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Why is Arachne a spider? (Ovid, Metamorphoses 6.129-45) 1

Ellen Oliensis

Résumé

This essay presents an alternative reading of the transformation of Arachne, with implications for the interpretation of the episode as a whole. On the basis of what Minerva herself says before sprinkling Arachne with the transformative elixir, and of the elixir’s effects as Ovid describes them, I argue that the spider’s weaving can be read not as the culmination of Arachne’s punishment but as an act of defiant self-assertion on her part; that the ‘poetic justice’ Minerva had in mind centered not on Arachne’s weaving but on the challenge Arachne presents via her transgression of gender norms; and that this challenge is reformulated but not abandoned by Arachne the spider.

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  • 1 I thank the anonymous readers for their helpful feedback on this essay, and Hannah Ginsborg for enc (...)

1The contest between Minerva and Arachne that opens book 6 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses is one of the most written-about episodes in the poem, a perpetual magnet for interpretation. One reason is the increasing moral ambiguity of what initially looks to be a classic ‘morality tale’; the other and chief reason is the extreme aesthetic and ideological polarization of the tapestries the rival weavers produce, artworks that offer irreconcilable models of the poem within which they appear. What chiefly interests me here is an aspect of the episode that, in part because of the seduction of the tapestries, along with the large and absorbing questions they raise, has gotten relatively little attention. That is the transformation of Arachne with which the episode concludes.

  • 2 I am not faulting scholars (including myself, in my previous work on this episode) for failing to e (...)
  • 3 Feeney 1991: 193-4 (citation from 193); cf. Johnson 2008: 94-5 and Dufallo 2013: 169-70 (both drawi (...)
  • 4 Salzman-Mitchell 2005: 138.
  • 5 Kirichenko 2021: 111.
  • 6 As they are at Plaut. Stich. 347-9.
  • 7 Johnson 2008: 95.

2This conclusion is overdetermined by Arachne’s name and metier: Arachne the weaver is transformed into a weaving arachnid. It is, however, Minerva who brings this transformation about, and readers are entitled (though by no means required) to ask why Minerva chooses this particular form of punishment.2 What sort of ‘poetic justice’ does Minerva have in mind? And how successful is she in accomplishing it? Among those who touch on these questions, the consensus view (with some exceptions, discussed in due course) is that the transformation is a brilliant coup and a complete success: ‘a sickeningly appropriate punishment for Minerva to devise,’ in Denis Feeney’s much-quoted formulation.3 Indeed, what more appropriate, what more complete punishment could Minerva have devised for the vainglorious weaver of stunningly verisimilar images, than to doom her forever to produce meaningless designs, no longer ‘work[s] of signifying art’4 but ‘politically innocuous geometrical patterns,’5 fragile constructions that are liable to be swept away at any moment by the diligent housekeeper’s broom?6 Arachne the spider not only forfeits her pictorial genius but disappears from public view, ‘return[ing] to the domestic setting in which [spiders] thrive, alongside those myriad and industrious but largely undistinguished women weavers from whom Arachne strove so passionately to distinguish herself.’7 So much for Arachne’s aspirations to outshine the best of the best!

3This is a well-founded reading of Arachne’s transformation, but it is not the only one the episode makes available. My goal here is to make a case for a different answer, and in the process to bring attention to some aspects of the finale that have never to my knowledge been fully appreciated. Though my focus is narrow, the argument affects the interpretation of the episode as a whole. To anticipate, it lends support to an alternative reading of both the contest and the tapestries, one centered less on ethics and aesthetics than on questions of gender and power.

  • 8 My text for Met. is Tarrant 2004; all translations are my own.
  • 9 Ahl 1985: 225-6.

4For context, I begin with an overview, eliding many nuances and focusing on those elements of the episode that will have a role to play in my interpretation of its conclusion.8 Arachne is introduced as a weaver so talented that nymphs crowd her studio just to watch her at work (6.14-18). When someone declares ‘it’s obvious you were taught by Minerva herself!’ (cf. scires a Pallade doctam, 23), Arachne not only repudiates the compliment (quod tamen ipsa negat, 24) but, ‘galled by even so great a teacher as this’ (tantaque offensa magistra, 24), challenges her purported instructor to a contest. Disguised as an old woman, Minerva pays Arachne a visit and advises her to sue for forgiveness; after Arachne spurns her advice, the goddess reveals herself and they proceed to their contest, a quasi-‘epic battle’ between rivals deploying looms (telae) in place of weapons (tela).9

  • 10 This is the consensus view, e.g., Arachne ‘speaks for all the victimized mortals of Ovid’s poem’ (B (...)
  • 11 Leach 1974: 117; Oliensis 2004: 290-3. So, eloquently, Frontisi-Ducroux 2003: ‘Arachne’s tapestry b (...)
  • 12 Oliensis 2004: 292; cf. Salzman-Mitchell 2005:134-9 on the rivals’ shared masculine/paternal identi (...)
  • 13 Here I will mention just the initial complicity of Arachne’s deceptive art with Jupiter’s: ‘the Lyd (...)
  • 14 Ziogas 2013: 104.
  • 15 Feldherr 2002: 175. While this is a valid reading, it is worth noting, following Hardy 1995, how li (...)

