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The Weaver's Tale

THE WEAVER’S TALE

In which the mortal, Arachne, challenges the goddess, Athena

Martin Marais

© Martin Marais 2016

Martin Marais has asserted his rights

under the Copyright, Design and Patents Act, 1988,

to be identified as the author of this work.

This edition published in 2016 by Martin Marais

“Excuse me?” the merchant asked the textile stall owner. “Do you know where I might find the house of Arachne?”

“Are you joking?” queried the old stall owner. “Sure I know where she lives, I am a textile seller after all, and she is the best spinner and weaver in town, indeed in the whole province. And that’s saying something as Lidia is acknowledged throughout the known world as the place to come for high quality, the highest quality, textiles. But you won’t find any of Arachne’s work on my stall. Oh no, her goods are far too expensive for me or my customers to afford. No, she makes her stuff for kings and princes and the like. You’re not a prince are you, sir? You do look very splendid in your attire. May I recommend this fabric,” he said, lifting a bolt of material and holding it up for the merchant to examine. “It will complement your robe very well and it’s a very popular design, should you wish to buy it with an idea of selling it.”

The merchant fingered it absently, but with an expert touch.

“It’s very fine,” he observed, “but no, I have travelled for days, having heard of this Arachne, and I really need to visit her. Unfortunately I am not in Lidia for very long and so I do not have time to buy any textiles, much as I would like to.”

“Now look sir, I’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse, just fifty drachma for the entire bolt. You’ll more than double that in … Where did you say you were from?”

The merchant was starting to feel a little impatient with the old stall owner. He really had come to Lidia only to see this Arachne woman, and now the old man was trying to distract him with a sale. However, being a merchant, himself, he could not resist a good deal and the cloth was very good quality. He thought he must get himself an agent while he was in town and start importing Lidian textiles to his home town.

“Oh, from Knossos,” he said in a disinterested tone, but he kept the cloth between his finger and thumb so that the stall owner was not completely put off trying to sell him the fabric.

“Ah, Knossos. I had someone from Knossos buy some fabric from me just the other day, in an almost identical pattern to this, not as good quality, mind, but he saw it and bought it instantly. He didn’t even bother to haggle. ‘I’ll sell this in Knossos with no trouble at all’, he said, and he paid twice as much as the fifty drachma that I’m offering to sell this superior quality fabric to you for.”

“Really,” said the merchant. He dropped his hand from the fabric and looked around the market with a distracted air about him.

“I tell you what,” said the old stall owner, coming round to the front of his stall, “I’ll give it to you for forty drachma. That’s the best I can do, and I’ll personally escort you to Arachne’s house. It’s a good distance and I may miss a valuable customer or two while I’m away from my stall, but I’m happy to do it as an act of good faith.”

“Forty drachma, you say?”

“That’s my best offer.” The stall owner looked crest-fallen, as though he was about to cut off his arm and give it to the merchant.

The merchant bobbed his head from side to side and frowned. It was his favourite act of indecision, and usually effective.

“I’ll take it if … you give me two bolts at that price.”

The stall owner quickly grasped the merchant’s hand and shook it earnestly.

“Done!” he said and, turning to a child loitering nearby, called out, “Get another bolt of this fabric, would you?”

The child scuttled off and the merchant suddenly felt as though he’d been out-negotiated, but he was an honourable man and he handed over the coins. Yes, he thought, he would definitely need to get himself an agent – the market stall owners in Lidia were apparently quite unscrupulous!

Having taken the money, the stall owner appeared to have lost interest in their business affairs.

“Come, sir,” he said, “It’s this way to the house of Arachne.”

The merchant shook himself to regain his composure and followed the stall owner through the hustle and bustle of the crowded market. The stall owner jabbered on incessantly as though the merchant was the first person he had been able to talk to for years. The merchant’s mind drifted until the old stall owner’s prattling faded into the background noise of the market. The merchant found it a delightful experience wandering through the quaint streets and lanes of this pokey little provincial town with its backdrop of immense mountains. How, he wondered, had such a parochial place gained such a reputation for its fabrics?

“Athena has smiled upon your little town,” he observed, breaking into the unrelenting chatter of the stall owner.

