Imagine being amazing at something. Now imagine being known for it, for people celebrating your talent, even comparing it to the gods. Can you see it? Can you feel your pride building? Now picture the goddess you are compared to coming for you, and you are going toe-to-toe with her. And you win. Your prize? Eternity transformed into a creature, a punishment earned because you were too proud to say you weren’t better than the goddess herself. This is the story of Arachne and Athena.
The story of Arachne and Athena’s contest has changed over the millennia. Most stories start off the same way: Arachne was a talented weaver. In most versions, she is proud of her work, and this leads to her downfall. For you see, some versions have Athena becoming enraged and challenging Arachne to a contest because of this, some that Arachne herself challenged her, and others that Zeus called for it as he was the judge. A lot has changed from version to version of the story, and that is no different when it comes to what they weave. However, the main theme that seems to be constant is that Athena weaves four scenes of the gods who punish humans who believe themselves to be their equals while Arachne weaves four scenes of the gods punishing humans for no reason.
This is where the story changes the most, however: the ending. I will tell you all three of the main versions. In one, Arachne beats Athena and, while in a rage, Athena curses Arachne to take the form of a spider. In another, Arachne and Athena wagered their weaving — the loser being unable to touch a spindle or loom ever again. In this version, Athena wins, and Arachne is so distraught that she will no longer be able to weave that Athena, taking pity on the girl, transforms her into a spider so that their bargain may not be broken. The last version of this story is that Athena is beaten, however she is impressed by the girl’s skills. So, she kisses Arachne’s forehead to give her the wisdom to see how her boasting has hurt and angered others and — in her sorrow — she hangs herself. Athena then transforms the rope into a web and Arachne into a spider.
Either way, the story of Arachne is a cautionary tale. Her pride gets her into trouble when she believes herself to be above the gods, and her punishment is one that leaves her cursed for eternity. One thing is for sure: never anger the Greek gods, or you might find yourself challenged by them — and in turn, cursed for all of time!
For more reading on the myth of Arachne (sources):