5On her tapestry, Minerva represents herself defeating Neptune in their contest for the patronage of Athens, adding in the corners four images of disrespectful mortals duly punished; Arachne responds with a barrage of images of gods deceiving, raping, and impregnating women. While the didactic (and self-promoting) intention of Minerva’s tapestry is explicit, what Arachne means to communicate by her tapestry is less clear. Most scholars assume that she sides with the victims and crafts her tapestry as an exposé of Olympian iniquity, a direct riposte to the sanitized vision of Olympian rectitude on Minerva’s austere tapestry.10 This is a strong and compelling reading, making Arachne a precursor of Philomela, who weaves the story of her own rape and mutilation into the tapestry she sends to her sister at the end of book 6. Others (though few) have argued that Arachne is not indicting but celebrating, and implicitly claiming for herself, the inexhaustible creativity and virtuoso image-making of the rapist-gods.11 On this view, Arachne’s target is not just Minerva’s theodicean message (which Arachne’s tapestry certainly does impugn) but also the masculine pretensions evident in Minerva’s portrayal of herself as the fully armed, spear-wielding ‘begetter’ of the olive (6.80-1).12 This latter argument, though likewise grounded in the text,13 has won little support, and most scholars continue to maintain that Arachne’s tapestry ‘denounces the bestial lusts of the immortals’14 while exuding sympathy for their female victims (‘it is impossible not to see the rape victim as a human subject’).15 Though it will be obvious to which view I incline, I should underscore that I recognize and acknowledge the legitimacy of the ‘outraged’ Arachne argument. The episode is a typically Ovidian duck-rabbit that can be seen either way, though not both ways at once.

  • 16 Lateiner 1984: 16: ‘[t]he caelestia crimina [on Arachne’s tapestry] refer not only back to their pa (...)
  • 17 Rosati 2009: 269.

6Pained by the impeccable artistry of Arachne’s work and also (purportedly) by its offensive content, Minerva first destroys the tapestry and then batters Arachne’s forehead with her shuttle, thereby effectively confirming the validity of the representation she has attempted to censor.16 This is more than Arachne can bear and she hangs herself (laqueoque animosa ligauit | guttura, 134-5). As the use of the adjective animosa ‘spirited’ makes clear, Arachne’s suicide is not a capitulation but the ‘ultimate gesture of pride.’17 By choosing death over submission, Arachne defrauds Minerva of the explicit acknowledgment of her supremacy the goddess requires. Minerva accordingly interrupts the suicide in progress and imposes her own conclusion on the story by transforming Arachne into a spider.

Why a spider?

  • 18 I pass over for now the narrator’s incongruous claim that Minerva’s intervention is motivated by co (...)

7Why a spider? One way to approach this question is to look at how Minerva herself characterizes the transformation. I begin with the negative, that is, what Minerva omits to say. It is generally taken for granted that the spider’s defining attribute is that it weaves, and yet this does not seem to be Minerva’s perspective (136-8):18

. . . ‘uiue quidem, pende tamen, improba’ dixit,
‘lexque eadem poenae, ne sis secura futuri,
dicta tuo generi serisque nepotibus esto.’

. . . ‘Live then, but hang, you shameless girl,’ she said,
‘and let the same punishment—to ensure you’re not free of worry
for the future—apply to your race and distant descendants.’

If Minerva were intent on making a mockery of Arachne’s talent by reducing her to a spider, we might expect her to tell her so. When jealous Juno changes Callisto into a bear, for example, she specifies that she is depriving her of the attractive body that caught Jupiter’s eye, the body of which Callisto (Juno imagines) is so proud (adimam tibi namque figuram | qua tibi, quaque places nostro, importuna, marito, 2.474-5). Likewise, when Diana changes Actaeon into a stag, she specifies that she is depriving him of the ability to replicate his transgression by wagging his tongue: ‘now go ahead and tell how you saw me naked—if you can tell!’ (3.192-3). Minerva might easily have said something similar, for example (focusing on Arachne’s artistry) ‘I’ll deprive you of that talent of which you’re so proud,’ or (focusing on her tapestry’s offensive content) ‘now go ahead and weave your disrespectful images of the gods—if you can!,’ or even just (sardonically, efficiently) ‘enjoy your new loom!’

  • 19 Bömer 1976: 46 aptly wonders ‘how Minerva suddenly comes to have the potion (does she always have i (...)

8Arguments from silence are notoriously risky, but not really all that risky in fictional works, where the poet has presumably included whatever he saw fit to include. It is therefore worth considering the possibility that Minerva did not foresee, much less intend, that the spider would be a weaver. What has convinced me that this is not just a possibility but the likeliest reading of the situation is the description of the ensuing transformation. This Minerva accomplishes not by divine fiat but (astonishingly)19 by sprinkling Arachne with a magic potion concocted from ‘Hecatean herbs’ (sucis Hecateidos herbae, 139) (140-5):

. . . et extemplo tristi medicamine tactae
defluxere comae, cum quis et naris et aures,
fitque caput minimum; toto quoque corpore parua est:
in latere exiles digiti pro cruribus haerent,
cetera uenter habet, de quo tamen illa remittit
stamen et antiquas exercet aranea telas.

. . . and at once, at the touch of the harsh drug,
her hair flowed away, and with it her nose and ears,
and her head becomes tiny; in the whole of her body she is likewise small;
to her sides adhere thin fingers in place of legs,
the rest belongs to the belly, from which nevertheless she puts forth
thread and works at her old loom as a spider.

For now I leave aside the details to focus on the metamorphic crux, which coincides with the caesura of line 144:

cetera uenter habet, // de quo tamen illa remittit
stamen et antiquas exercet aranea telas.

the rest belongs to the belly — from which nevertheless she puts forth
thread and works at her old loom as a spider.

  • 20 It is true that Arachne is also the grammatical subject of toto quoque corpore parua est, but a sub (...)
  • 21 Cf. Pianezzola 1999: 34, recasting metamorphic ‘persistence’ as ‘resistance to the total annihilati (...)
  • 22 Examples in Met. include sua uerba remittat (3.378), teloque . . . remisso (5.35), remissurus . . . (...)
  • 23 Salzman-Mitchell 2005: 138.
  • 24 Given the pivotal function I attribute to tamen, I am distressed to see how many translations mute (...)