“Huh?” The old stall owner seemed confused by the sudden change in direction of his conversation. “Oh yes, she did. She is the town’s greatest benefactor. Not only has she ordained the gift of skilled weaving to our ladies, but she has also made our men some of the best shepherds in the land. Our sheep provide some of the finest wool known to mankind, you know. Arachne’s father is a shepherd. Well, he was. He has no need to work anymore, as Arachne brings in more money than the pair of them is able to spend. Her mother died, unfortunately, when Arachne was quite young, so the main spender in the house is no longer with them. They must now have rooms full of the stuff, money, I mean. Of course, they had a well-planned business strategy. What with him being a shepherd and her a weaver, you could say they had the complete supply chain – from the finest raw material to the final perfect product.”

The stall owner’s scrawny chest was almost swelling with pride as he retold the success story of the famous people of his town.

The merchant was very impressed that such a lowly business man could be so aware of commerce. Maybe he should open a shop in the town, he thought.

“Here we are,” said the excited stall owner. “Is it not a magnificent house? A palace?”

And it was, by Lidian standards, very impressive, although, the merchant noted, it was much smaller than his own house; but then he was a bigwig in a big city. Nevertheless, he did concede that the house was very pleasant.

They stood in a wide street, fronted by high walls, above which a multi-storeyed dwelling loomed. It was surrounded by large trees, in particular magnificent, broad-branched cypress. The heady aroma of the trees hung densely in the hot, still air. The huge iron gates of the house of Arachne were open and through them large numbers of people streamed. They hurried up a wide gravel path set between small, immaculate hedges of box. Beyond the hedges, beautifully laid gardens sheltered from the desiccating heat beneath the expansive, maternal boughs of the cypress trees.

“Come!” the stall owner urged. “We must hurry or there’ll be no space for us in the weaving room.”

Taking the merchant by the elbow, he guided him up the path towards the white stone mansion. He kept up a good pace and they were overtaking other visitors at quite a rate.

“This way,” he said, stepping over the low hedge and cutting diagonally across the gardens, towards a large annex. It also was white, but single storeyed with enormous windows. The rich terracotta tiled roof shone in the late morning sunlight. They joined the line of people waiting to enter the annex. The queue shuffled along slowly so that a fine dust covered their sandals. The room they entered was sizeable, but the oversized windows caused it to be as bright as though one was standing outside. The walls were expertly plastered and whitewashed and on them hung tapestries and embroideries of such quality that the merchant stared at them open-mouthed. By all the gods, he thought, the stall owner had called Lidian textiles perfect. That was an understatement. They were… indescribable.

“Is this the work of Arachne?” he asked, his voice husky with awe.

“Of course. Who else could have made them?”

“Athena?”

The stall owner laughed.

“No, it’s all Arachne’s work,” he said gaily. “You have a look at them, while I save two places for us.”

“Alright,” said the merchant vaguely.

He stepped up to a tapestry and then stepped back involuntarily as a lion appeared to leap out of the work at him. He held his hand to his chest where his heart pumped vigorously within his ribs. The lion hung before him as though it was separate from the landscape from which it was springing. Its eyes glowed with a malevolence that struck terror into his excited heart. He could almost feel its breath on his face. He was still transfixed by the work, having been unable to move away from examining it in the minutest detail, when someone startled him by tapping him on the shoulder. He jumped into the air.

“WHAT!” he exploded in shock.

“It’s about to start,” said a tall man rather put out by the merchant’s rudeness.

“Oh! Oh, sorry,” he said sheepishly.

He looked around. In the far corner he saw a weaver’s work area laid out. How he had not noticed it before he could not fathom, for there was a large loom, spinning wheels, embroidery frames and a table covered with the paraphernalia of the weavers’ trade. The merchant spotted the stall owner. He was at the front of the excited audience, as close to the loom as he could get, and, like the rest of the spectators, he sat cross-legged on the mosaic floor. He was waving energetically at the merchant. The merchant walked clumsily through the chattering crowd. There was very little space in which to place his feet and, as he made his way to the front, he was constantly being distracted by the other works that hung on the wall. He could hardly take his eyes from them. When he reached the front, the stall owner patted an empty space beside him.

“Here,” he said, “I found this for you.” He indicated a cushion he had located.

“I can’t sit on that!” the merchant exclaimed when he saw the beauty of the embroidery.

