Are you a lover of Bakkhos’ vine?
Tell me the secret, please!
Are you Erigone?
by Amanda Artemisia Forrester
Ah, Poor Spider, reviled by man!
Why do so many fear you,
Gentle daughters of Arakhne?
Helpful weavers of silky webs,
Who hunt the flies, mosquitoes, and other pests
Who buzz about our homes.
Poor Spider, you have so much to give
So much to teach us,
Yet most scream and run from you.
Oh well, you can be a harsh mistress,
Most could not be of use to you.
But I honor you, Grandmother Spider,
The weaver of wisdom.
You are remembered, Arakhne.
Circles within circles,
Webs within webs,
This is the way things work.
Isn’t this true, talented Arachne?
While you were weaving beautiful tapestries in a Lydian market place,
The Fates were weaving a web for you,
A web so fine, you didn’t notice it till you couldn’t escape,
A web made of constant praise by the admiring bystanders who watched you weave,
“Oh, look at the beautiful colours!”
“Look at the intricate designs!”
“The tapestries are fit to hang in the King’s private chambers!”
I think deep down in your heart you knew you had a Goddess given gift,
But what human can resist constant praise?
Then that fateful day in the market place happened,
When a strange old woman approached you,
Asking you about your skill.
If only you had noticed the old woman’s eyes,
Grey and cold as a warrior’s blade.
You could have saved yourself then,
By throwing yourself at Her feet and begging for Her forgiveness.
But alas, you were caught in the Web!
You told that old woman you were a better weaver than Athena Ergane Herself,
And the Goddess should come to you to prove Her skill.
Yes, you were caught in the Web.
Athena and the Fates wanted to teach you and all humans a lesson:
That the Gods are always greater than men in all things,
And we mortals are never to forget it.
Circles within circles,
Webs within webs,
You paid a dear price that day for your hubris, Arachne.
When we mortals see your children weaving their intricate webs,
We are reminded of the lesson.