9It is possible that Minerva’s punitive intention is still operative on the far side of this caesura and indeed that this is precisely when it achieves its complete and ‘sickeningly appropriate’ realization. Yet the re-emergence of the subject illa, after the catalogue of affected body-parts in the previous lines (hair, nose, ears, etc.),20 suggests that Minerva may have lost (or prematurely ceded) control of the transformation. Again, it is possible to take tamen as the unmarked sign of the continuity that accompanies every transformation: though a tree, Daphne retains her beauty, though a stone, Niobe weeps, though a spider, Arachne weaves. Yet this continuity is not just a given of the transformation, it is framed as something Arachne (illa) does. This suggests to me that tamen is an index not just of generic metamorphic continuity but of Arachne’s individual resistance.21 The defiance implicit in tamen may be extended by remittit, which in this context could suggest not just ‘puts forth’ but ‘returns’ thread, like a word or a weapon;22 as far as Arachne is concerned, the dialogue is never over. The adjective antiquas ‘old, former’ also seems pointed. Patricia Salzman-Mitchell picks up on its implications—‘Does this mean that she can still weave (exercet) her old cloths in the same way? Of course not, because otherwise, there would be no punishment’—and she accordingly judges the adjective to be ‘ironic, a playful twist.’23 I agree that the adjective is ironic but suggest that the irony may come at Minerva’s expense. This does not mean that there is ‘no punishment’ but that the punishment Minerva envisioned did not include Arachne returning to the loom. What I am suggesting, in short, is that it is not thanks to Minerva but in spite of Minerva that Arachne the spider weaves.24

  • 25 Lateiner 1984: 16. I am intrigued but confused by Pavlock’s suggestion (2009: 6) that the spider ‘r (...)
  • 26 Vial 2010: 283 (curiously, Vial describes this gift as ‘inherited from her father,’ though Idmon is (...)

10Though this reading has gotten little play, it has had its advocates. Chief among them is Donald Lateiner, who in 1984 pointed to the flaw in Minerva’s vengeance: ‘Although she can deform the artist, she cannot gainsay her human art’s power. So Arachne, although diminished as a spider, continues forever to exercise her nimble skill as a spider.’25 More recently, Hélène Vial has likewise focused attention on what Arachne retains, noting that the transformation, though it shrinks her body, ‘renders permanent—and, what’s more, transmissible—[her] extraordinary gift.’26 Yet appreciations such as these also draw attention to the limited compensation afforded by Arachne’s arachnid weaving. Though Vial writes of the perpetuation of Arachne’s ‘extraordinary gift,’ surely there is a difference between what Lateiner calls Arachne’s ‘human art’ and the spider’s ‘nimble skill.’ As Salzman-Mitchell points out, Arachne may weave, but by no means ‘in the same way.’ After all, if the spider’s web is the ephemeral, meaningless, valueless thing so many take it to be, Minerva might well rejoice at the spectacle of Arachne at her ‘loom,’ even if it was not part of her original plan. But of course there is more to be said on behalf of the spider.

In praise of the spider27

  • 27 The passages touched on in this section are for the most part the ‘usual suspects’ originally colle (...)
  • 28 Feeney 1991: 193 ‘embodying the stylistic thinness which is the fate of failed small-scale composit (...)
  • 29 This unsurprising (naturalistic) collocation is sanctioned by poetic usage, e.g., ἀράχνια λεπτά (Ho (...)
  • 30 The essential study is Rosati 1999, who shows that the episode is not just ‘the most complete narra (...)

11To begin with the obvious, though her newly elongated fingers are exiles ‘thin, meager,’ an unflattering adjective,28 Arachne the spider will use them to produce works of surpassing delicacy. The spider’s webs are famously ‘fine,’ λεπτός/tenuis,29 an adjective that received a programmatic plug from Apollo himself when he advised Callimachus to fatten up his sacrificial animal but keep his Muse ‘slender’ (λεπταλέην, Aet. fr. 1.24 Pf.). The spider is thus the natural mascot of the aesthetics of refinement, and therefore potentially also of Ovid’s own ‘fine-spun’ poem.30 What is more, like Arachne at work, surrounded by nymphs fascinated by her opus admirabile (6.14), the spider is the object of intense admiration. How often have I stood transfixed by the spectacular designs, bedewed and sparkling, or barely glimmering into view, produced by the talented weavers in my garden! And my admiration is shared by Plutarch, who finds the spider’s creations ‘marvelous on many counts’ (τὰ δ᾿ ἀράχνης ἔργα . . . οὐ καθ᾿ ἓν ἄν τις θαυμάσειε, De soll. an. 966e), as well as Pliny, who considers spiders generally ‘worthy of even exceptional admiration’ (digna uel praecipue admiratione, Nat. 11.79), and the weaving spider especially amazing (he waxes enthusiastic, at some length, on the brilliance of its technique, Nat. 11.81-4).

  • 31 Feeney 1991: 193. Again, I harp on Feeney’s brief discussion because his perspective has been so in (...)
  • 32 This claim is not contradicted by the distinction Seneca proceeds to draw between the gifts of ars (...)
  • 33 My argument here brushes up against large questions about the status of the ‘artwork,’ in antiquity (...)