“Of course you can. It’s one of Arachne’s seconds. If you are lucky she may even let you buy it afterwards.”

A movement caught the merchant’s eye and from a doorway behind the workspace three slave girls appeared. The crowd instantly fell silent in anticipation. Each girl walked to her allocated place on the ‘stage’. They sat down. The merchant stared at the doorway, willing Arachne to enter. And then to rapturous applause who should enter but… an old man. The merchant felt his chest collapse with disappointment.

“Who’s he?” he asked curtly.

“That’s Arachne’s father. He never misses one of her shows.”

The old man came to the front of the stage and bowed, dipping his head in recognition of the audience’s respect. He walked proudly to a cushioned chair and settled into it. Ignoring the audience, he stared at the doorway. The merchant also turned his attention to the doorway. The applause from the crowd died down. And then nothing! Silent expectation flooded the room like a rising tide. The merchant felt as though he could hardly breathe, it was as though he had been swamped by the waters of a warm bath. He held his breath. And then, suddenly, there she was, Arachne.

The crowd burst into rapturous applause

She floated through the doorway like an apparition. Her turquoise robe clung to her slim, tall, elegant, beautiful, mesmerising, stunning – he run out of adjectives – body like a second skin. Around her floated a vapour-like cloak which at first appeared translucent white, but as she moved it shimmered as though she was wearing a rainbow.

The crowd was jumping about and hollering and whooping her praise and clapping passionately. The merchant now realised that he too was on his feet, shouting wildly and clapping his hands so exuberantly that his palms started to sting.

Arachne stood with her arms raised and her fingers stretched out as she absorbed the riotous accolade from her admirers. Her smile bathed the crowd with its warmth and her cinnamon eyes sparkled with delight. After an appropriate amount of adoration, Arachne bowed her head coyly and, lowering her arms, waved her hands in a plea for her admirers to stop.

“Thank you. Thank you. You are so kind,” she called above the thunderous ovation.

Slowly the adulation ebbed and the crowd settled back onto the floor. She stood over them like a goddess, her hands clasped in front of her abdomen. She smiled, her teeth brilliant white.

“Today,” she announced, “I am to start a new piece!”

She waited for another round of applause to stop.

“I am to create a scene from the legend of Jason and the Golden Fleece. Oh, I know I’ve done it before.” She waved her hand in comic indifference. The audience laughed loyally. “But, as you know, it is a theme I love. After all, if it were not for fleeces where would we weavers be?” Again, there was an attentive laugh. “But the main reason I wish to do it again is that it shall be the best work I have ever done!” Applause. “For, at last, I have discovered how to turn gold into thread.” A gasp seemed to fill the room and was followed by more applause. “Yes, so the fleece will be embroidered with the real thing!” Rapturous applause. She flashed her perfect teeth at them. “You are so kind. Now I shall start, but before I do, I would like to dedicate this new work to my dear father.”

She swept her arm, elegantly in his direction, inviting her audience to adore him while she stepped lightly across the stage and settled herself in front of a large embroidery frame. She waited patiently for the crowd to settle down again. Once their attention was back on her, she announced, “I shall start with the sky.”

She gave one of the slaves a curt nod. The girl stepped forward holding a reel of thread and a needle which she deferentially handed to Arachne. As Arachne deftly threaded the needle the merchant was astonished. The thread was as fine as gossamer and shimmered like something from another world. Then Arachne attacked the fabric with the needle and thread. The merchant could not think of any other way to describe how Arachne worked. But the attack was not vicious. There was no blood lust of the sort the merchant had been involved in during his youth as a soldier. Her movements were rapid and determined, but flowed so beautifully that she seemed to have slowed time down. The merchant could see every sensuous sweep of her arm and every delicate twist of her wrist. He was mesmerised, hypnotised, in love.

He noticed her full, red lips moving. A melodious sound touched his ears like soft, warm kisses. Then he realised she was talking. He came back to the world of men.

“Any other questions?” her voice tinkled across the room.

Some sycophant asked an annoyingly inconsequential question, but Arachne answered it with grace and charm, without interrupting the flow of her work for a moment. It was as though she were two people, the conversationalist and the artist.

The merchant raised his hand. The stall owner looked at him quizzically.

