This was supposed to be for the Spider Temple last weekend, but it only got finished this week.
Arachne and Athena
for Venus and Forrest
A long time ago, this girl had a loom.
Her skill at weaving was quite amazing.
It was expected she’d soon have a groom,
since her cloth was so pretty and pleasing.
She could weave pattenrs to make the soul dance
and not a thread of weft felt out of place.
What’s more, as she worked, she’d enter a trance
that made her cloth seem a product of grace.
Yet when she sat idle, far from her bench,
she bragged a bit too much about her skill.
The village lads thought her a vain cruel wench,
with a braggart’s tongue and petulant will.
They all admired the work of her hands,
but none was eager to trade wedding bands.
“No matter,” she thought, as her shuttle flew,
and her cloth grew longer by inch and yard.
“My weaving alone is perfect and true,
and what’s easy for me, others find hard.
Not even the gods can weave quite so well:
Athena’s ham-handed compared to me.
Luna in heaven and Kore in hell,
though each is a mighty divinity,
are mere amateurs in the warp and weft.”
Suiting actions to thought she made a flag
proclaiming her greatness with fingers deft,
mocking Athena as merely a hag.
She hung it in the marker by her stall
and raised herself above the gods, to all.
But Athena herself was passing through,
and the sign put her in a dreadful rage.
“I’ll warrant this girl hasn’t got a clue;
she needs a lesson in acting her age,
and praising the gods as brightest and best.
I’ll wrap myself up in mortal disguise
and challenge the girl. We’ll have a small test,
expose her skill as bravado and lies.”
She put on a mask of wrinkles and chins,
a Greek Mrs. Roosevelt, more or less,
and chose the more toothless of toothless grins,
put on an old woman’s ragged old dress.
“Let’s see what this girl Arachne can weave,
and if she’s boasting, I’ll soon make her grieve.”
She wobbled right up to the weaver’s stall,
and asked why she thought she was great.
“The gods are mighty, and there is a wall
between their talents and ours. Don’t tempt fate
but claim just to be the best among men.
Your work is good, but why anger the gods?
THey’re not really known for counting to ten
before they attack with whips and with rods
those who deny them the respect they’re due.”
Said Arachne with an unpleasant sneer,
“Athena can’t teach me anything new,
but rather my talents she ought to fear:
my weaving’s better than hers, which I’ll prove
if she dare to appear and disapprove.”
The goddess flung off the habit of age,
stood in her armor with glory revealed.
“Your weaving is good but your thoughts less sage.
By such bragging is your destiny sealed!”
Two looms then appeared beneath the tent tarp,
rigged to weave tapestries of epic size,
and shuttles too, and thread to fill the warp.
“Choose any pattern you care to devise,”
said the goddess. “And I’ll fill my loom, too.
Rewards I’ll give if your work is finer
than mine. Stop when the moon is in view,
and if I prove the better designer…”
she left the threat unsaid, but each set to bench,
the angry goddess and the boastful wench.
Finally the contest drew to a close,
and Arachne and Athena stepped back,
leaving their looms as the waxing moon rose.
One by one they took each cloth from its rack,
and hung them on the walls for inspection.
Oh the colors and patterns they wove!
Each tapestry showed signs of perfection.
Each would be prized in any treasure trove,
each seemed utterly matchless and unique,
with not a single thread twitched out of place.
The goddess admitted, with outlook bleak,
that the girl’s tapestry held not a trace
of foul-up, fault or flaw upon the loom.
Athena sank into a mournful gloom.
Her own work, of course, was flawless and grand
a tapestry showing the Trojan War.
As her divine eyes saw, so did her hand
weave the whole tale as never seen before:
the long ten years before the Scaean Gates.
Here were Hector, Nestor, Trojans and Greeks,
above them the gods, from Zeus to the Fates,
and near the bottom, the dismal dim weeks
between Hector’s doom and the hollow horse.
Each man that fought had his place in the weft.
Athena put in women too, of course —
Iphegenia, Hecuba bereft,
Clytemnestra and Cassandra the seer;
Penelope weaving at home, in fear.
Then the moon’s light touched Arachne’s weaving,
and Athena saw what the girl had made.
What she saw set the goddess to raging.
She let the vain girl know her failing grade.
The wench showed Zeus in his lustful fashions,
Europa’s white bull, and Io in cloud.
All his affairs and most basic passions
she exposed, and quite clearly she was proud
of Leda in the swan’s feathered embrace
and Danae bathing in the golden rain.
Each form bore the god’s celebrity face…
and the visit to Semele made plain
that Hera stood by a cold marriage bed
which Zeus hadn’t slept in, since they were wed.
Fury appeared in Athena’s kind face,
and she struck Arachne with the shuttle.
“How dare you mock the gods! It’s not your place
to make divine passions appear so little,
so petty, or so human! Show respect
to the gods, or we’ll crush you at our whim!
Live your life only as the gods direct
or they in anger will make your life grim.”
Arachne found herself strangely changing,
suddenly shrinking smaller and smaler,
arms and legs splitting and re-arranging,
body becoming spindly and frailer.
As Arachne’s body was redefined,
the Goddess destroyed the cloth she’d designed.
The tapestry of Zeus’s adventures
soon became a tangle of shredded threads;
All the shapes of his beautiful creatures
she reduced to tatters of blues and reds.
The god’s lustful actions vanished from sight
as Athena pulled the arras to rags.
Arachne quailed from the goddess’s might.
“The same will be done to any who brags
their mortal skills are better than divine,”
said the bright goddess to all who could hear.
“Arachne’s fate shall be the warning sign
to those who challenge gods. Let mortals fear:
a great gulf divides the high gods from men,
and none should claim to surprass us again.”
Arachne finished her transformation,
changed to the spider Athena had willed.
Weaving became her life’s dedication,
and every single lover she has killed.
Now eight limbs replace the four she once had,
and her distaff is well hidden from sight,
yet still her skills at weaving make her glad,
and dawn on her cloth fills her with delight.
For the truth is, Athena’s curse could change
Arachne, but not take away her skill.
The gods can cause ruin, and minds derange,
but they cannot break down what human will
imagines, nor what mortal minds can shape,
and Arachne weaves far the better drape
than the cloth the gods can weave on their own.
Eos knows this: when she sprinkles the dew,
she sets her diamonds on Arachne’s home,
and points mortal eyes at the wonder, too.
Athena’s temples lie in broken piles
and women do not weave much, anymore.
We admire still the spider’s wiles
even while we’re sweeping her out the door.
Though it’s best not to brag the gods are worse,
or that you’re better than them in some way.
Apollo’s probably better at verse
than a hip-hop rapper living today.
Yet mortals can outshine the gods at times,
Thus, seek excellence in all your designs.