12Denis Feeney judges this admiration unwarranted, or at least subject to severe qualifications, since, ‘as Seneca tells us in a fascinating disquisition on animal instinct, a spider’s work is not art.’31 In the passage Feeney proceeds to quote (Ep. 121.23), Seneca observes that the spider’s art is innate, not learned (nascitur ista ars, non discitur); that no spider is ‘more learned’ (doctius) than another; and that their webs are accordingly all on a par (pares telas). Seneca does not appear to share Feeney’s assumption that an art that comes by nature is no art at all; his spiders are artists, albeit untaught.32 Though some authorities explicitly deny art to the spider (for example, Aristotle at Phys. 199a), the record abounds in references to the spider’s art (for example, Aristotle again, identifying one type of spider as τεχνικώτατοι περὶ τὸν βίον, Hist. An. 622b). Granted, τέχνη and ars are polyvalent terms, embracing works of expressive human artistry along with the utilitarian productions of animals and artisans, but this difference, which Seneca himself clearly recognizes, does not invalidate the conceptual continuum that the polyvalence implies.33 Nor does Seneca’s (debatable) claim that all spiders are equally good at weaving invalidate their claim to renown. Every spider is Arachne, Arachne is every spider, and the relevant comparison—or contest—is not spider-to-spider but spider-to-human. In such contests, moreover, spiders tend to come out on top. In Imagines 2.28, for example, Philostratus declares that the spider ‘outweaves’ (παρυφαίνει) Penelope and also the Seres (makers of silk), despite the ‘surpassingly fine’ (ὑπέρλεπτα) cloth they produce, and Seneca himself, just before the passage Feeney quotes, describes the ‘the spider’s weaving’ as ‘beyond any mortal’s capacity to imitate’ (non uides, quam nulli mortalium imitabilis illa aranei textura, Ep. 121.22).

  • 34 These passages notably do not distinguish the spider’s single-thread productions from the warp-and- (...)

13That the spider’s art is not acquired through education would hardly be a demerit from Arachne’s point of view. On the contrary, this strikes me as one of the strongest points in the spider’s favor. After all, the trouble started when Arachne denied that she had studied with Minerva, a denial that is factually accurate (the episode supplies no evidence for a preexisting relationship between these two) if nonetheless impious (all weavers by definition derive their art from the goddess of weaving). When the contestants are setting up their looms, their arms are alike described as docta ‘skilled, instructed’ (6.60), but this detail does not suggest that either of them has been to weaving school; on the contrary, as far as we can tell both goddess and mortal are alike ‘born weavers.’ If Arachne did learn her art, it was not from Minerva but by practicing it, like the autodidactic spider that ‘plies its art and learns to weave’ (exercet artem et discit texere, Plin. Nat. 11.83). Especially provocative, given Minerva’s status as the de facto (or de jure?) source of every weaver’s ability, is the tradition that identifies the spider—not Minerva!—as the origin of this human art. In his essay ‘On the Ingenuity of Animals’ Plutarch describes the spider’s web as ‘the model (ἀρχέτυπον) for women’s weaving and hunters’ nets’ (966e), and Democritus went still further, Plutarch tells us, claiming that it is from animals that we humans have learned many essential skills (μαθητὰς ἐν τοῖς μεγίστοις γεγονότας ἡμᾶς)—and first in the list comes the spider: ‘from the spider, weaving and mending’ (974a).34

  • 35 A much-remarked anachronism: how can Leuconoe refer to spiders before the first spider has been cre (...)
  • 36 Though I don’t recall seeing this argument made.
  • 37 The phrase lumina fallit (6.66, cf. lumina fallere possent, 4.177) appears in a simile comparing th (...)

14The spider is not (just) a practitioner of art for art’s sake, but a famously accomplished hunter that uses its web to entrap its prey. Pliny is amazed by the symmetry, elegance, and strength of its webs, and also by the art with which the spider conceals its snares (quanta arte celat pedicas scutulato rete grassantes, Nat. 11.81), ensuring the threads are ‘hard to see’ (difficile cernuntur, 82) and Plutarch likewise admires the spider’s ability to camouflage its trap, using color to ‘give it the appearance of air or mist, to make it pass unseen’ (ὑπὲρ τοὐ λαθεῖν, 966f). This feature of the spider’s web is appreciated by Homer, who compares the unbreakable shackles Hephaestus drapes over his adulterous wife’s bed to ‘fine-spun spiders’ webs, so fine that no one could see them’ (ἀράχνια λεπτά, τά γοὕ κέ τις οὐδὲ ἴδοιτο, Od. 8.280), and in her version of this story Ovid’s Leuconoe likewise describes Vulcan’s handiwork as unsurpassed by any spider (aranea, 4.179), comprising chains so delicate ‘they could cheat the eyes’ (quae lumina fallere possent, 4.177).35 In this respect too, the spider preserves something of the original Arachne. Those who believe that Arachne sides with the victims of divine lust might observe that her tapestry, like the handiwork of Hephaestus/Vulcan, entraps and displays illicit sexual couplings, thereby operating as a censorious revelation of divine misconduct.36 But the hallmark of the actual creature, as opposed to its figurative deployments by Homer and Leuconoe, is not moral outrage but a genius for deception: an ability to ‘cheat the eyes’37 that is shared by Arachne, weaver of images life-like enough to take the viewer in, and also by the gods on her tapestry, donning impenetrable disguises in pursuit of their erotic ‘prey.’

  • 38 Here I pass over the fragility of the spider’s web, only noting that Pliny extols its strength (wit (...)
  • 39 Frontisi-Ducroux draws attention to another poignant loss: ‘Transparent and colorless designs: what (...)

15This last point, however, highlights one major defect in Arachne’s new practice.38 Unlike Arachne’s handiwork, overflowing with entrancingly verisimilar representations of the world, the spider’s web is non-representational, geometrical, abstract. With the exception of Charlotte, no spider has ever communicated anything to anyone (at least, not to any human). Once she becomes a spider, Arachne falls silent, losing not just her human voice but her ability to ‘speak’ through images. That this is a severe loss, and one that would warm the heart of Minerva, I will not deny.39 A spider’s web does not narrate, has no story to tell, can make no argument. Yet to understand this aspect of the spider’s web in purely negative terms, as nothing but the subtraction of representational content, is to embrace Minerva’s tendentious justification of her assault on Arachne’s tapestry. That her justification is tendentious is clear from her immediate reaction to Arachne’s work (129-31):

non illud Pallas, non illud carpere Liuor
possit opus. doluit successu flaua uirago
et rupit pictas, caelestia crimina, uestes.