One of the slave girls was choosing who could ask the questions. After what seemed like an eternity, she pointed at the merchant. He sat up straighter and cleared his throat.

“I am overwhelmed,” he said, “I have never in all my years as a merchant of fabrics and textiles seen work of such unsurpassed beauty.”

Arachne tilted her head to acknowledge the praise.

“You are very kind, sir.”

The slave girl started to point to another admirer, but, not realising that his turn was over, the merchant continued.

“Your work is so beautiful, I sense that you must have been taught by the goddess Athena herself.”

The merchant did not notice the minute hesitation in Arachne’s movement, nor the slight pursing of her luscious mouth. The slave girl vacillated for an instant and the merchant continued blindly on.

“Surely your work can be second only to that of the divine Athena herself.”

A shocked gasp ran through the crowd. Arachne stopped, her arm extended. The shimmer of the gossamer thread seemed like a fine cut in the atmosphere between her work and her hand. The tip of the needle sparkled dangerously in the mid-day sunlight. The mood in the room was charged with tension. Arachne stared at him, her eyes the colour of burnt almonds. She slowly drew her hand down and rested it in her lap. She gave the merchant a patronising smile.

“Firstly, I am entirely self-taught,” she informed him tightly. “I learnt a little from my mother, when she was alive, but other than that I have had no need of lessons from anyone, least of all Athena.”

The stall owner touched his heart with the tips of his fingers and then his lips and finally his forehead, before tossing the placatory adulation to the heavens. The merchant bowed his head in conciliation. Arachne glared at him for a moment.

“As for your second point, sir, I can assure you that my work is second to none. Why should I, with all my talent, be regarded as inferior to any being, mortal or immortal?” she declared.

The merchant imagined that he saw the shadow of an owl flit across the room. But when he looked up there was no owl to be seen. He blinked to clear his mind of the image.

“Excuse me?”

Everyone looked around. In the doorway stood a very old woman – the oldest and ugliest hag the merchant had ever had the misfortune to lay his eyes on. Dressed in widow’s black, she was so bent over her stick that she had to hold her head up in order to look at Arachne. Hair, white as a sheep’s fleece, snaked from under her hood.

“Oh, do please pardon the rudeness of my intrusion,” she bobbed about anxiously, “but I could not help overhearing what you said.”

The merchant furrowed his brow. For one so old, she seemed to have a strong and forceful voice.

“And?” asked Arachne impertinently.

The old woman smiled, showing ragged and stained teeth.

“My dear, as you can see, I am a woman of great age and therefore of great wisdom and I wish to impart upon you some of that wisdom.”

“I don’t need advice from an old widow like …”

The old woman held up her hand. The authority of the action silenced even the arrogant Arachne. She stepped forward and the audience parted as though some unspoken command had been given. She hobbled between the ranks of seated people. The head of her stick moved from side to side so alarmingly that the merchant thought she was in danger of falling at any minute. Some members of the audience tittered rudely at her infirmity. Arachne stood up from her work and went forward to meet the old lady. She stopped at the entrance to the path that had formed through her audience and stood like a guard to prevent the old woman entering onto her stage. Arachne stood straight and tall with her arms folded. She smiled condescendingly at the old, bent woman as she shuffled towards her. The old woman stopped. She had to rotate her shoulder in order to look up at Arachne, who towered over her.

“My dear,” she said, “are you too proud to take the kindly advice of an old woman?”

Arachne narrowed her eyes, but her voice remained calm and serene.

“Of course not, wise old woman.”

The old woman smiled lopsidedly.

“Then take my advice in the tenor in which it is intended. You are a woman of great skill; a skill that is recognised and admired throughout the known world. Indeed, your skill is greater than that of any living mortal.”

Arachne relaxed. A smile crept to the corners of her tight mouth.

“And as such you may challenge your fellow mortals as much as you wish, for none can better you, but …”

Arachne’s face stiffened.

“… do not compare your ability with that of the gods. No mortal could ever produce work that could match that of the gods, especially that of Athena.”

Arachne’s arms fell to her sides. She bunched her hands into small, angry fists. She seemed fit to burst with fury, but held her tongue as she glared down at the old woman.

“My dear, you could never compete with Athena. I advise you to quickly ask the goddess Athena for her forgiveness for what you have said. Ask her now and she may pardon your foolishness.”

