Lesson 5.3: Arachne and Minerva

Minerva was the Roman goddess of wisdom, strategy, arts, and trade. She was excellent at weaving beautiful tapestries.

Minerva est dea. Minerva texit bene.

All the Roman women prayed to Minerva to help them with their weaving work except for one young shepherd’s daughter named Arachne. Legend has it that Arachne learned to spin wool and weave beautifully before she could talk. She spent all her time sitting in front of her loom making beautiful pictures with brightly colored threads.

Arachne est filia pastoris. Arachne texit bene.

Arachne’s family was so proud of her work, and they took her to competitions to show off her skills. Every contest that she entered, she won. She began to think that she was the best weaver in the whole land. When she won even more contests she thought she was the best weaver that ever lived. She stopped praying and sacrificing to Minerva and began to think that her skills were due to her own hard work alone. She believed that the student had surpassed the master.

Quot certamina lanifica Arachne vincit? Cur Arachne non adorat Minervam?

At one competition an old woman overhead her boasts and challenged her, saying, “You are not the best weaver in the world. Don’t you know that Minerva is better than any mortal?” “No,” Arachne replied, “I am the best weaver there ever was and ever will be.” At that moment the old woman transformed into a tall, beautiful goddess, and Arachne realized that she was speaking with Minerva herself.

Arachne: “Minerva non texit optime! Ego texo optime!”

Minerva challenged Arachne to a weaving competition, and they began to weave straight away. Minerva’s tapestry was a beautiful picture of Jupiter and Juno punishing mortal men and women who challenged the gods. Arachne’s tapestry depicted the gods’ worst behaviors, and her skills did rival Minerva’s own. When Minerva looked at the tapestry she was shocked to see how good it was, perhaps even better than her own! She was so angry with Arachne that she ripped her tapestry off of the loom’s frame and tore it to pieces. Then turning to the shepherd’s daughter, she cursed her to weave forever and turned her into a spider.

Dea et puella sunt in certamine. Minerva et Arachne texunt. Puella texit bene. Dea irata est. Minerva mutat puellam. Arachne est aranea.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

How would you describe Minerva’s personality in this myth? Arachne’s?

Do you think Arachne’s punishment was fair? Why or why not?

When is competition a good thing? When is it problematic?