In that work Pallas could not find—Envy itself could not find—
anything to criticize. Pained by her success, the blond warrior
tore up the cloth with its images, the crimes of the gods.

  • 40 Here I part ways with Kirichenko, who claims that ‘by transforming [Arachne] into a spider,’ Minerv (...)

Minerva wants to think, and wants us to think, that she destroyed Arachne’s tapestry because of its offensive content. But it is clear that in the first instance what she could not abide—what she could not fault—was not the content of the tapestry but the flawless perfection of its craft. And despite all that she has lost, this at least Arachne certainly retains. In effect, every spider’s web renews Arachne’s challenge to Minerva by reminding her of the artistry no mortal, and no goddess either, can hope to match.40

  • 41 Ballestra-Puech 2006: 66. She cites Democritus (quoted above) and Aelian; add Pliny, who admires ho (...)

16I will conclude this section with one more point in the spider’s favor, which I owe to Sylvie Ballestra-Puech. Noting the spider’s celebrated ability to mend its webs, Ballestra-Puech suggests that the transformation enables Arachne ‘to elude Minerva’s violence and re-weave the threads of the work the goddess destroyed.’41 This is a beautiful suggestion, which I would slightly modify: it is because she cannot re-weave her original tapestry that Arachne the spider becomes the model mender, thereby compensating herself for Minerva’s injury and demonstrating to Minerva, over and over again, the resilience of her work.

Minerva’s ‘poetic justice’

17But if Minerva did not intend the spider to be a weaver, what did she have in mind? Earlier I focused on what Minerva did not say about this punishment; it is time to consider what she did. Here the whole of the lead-in to the transformation is relevant (134-8):

non tulit infelix laqueoque animosa ligauit
guttura; pendentem Pallas miserata leuauit
atque ita ‘uiue quidem, pende tamen, improba’ dixit,
‘lexque eadem poenae, ne sis secura futuri,
dicta tuo generi serisque nepotibus esto.’

the unhappy girl could not endure this, and tied in a noose
her spirited neck; taking pity on her as she hung, Minerva raised her up
and ‘Live then, but hang, you shameless girl,’ she said,
‘and let the same punishment—to ensure you’re not free of worry
for the future—apply to your race and distant descendants.’

  • 42 Johnson 2008: 94 describes miserata as ‘mildly sarcastic,’ others (e.g. Rosati 2009: 269) as ‘ironi (...)
  • 43 Johnson 2008: 94.
  • 44 Rosati 2009: 269.

Few have been persuaded, given Minerva’s severe tone and her emphasis on poena, by the narrator’s (pseudo-naïve?) assertion that the goddess is motivated by compassion (miserata, 135).42 As Patricia Johnson observes, ‘suicide was a way of avoiding a more unseemly punishment or death at the hands of the state,’ and it is this final act of self-respecting self-determination on Arachne’s part that Minerva’s uiue thwarts.43 As Gianpiero Rosati points out, her pende, picking up on pendentem, is particularly cruel: the ‘hanging’ life she imposes on Arachne is nothing other than ‘a permanent reminder of her attempted (and frustrated) suicide,’44 and therefore also a permanent demonstration of her failure to elude Minerva’s power. It may be that Minerva was inspired not just by the spectacle of Arachne hanging from the noose but also by the punning association of this spectacle with the idiom poenas pendere (cf. pende and poenae in 135-7), as if she were bent on making Arachne an emblem of perpetual punishment, forever ‘paying the penalty’ and never paying it off. In this sense the pendant spider is indeed an apt choice for Minerva’s purposes.

  • 45 Ballestra-Puech 2006: 66.

18Minerva has, however, something more to say: she appends to her pithy ‘live, but hang!’ a clause extending this doom to Arachne’s descendants (tuo generi serisque nepotibus, 138), that is, to the entire future race of spiders. It is worth noting that this clause, which takes up fully two of the three lines of her speech, would not have been missed if it had been omitted; Minerva might easily have proceeded directly from the sentencing of Arachne to her transformation. What is more, this addendum is not just omittable but fundamentally redundant. Nowhere else in Ovid’s Metamorphoses is it specified that a transformation will affect the offspring of the transformed, surely because this goes without saying; like Perdix, the original partridge, all partridges will forever avoid heights (8.256-9), and it is the same with all other such newly minted creatures. When offspring are mentioned, it is because they are relevant to the case at hand: the girl whose lie enabled Alcmene to give birth is transformed into a weasel that gives birth through her mouth (9.322-3), the devoted couple Ceyx and Alcyone, turned to birds, produce their young at sea during the ‘halcyon days’ (11.745-6). But these are not really parallels, in that this child-bearing fate is not explicitly assigned to their children; that is, there appears in these episodes no statement such as ‘and all her children will likewise bear children through the mouth’ or ‘and all their children likewise produce their young at sea.’ Ballestra-Puech suggests that Minerva anticipates Latona, who likewise inflicts punishment on an enemy’s children in the next episode,45 yet while there is a clear rationale for Latona’s punitive interest in Niobe’s offspring, childbearing was hardly at issue in this contest. So why does Minerva’s decree harp on Arachne’s progeny?

19For an answer, I return to the transformation in which Minerva’s decree finds it realization (140-4):

. . . et extemplo tristi medicamine tactae
defluxere comae, cum quis et naris et aures,
fitque caput minimum; toto quoque corpore parua est:
in latere exiles digiti pro cruribus haerent,
cetera uenter habet.

. . . and at once, at the touch of the harsh drug,
her hair flowed away, and with it her nose and ears,
and her head becomes tiny; in the whole of her body she is likewise small;
to her sides adhere thin fingers in place of legs,
the rest belongs to the belly.