Arachne’s beautiful face became puce and ugly with fury.

“HOW DARE YOU!” She stamped her foot. “How dare you come into my house and besmirch my work? Who do you think you are? I do not need to listen to an old witch like you. Keep your advice for your ugly daughters and their handmaidens. I do not need you to tell me what is what. I know the truth of the matter. I … I …” She was at a loss for words. She placed her fists at her temples and looked to the heavens. “I am not afraid of Athena. Let her come down here,” she declared, “If she is so good, let her come down and test her skill against mine!” She glared at the old woman, “If she dare!”

The old woman looked sadly at Arachne.

“I shall call her for you.”

In a flash the old woman was enveloped in a blinding light. A beam of dancing colours extended upwards from the light. It shone through one of the windows and continued up towards the heavens. A white vapour seemed to drift down the beam of light. An unearthly sound filled the room, which the merchant could only liken to the muffled song of cicadas. Then the beam contracted into its source and the light slowly faded. In the place where the old woman had stood there was now the most striking being the merchant had ever had the fortune to lay his eyes on. She was … indescribable!

“I am here,” said Athena.

As one, the audience touched their hearts with their fingertips, then their lips and then their foreheads, and extending their arms towards the goddess they fell forward onto the floor in supplication.

Arachne’s face turned white with fear. She instinctively performed the genuflection. She blushed with shame and was about to prostrate herself before the goddess, but then she stopped herself. She stared at the woman stood before her. She clenched her jaw and drew back her shoulders. The merchant dared to raise his head a little in order, surreptitiously, to watch the scene before him.

“You do not throw yourself at my feet in contrition?” asked Athena, with a steely edge to her voice.

“Why should we always see ourselves as inferior to the likes of you?” Arachne demanded.

“Because I am a goddess, an immortal. You are a human, a mortal. You are what we make you. It was I who gave you your skills. You would be nothing without me.”

“That is where you are wrong! For if you gave me my skill, how is it that I am more skilful than you? As I most certainly am!”

Despite her godliness, Athena was taken aback by the brazenness of this mortal. She studied the woman before her. Arachne thrust her chin forward definitely. A smile danced briefly across Athena’s features.

“We shall see.”

People scrambled out of the way as, in another corner of the room, a weaver’s work area rose up from the floor – a large loom, spinning wheels, embroidery frames and a table covered with the paraphernalia of the weavers’ trade. It was in all respects identical to that of Arachne. Athena even had three slave girls that were identical, in every detail, to those of Arachne.

“I shall allow you to test your skills against mine,” Athena announced. “And when you lose, you shall lose everything. You shall return to the mountains as the daughter of a lowly shepherd living in the meanest of shacks.”

“And if I win?”

“You won’t.”

“I shall!”

The air crackled with tension.

“We shall use our looms,” commanded Athena. “That is the true test of any weaver’s skill. You have until sunset.”

Arachne turned instantly and sat before her loom. She flung orders at her slaves and they ran around frantically collecting whatever she needed. Then she started, moving as serenely as though she had not a care in the world. Her movements were fluid and yet precise. The look on her beautiful face was one of calm confidence. The merchant looked across at Athena. It was as if he was looking into a mirrored reflection of Arachne, for Athena seemed to be the perfect double of the weaver. The audience watched in mesmerised silence.

Word had spread around the town about what had happened and the windows of the weaving room soon filled with the faces of curious, quiet spectators. The temperature grew as the heat of the day expanded into the room. Male slaves entered and wafted the air over the audience using huge fans of ostrich feathers in a vain attempt to cool them down. Water jugs were soon emptied, but no one dared leave the room to refill them in case their place was taken by one of those standing outside. Some dozed lightly in the oppressive heat. The dark shadows of those standing at the windows glided slowly across the backs of those sitting in the room. Motes of fibre drifted from the looms and twinkled in the air like a galaxy of tiny stars.

