Arachne Commemorative Stamp
9"x9" Hand Embroidered, Original Design
Commissioned by Ken Weaver
Completed in 17 hours and 20 minutes
This is part of a series commissioned for a private collection. I find I'm constantly drawn to the myths, probably because The Odyssey was the first book I remember being read to me as a small child.
One of the motifs I'm always drawn to in the myths are the victims of Athena. She's a fascinating character to me because it seems she's constantly engaged in acts of hubris. Now, hubris as we understand it in the Western perspective is very different than it's classical definition, much like the way Westerners tend to misunderstand Karma. Strictly speaking, an act of hubris is something that re-victimizes, or humiliates a victim, usually your victim, in order to feel superior. We see examples of this when Odysseus blinds and then taunts the cyclops Polyphemus, when Cassandra is raped and dragged out of Athena's temple by Ajax the Lesser, (most of Cassandra's story is a lesson in hubris), and the rape and disfigurement of Medusa are all good examples.
Arachne is interesting in this regard depending on which story you look at. I'm a fan of Ovid retellings. In his story, Arachne weaves a perfect tapestry depicting the god's love affairs. Athena can find no flaws in the piece and flies into a rage. Arachne, terrified of the goddess' wrath, hangs herself and Athena turns her into a spider, an insect that she hated the most. Essentially dooming her to weaving forever in the form a lowly, scorned creature. Hence the hubris. It's not enough that Arachne is dead, she has to be further punished.
In the other story, Arachne brags that she is more skilled at weaving than Athena, they have a competition, and Arachne weaves the tapestry showing the god's love affairs. Even in this story the fabric is perfect, but Athena becomes enraged at the subject matter and beats Arachne with her shuttle, turning her into a spider.
The Ovidian view makes more sense to me in the context of the other Athena myths. We have to keep in mind that she was a relatively new cult, bent on supplanting the older, chthonic cults. (We see this with Metis and Medusa). And if we dig into the historical geography of this myth, we find that Pliny puts her place of origin at Hypaepa in Lydia. This is interesting because, according to Graves, there was a very serious textile rivalry between the Athenians and the Lydio-Carian people. He states that they were of Cretan origin, and numerous seals set with a spider are found in the mother city, Miletus. Apparently Miletus was the largest exporter of dyed woolen textiles in the ancient world. Lending credence to this theory is the fact that Arachne's father was famous for his Tyrian purple dye and Athena is a weaving goddess, maintaining the theme of textile rivalry.
When we view the Athena myths in their "historical" context, the picture that emerges is that of a powerful new goddess/cult that is constantly trying any trick and punishment in order to dominate and dismiss the earlier cult/culture. In conclusion, Athena's kind of a bitch who's always throwing a goddamn temper tantrum.
This piece will eventually be turned into a pillow sham, literally transforming the embroidery into a bedtime story, enhancing it's nightmarish qualities.
*** I should add that I'm no academic, I just like to read a lot.