  • 46 In pointed contrast to Arachne’s hair loss, his girlfriend’s baldness is her own doing and cannot b (...)
  • 47 Ziogas 2013: 103.

As many have observed, Arachne’s physical shrinkage reverses the ascent from ‘small’ beginnnings (orta domo parua paruis habitabat Hypaepis, 13) to widespread renown (nomen memorabile, 12) that she won by means of her art. Less discussed is the initial detail about the effect of Minerva’s ‘harsh drug’ on Arachne’s hair. This detail is oddly reminiscent of Amores 1.14, where Ovid reproaches his girlfriend for ‘medicating’ (medicare, 1) her own hair out of existence, a disfigurement she will have to disguise with a wig.46 In Roman poetry (and culture) hair is a signal element of female beauty; a case in point is the virgin Medusa, whose much-admired tresses (nec in tota conspectior ulla capillis | pars fuit, 4.796-7) likewise attract Minerva’s hostile attention. The parallel is remarked by Ioannis Ziogas, who notes that Medusa ‘was punished unjustly by Minerva because she was raped by Neptune in the goddess’s shrine, while Arachne is first attacked in a way which resembles a rape, and then transformed into a spider by Minerva.’47 It is as if Minerva were recovering herself, after her unseemly lapse into violence, and reasserting her role as the chaste castigator of unchastity. Arachne is thus reframed as a woman potentially attractive to men—an identity no doubt as unappealing to the ambitious uirgo as it is to her divine rival—and simultaneously punished, as if she were a sexual miscreant, by being rendered repulsive.

20In this connection the disproportion between the spider’s tiny head and enlarged belly is telling (and the interdependence of these changes is suggested by the matching phrases that describe them: fitque caput minimum, 142; cetera uenter habet, 144). Like Minerva, sprung from the head of her father Jupiter, Arachne is a motherless virgin and very much the daughter of her artisan-father, the ‘skillful/knowing’ Idmon. As many have pointed out, it is the head of ‘Idmon’s daughter Arachne’ (Idmoniae . . . Arachnes, 133) that Minerva strikes with her shuttle, and it is Arachne’s head that is the focus of Minerva’s reduction-magic. The uenter, by contrast, at once ‘belly’ and ‘womb,’ is the maternal organ par excellence, the organ that the virginal Arachne has effectively disavowed in her pursuit of glory. This may be why Minerva harps on Arachne’s genus and nepotes and also one reason she chooses to turn her into a spider, a notoriously prolific creature that produces hundreds or even thousands of eggs at a time. By transforming Arachne into a spider, Minerva has substituted for the creativity of the paternal head the procreativity of the maternal womb. More simply put: she has transformed Arachne into a mother.

  • 48 Sidney, Astrophil and Stella 1.12; for the motif of ‘male pregnancy,’ famously developed in Plato’s (...)
  • 49 Still worth reading on this topic: Gilbert and Gubar 1979: 3-16.
  • 50 Cf. Salzman-Mitchell, who sees in Minerva’s assault ‘a standard gender struggle between the male an (...)

21It is not just the paternal head that is at issue here. I have suggested that Arachne’s tapestry may express her identification not with the rape victims but with the prolific rapist-gods. As I noted earlier, readers have generally found this suggestion unpersuasive, not to say unpalatable, in that it seems to entail an endorsement of rape (on Arachne’s part, and perhaps therefore also on the reader’s). And yet this identification corresponds, and with some precision, to a conventional, familiar, and (relatively) unobjectionable figure. In effect, Arachne the inexhaustibly creative ‘impregnator,’ the ‘father’ of images, is the female counterpart of the male artist/thinker/philosopher ‘pregnant’ with his work: ‘great with child to speak,’ in Sir Philip Sidney’s formulation.48 Yet while men can pose as mothers, the trope is not (simply) reversible.49 By turning her into a maternal spider, Minerva repudiates Arachne’s claim to the generative phallus and thrusts her into the other, female position represented on her tapestry.50

22It is true, of course, that Arachne, the first spider, is destined to produce an abundance of baby spiders. From what other source could the world’s supply of spiders derive? But that is not how she appears at the episode’s conclusion. Instead, her outsized uenter is reappropriated as a figure for a different kind of creativity (144-5):

cetera uenter habet, de quo tamen illa remittit
stamen et antiquas exercet aranea telas.

the rest belongs to the belly, from which nevertheless she puts forth
thread and works at her old loom as a spider.

  • 51 Ballestra-Puech 2006: 66, in the course of a different argument, her point being that Arachne there (...)
  • 52 Palladis exemplo de me sine matre creata | carmina sunt, Tr. 3.14.13-14, cited by Ballestra-Puech 2 (...)

23As Ballestra-Puech puts it, ‘what is born from the spider’s uenter is not babies but cloth/webs’ (toiles).51 The relative clause de quo thus makes an important contribution to Arachne’s ‘poetic defiance’ (countering Minerva’s ‘poetic justice’) by specifying that it is from the very organ that Minerva foisted upon her as the culmination of her degradation that Arachne resumes her work. If Minerva’s goal was to reduce Arachne to a mere reproductive uenter, it is clear that she has failed. Nor do Arachne’s creations require the intervention of the male: like Ovid’s poems, ‘generated without a mother’ from his own head,52 Arachne’s webs are generated without a father from her own belly. The weaver who associated her teeming creativity with the generativity of the gods has replaced the head/phallus with the womb.