The corners of the room started to darken and the temperature subsided. The shadows lengthened and started to creep up the walls. Torches were lit and placed in sockets in the walls behind Athena and Arachne. They were so intent on their work that they did not seem to notice the activity around them. While, at first glance, they still appeared identical, the merchant noticed a small difference in the appearance of the two competitors. While the mouth of Athena remained tight-lipped with determination, that of Arachne carried an almost imperceptible smile. It was barely detectable, but it was there. Her red lips were relaxed and their corners turned up minutely. The smile continued into her cheeks, which bore the tiniest indents of dimples. Beside him, the stall owner snored quietly. Then, simultaneously, Athena and Arachne sat back and declared, “I am done.”

The stall owner started awake and the audience was suddenly completely attentive.

Athena stood and ordered the work of Arachne, which was hanging on the wall between the two work stations, to be removed.

“Do you wish to show yours first?” she asked Arachne.

Arachne demurred graciously.

A brazier was placed at either end of the hanging wall. Athena’s tapestry was lifted from its loom. As it was placed between the braziers a buzz of excitement rose from the crowd. The merchant’s hands bunched into fists of anticipation. When it was in place the braziers were moved closer. The audience gasped. The merchant felt little shocks pulsating over his skin as though it crawled with tiny insects. His lungs seemed to contract and restrict his breath. It was the most wonderful, extraordinarily beautiful object he had ever seen in his life.

The merchant’s eye was drawn to a golden path that started at the bottom edge of the tapestry. He felt as though he could walk along it and up the slopes of a colossal Mount Olympus. On the summit, twelve celestial deities gathered around the great Zeus, who sat on a lofty throne of golden clouds. It seemed to each individual in the room that they were the sole focus of the kindly gazes emanating from the exquisite eyes of the gods. Each god was depicted doing a kindly act for the people. Neptune was striking a rock with his trident and from it sprang a horse that he bequeathed to the people. Athena was there, smiling benignly and in full, glowing, golden armour. She had thrust her spear into the earth and from it sprouted an olive tree laden with fruit for the people. Behind the tree stood the glorious city of Athens, another gift to the people. The merchant dragged his eyes to the edges of the work and in each corner something terrifying was depicted. For although the gods are kind, the four corner scenes showed the terrible things that can happen to those mortals arrogant enough to challenge the gods. The never-ending struggle of Sisyphus, condemned to rolling a boulder uphill for eternity; the torment of Ixion, tied to a burning wheel; the agony of Prometheus, having his liver torn out by an eagle, and the blinding of Tiresias.

The expressions of despair and anguish on the faces of the punished mortals sent a shiver crawling down the merchant’s spine. He glanced across at Arachne. She was studying the tapestry. To his amazement, rather than fear or humility, he saw a look of disdain clouding her beautiful features.

Arachne stepped forward.

“Is it my turn now?” she asked. She sounded like an impudent child.

Athena glared at the impertinent girl. She pointedly stared at her work and made a show of examining each corner, where she had indicated how the gods punish mortals who dare to displease them. She looked back at Arachne. Arachne held her gaze.

“If you wish,” Athena said tightly.

Arachne clicked her fingers at her slaves and they gathered her tapestry from its loom and hung it on the wall. The audience sat in stunned silence. Like Athena’s work, a golden path drew you into the picture and led onwards to the mighty Mount Olympus. Again, it was as if the actual mountain rose in the distance before you. The merchant blinked. Surely it was a trick of the light. Surely it was the flames playing on the fibres that made it appear as though the mortals and gods were actually moving! Their positions did not seem to change, but there was something alive about the image.

A look of thunder passed over Athena’s face. There was no doubt that Arachne had produced a work of superior skill to that of the goddess.

Having overcome his astonishment at the quality of the work, the merchant studied the imagery in more detail. A small guffaw leapt from his throat, which he quickly tried to swallow. There was Zeus frolicking with a host of young women and goddesses and …no! Surely not! Arachne had portrayed him, Athena’s own father, copulating with a cow! And beside him his sister and lover, Hermes, was blinding the mortal Tiresias simply for siding with Zeus in an argument. And there was Artemis, a vindictive sneer on her face, turning Actaeon into a deer to be killed by his own hunting dogs. Finally, there was Nemesis, making a forlorn Narkissos fall in love with his own refection.

With difficulty the merchant dragged his eyes from the shocking images that danced before him to sneak a look at Athena. She stood motionless, as though turned into stone. The soft fabric of her clothes had transformed into the golden armour normally associated with the goddess. At her side hung a bejewelled scabbard from which the golden handle of a sword protruded.

