Year 3 Language and Literature

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Arachne the Weaver - A Myth from Ancient Greece

arachne and athena

In What Your Year 3 Child Needs to Know, we learn about stories from ancient Greece, the birthplace of the Olympics and of democracy, and we call these stories 'myths'. Many myths tell about brave heroes, great battles, terrible monsters, gods and goddesses. Some myths explain why things are the way they are, or why people behave in the ways they do. The characters in myths are all make-believe, but the lessons about human nature are as true for us now as they were in ancient Greece.

In all of Athens, no one could spin such fine thread or weave such wonderful cloth as the young woman named Arachne [ar-ACK-nee]. People from miles around came to admire her cloth. Arachne grew so proud of her weaving that she began to boast: 'I am the most skilful weaver in the world!'

'Yes, of course,' said her friends, 'next to the great goddess Athena.'

'Athena? Ha!' said Arachne. 'Can she spin thread so fine, or weave it into cloth as beautiful as mine? Why, I could teach her a thing or two!'

An old woman in a dark cloak spoke to Arachne. 'Be careful, my dear,' she said. 'You must show respect for the gods. Your boasting may anger Athena.'

'I'm not afraid of Athena,' snapped Arachne. 'Let her come here and we'll see who is the better weaver.' Then the old woman threw back her cloak. There was a flash of light, and there stood the grey-eyed goddess, Athena. 'I am ready,' said Athena quietly. 'Take me to a loom, and let us begin. When we are finished, if your work is best, then I will weave no more. But if my work is best, then you will never weave again. Do you agree?'

'I agree,' said Arachne. 'Let us begin.' She went to one loom and Athena to another. The people looked on in wonder as the goddess and the young woman wove brilliant designs into their cloth. With threads of many colours, Arachne wove cloth as fine and light as a silken web.

'How beautiful!' said the people. 'It almost seems as if she could weave sunlight and rainbows into her cloth.' Arachne stepped back from her loom and turned to look at Athena's work. Into her cloth the goddess had woven flowers that seemed to bloom, and a stream that seemed to ripple by, and clouds that seemed to float peacefully in a blue sky and, above them, the dazzling figures of the immortal gods themselves. When the people looked at it, they were so filled with wonder that they gasped. Arachne herself had to admit that Athena's work was more beautiful than her own. She hid her face in her hands and wept.

'Oh, how can I live if I must never spin or weave again?' she cried. When Athena saw that Arachne would never have any joy unless she could spin and weave, she said: 'I cannot break the agreement we had, but I will change you so that you spin and weave forever.' And with a touch, she turned Arachne into a spider, which ran to a corner and quickly began to spin and weave a beautiful, shining web. And that is why some people say that all spiders in the world are the children of Arachne.

There is a special name for the class of animals that spiders belong to. Spiders are not insects but arachnids. People who are afraid of spiders - is that you? - are said to suffer from arachnophobia. 'Phobia' is from a Greek word meaning fear of something.

This activity is adapted from pages 76 - 78 of What Your Year 3 Child Needs to Know, which can be purchased here. This activity has cross-curricular connections: click below to see the related activities.

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