                                                    *

24What does Minerva intend when she transforms Arachne into a spider, and how successful is she in executing her intention? As I have tried to show, nothing in the passage indicates that she means Arachne to keep weaving, still less that she views the spider’s weaving as the essence of her punishment. On the contrary, the form of her curse and the details of its realization suggest that her goal is to re-feminize Arachne by recalibrating her body, minimizing her head and magnifying her belly. To the implicit message of Arachne’s tapestry—a message she has evidently received—Minerva responds with a suitably ‘poetic’ form of justice, substituting a hyperbolic version of maternity for the ambitious weaver’s unmaidenly identification with the prolific shape-shifters on her tapestry. To this extent Minerva is successful: the tiny spider, spinning its webs on ceilings and in fields, can no longer stake a claim to Jove-like creativity. Yet stubborn Arachne, diminished though she may be, finds a way to spite Minerva and reassert herself: she returns to the loom, reconstituting herself as the ‘mother’ of textiles. This may not be a happy ending, but it is also not the ending that Minerva had in mind. To paraphrase the episode’s conclusion: ‘from that belly, in defiance of Minerva, she produces her own thread and keeps weaving, as a spider, her superb and inimitable webs.’

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Bibliographie

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Andrae, J. 2003. Vom Kosmos zum Chaos: Ovids Metamorphosen und Vergils Aeneis. Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier.

Ballestra-Puech, S. 2006. Métamorphoses d’Arachné. L’artiste en araignée dans la littérature occidentale. Geneva: Librairie Droz.

Barkan, L. 1986. The Gods Made Flesh: Metamorphosis and the Pursuit of Paganism. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Bömer, F., ed., 1976. P. Ovidius Naso Metamorphosen, Buch VI-VII. Heidelberg: Carl Winter.

di Fiore, R. 1998. ‘I colori di Arachne (Ovidio, met. 6, 62-67).’ Aufidus 35: 41-52.

Dickerman, S. O. 1911. ‘Some Stock Illustrations of Animal Intelligence in Greek Psychology,’ TAPA 42: 123-30.

Dufallo, B. 2013. The Captor’s Image: Greece Culture in Roman Ecphrasis. New York: Oxford University Press.

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Feldherr, A. 2002. ‘Metamorphosis in the Metamorphoses.’ In Philip Hardie, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Ovid, 163-79. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Fletcher, R. 2005. ‘Or Such as Ovid’s Metamorphoses…’ In R. L. Hunter, ed., The Hesiodic Catalogue of Women: Constructions and Reconstructions, 299-319. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Frontisi-Ducroux, F. 2003. L’homme-cerf et la femme-araignée. Figures grecques de la métamorphose. Paris: Éditions Gallimard.

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Johnson, P. J. 2008. Ovid Before Exile: Art and Punishment in the Metamorphoses. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Kirichenko, A. 2021. ‘The Transformations of the Writing Body: Rhetoric, Monumental Art, and Poetry in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.’ SO 95: 104-58.

Lateiner, D. 1984. ‘Mythic and Non-Mythic Artists in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.’ Ramus 13: 1-30.

Leach, E. W. 1974. ‘Ecphrasis and the Theme of Artistic Failure in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.’ Ramus 3: 102-42.

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McCarter S, trans. 2022. Metamorphoses. New York: Penguin Books.

Miller, N. K. 1988. ‘Arachnologies: The Woman, the Text, and the Critic.’ In Subject to Change: Reading Feminist Writing, 77-101. New York: Columbia University Press.

Oliensis, E. 2004. ‘The Power of Image-Makers: Representation and Revenge in Ovid Metamorphoses 6 and Tristia 4.’ ClAnt 23: 285-321.

Pavlock, B. 2009. The Image of the Poet in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Pianezzola, E. 1999. ‘La metamorfosi Ovidiana come metafora narrativa.’ In Ovidio. Modelli, retorici e forma narrativa, 29-42. Bologna: Patròn.

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Rosati, G. 1999. ‘Form in motion: Weaving the Text in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.’ In P. Hardie, A. Barchiesi, and S. Hinds, eds., Ovidian Transformations, 240-53. Cambridge: Cambridge Philological Society.

Rosati, G. 2009, ed. Ovidio, Metamorfosi, vol. III: Libri V-VI. Milan: Fondazione Lorenzo Valla.

Salzman-Mitchell, P. B. 2005. A Web of Fantasies: Gaze, Image, and Gender in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Columbus: Ohio State University Press.

Sears, R. A. 2018. ‘“Sucis Hecateidos herbae”: A Magical Curiosity in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.’ In L. Pratt and C. M. Sampson, eds., Engaging Classical Texts in the Contemporary World, 195-209. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Segal, C. 2002. ‘Black and White Magic in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.’ Arion 9: 1-34.

Simpson, M., trans. 2001. The Metamorphoses of Ovid. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.

Squire, M. and V. Platt, eds. 2010. The Art of Art History in Greco-Roman Antiquity = Arethusa 43.2.

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Tupet, A.-M. 1985. ‘La magie dans la métamorphose d’Arachnè.’ In J. M. Frécaut and D. Porte, eds., Journées Ovidiennes de Parménie: Actes du Colloque sur Ovide (24-26 juin 1983), 215-27. Brussels: Peeters.

Vial, H. 2010. La métamorphose dans les Métamorphoses d’Ovide. Paris: Les Belles Lettres.

Vincent, M. 1994. ‘Between Ovid and Barthes: ‘Ecphrasis,’ Orality, Textuality in Ovid’s ‘Arachne.”’ Arethusa 27: 361-86.

Ziogas, I. 2013. Ovid and Hesiod: The Metamorphosis of the Catalogue of Women. New York: Cambridge University Press.

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Notes

1 I thank the anonymous readers for their helpful feedback on this essay, and Hannah Ginsborg for encouraging me to write it.

2 I am not faulting scholars (including myself, in my previous work on this episode) for failing to engage with these questions; there is plenty to think about in this episode without worrying about Minerva’s intentions. It probably goes without saying, but I will say it anyway, that in what follows I pass over much important scholarship as well as, within the work I do cite, many important arguments that do not bear on my theme.