“So, goddess, who is the better weaver?” asked Arachne, her voice sharp with pride.

Athena seemed to jolt from her shocked stillness. She flew into a fury. She leapt forward and snatched the tapestry off the wall and in a passion of screaming rage she tore it asunder. She stood, her chest heaving, surrounded by the tattered remnants of Arachne’s labour and glared at the girl.

Arachne took a shocked step forward, pointing at the shredded remains of her work lying on the floor, an expression of torment on her face. Then her face went red with anger.

“How dare you!” she yelled at the goddess. “How dare you!” Then, turning towards the people, she shouted. “Do you see? Do you see the arrogance of the gods! They cannot bear to be beaten by mere mortals. How you have shown yourself to be little better than us mortals,” she sneered at Athena. “You, a goddess, behaving no better than a spoilt child! Destroying my beautiful tapestry will not remove the fact that it was better than yours!”

Athena stepped forward. She seemed to grow in height as she did so until she towered over Arachne. Arachne took an involuntary step back. She leaned back looking into the eyes of Athena, but her hands were bunched into defiant fists at her side.

“I care nothing about the quality of your tapestry!” stormed Athena. “I knew how good it could be, for it was me that gave you the skill.”

Arachne went to protest the fact, but Athena spoke over her.

“I had hoped that you would display some humility. But that is not what offends me; it is what you portray that insults me. How dare you belittle the gods so blatantly! For that, there can be no reprieve. Since you consider yourself such an excellent weaver, you and all your family shall do so for all eternity, except your silk will come from your rear-end!”

With a movement so rapid it seemed a blur Athena drew her sword and touched the tip of it lightly on Arachne’s forehead. Arachne’s hand flew to the spot. She staggered back a few paces against her loom. She clutched the wooden frame and then fainted and her body slumped over it. Her legs started to shrink. They grew shorter and shorter and her feet shrunk to nothing as they disappeared within the folds of her dress. Her arms seemed to shrink into her shoulders and her thumbs into her hands, until nothing but four fingers protruded from each of her shoulders. They slowly turned black as Arachne’s whole body seemed to shrivel into nothing.

The merchant pushed his hand against his mouth to quell the sense of nausea that welled inside him. His mouth lubricated in anticipation of the bile that was threatening to disgorge from his stomach.

Arachne woke from her faint when all that seemed to be left of her was her head. Her eyes grew wide with fear and her mouth opened in a silent scream. Her head slowly shrunk until it seemed that she had completely disappeared. Then the fine material of her robes slid, like a shimmering rainbow, down the slope of the loom and from the wooden frame a small, black creature slowly descended on a gossamer thread. It hung there, waving its eight black legs frantically.

“Behold Arachne!” announced Athena, pointing at the creature.

Everyone stood up and edged cautiously forward to get a better look at the tiny, glossy, black animal.

The merchant started when someone shouted urgently, “Look!”

The merchant snapped his eyes from the ghastly scene before him.

The woman who had shouted was pointing at the floor.

The merchant looked down. Scuttling towards him in an erratic, confused manner was the most grotesque thing he had ever seen in his life. It was just smaller than the palm of his hand. It walked quickly on eight legs that moved in a revolting fashion as they propelled the creature forward. Its small head and bulbous, fleshy body was covered with a mat of grey hairs. The merchant recoiled from it, but on it came. Instinctively, he lifted his sandaled foot and brought it crashing down on the beast. A cloud of dust exploded from under his foot as it smashed down onto the creature.

The merchant cautiously lifted his foot.

The animal lay crushed on the floor, a blue fluid had burst from it and the merchant scraped the sole of his sandal along the mosaic floor in disgust.

The woman who had shouted gasped in shock. Her hands flew to her mouth in horror.

“That was Arachne’s father,” she said in a rasping whisper.

THE END


The Weaver's Tale

A merchant visits Lidia to see Arachne, the world renowned spinner and weaver, but he sees much more than he expects when the boastful Arachne challenges the goddess Athena to see who is the best weaver, a moral or a goddess. The result might surprise you.

  • Author: Martin Marais
  • Published: 2016-11-08 19:05:08
  • Words: 6208
The Weaver's Tale The Weaver's Tale