3 Feeney 1991: 193-4 (citation from 193); cf. Johnson 2008: 94-5 and Dufallo 2013: 169-70 (both drawing on Feeney), Sears 2018: 203-4 (Minerva ‘denies her any future artistry, through the constraints posed by her new form as a spider’). Curiously, though he describes the transformation as an act of ‘mercy,’ Vincent views its effects similarly: ‘Arachne becomes a spider perpetually weaving a web destined always to be destroyed, endlessly repeating an action of no consequence’ (1994: 364).

4 Salzman-Mitchell 2005: 138.

5 Kirichenko 2021: 111.

6 As they are at Plaut. Stich. 347-9.

7 Johnson 2008: 95.

8 My text for Met. is Tarrant 2004; all translations are my own.

9 Ahl 1985: 225-6.

10 This is the consensus view, e.g., Arachne ‘speaks for all the victimized mortals of Ovid’s poem’ (Barkan 1986: 4), ‘constructs a feminocentric protest’ (Miller 1988: 81), ‘sees a world of violence against women, but she also sees that women and she herself as artist have the capacity to bear witness’ (Salzman-Mitchell 2005: 138). Fletcher 2005: 308-9 gives this argument a new twist, suggesting that Arachne embraces an identification ‘with the women who gave birth to divine offspring, specifically by Neptune,’ but I don’t see the evidence for Arachne’s maternal aspirations; on the contrary, see below, §§ 20-23.

11 Leach 1974: 117; Oliensis 2004: 290-3. So, eloquently, Frontisi-Ducroux 2003: ‘Arachne’s tapestry breathes desire and pleasure,’ conjoining ‘[t]he freedom of mythology, which engenders heroes and beautiful stories’ and ‘[t]he freedom of the weaver, who tells herself these stories and knows how to render them in images . . . Sexuality is her central theme, flooding the poetic world she brings into being (fait naître) on her tapestry’ (261, 266). Understandably, many have found the idea of a rape-endorsing Arachne unacceptable. Lateiner, e.g., appreciates ‘the power and fecundity of [Arachne’s] imagination and the verisimilitude of her tapestry’ but protests that ‘[o]ne cannot readily agree with [Leach’s] assertion that “Arachne does not, by her representation, make a moral judgment on the loves of the gods”’(Lateiner 1984:16 and 27 n.69); Barkan divides Arachne’s intentions from her creation, suggesting that her ‘transformations escape from her own anger’ and ‘take on a life of their own, not as the expression of outraged mortal victims but as glories of love, magic, and divine beauty’ (1986: 4).

12 Oliensis 2004: 292; cf. Salzman-Mitchell 2005:134-9 on the rivals’ shared masculine/paternal identification, Rosati 2009: 260 on the ‘“virile” power’ on which Minerva’s fully-armed self-portrait insists.

13 Here I will mention just the initial complicity of Arachne’s deceptive art with Jupiter’s: ‘the Lydian girl depicts Europa tricked by the image of a bull; you’d think the bull was real, the waves were real’ (Maeonis elusam designat imagine tauri | Europen; uerum taurum, freta uera putares, 103-4). Though widely recognized, the implications of this complicity are seldom pursued.

14 Ziogas 2013: 104.

15 Feldherr 2002: 175. While this is a valid reading, it is worth noting, following Hardy 1995, how little attention Arachne’s tapestry pays to the victims; as Hardy observes, this makes it ‘more difficult to see the description as an attempt to provoke sympathy for the women’ (Hardy 1995: 146; Hardy attributes this de-emphasis to the narrator, not Arachne). I would add that the first and only description that could be said to inhabit the psychology of the victim, Europa at 6.103-7, is also the passage that most explicitly aligns Arachne with the rapist-god (above, n. 13).

16 Lateiner 1984: 16: ‘[t]he caelestia crimina [on Arachne’s tapestry] refer not only back to their past crimes, but forward to Pallas’ angry act: one can’t trust a god.’ For Minerva as quasi-rapist in this scene, see Oliensis 2004: 289-90, Salzman-Mitchell 2005: 137-8, Ziogas 2013: 102 with n.150.

17 Rosati 2009: 269.

18 I pass over for now the narrator’s incongruous claim that Minerva’s intervention is motivated by compassion (pendentem Pallas miserata leuauit, 135).

19 Bömer 1976: 46 aptly wonders ‘how Minerva suddenly comes to have the potion (does she always have it with her, just in case?), and whether she even needs a potion to accomplish the transformation.’ Tupet 1985, who appreciates the anomaly, floats the implausible idea that Ovid includes this motif out of respect for his putative (lost) source; Sears 2018 focuses on the premeditation its use reveals. While the issue is tangential to my interests here, I incline toward the view of Segal 2002: 10-11, who suggests that the detail degrades Minerva by associating her with non-Olympian witches such as Circe.

20 It is true that Arachne is also the grammatical subject of toto quoque corpore parua est, but a subject viewed strictly as a (small) corporeal entity.

21 Cf. Pianezzola 1999: 34, recasting metamorphic ‘persistence’ as ‘resistance to the total annihilation of her original being’; he is writing of the ever-weeping Niobe, but the description suits Arachne as well or better.

22 Examples in Met. include sua uerba remittat (3.378), teloque . . . remisso (5.35), remissurus . . . telum (5.95).

23 Salzman-Mitchell 2005: 138.

24 Given the pivotal function I attribute to tamen, I am distressed to see how many translations mute or even omit it: ‘from which she continues to spin’ (Raeburn 2004: 217); ‘from which she spins a thread’ (Simpson 2001: 97), ‘from which she, a spider, | shoots out a thread’ (McCarter 2022: 155).

25 Lateiner 1984: 16. I am intrigued but confused by Pavlock’s suggestion (2009: 6) that the spider ‘retains a symbolic defiance’ because the spider’s web figures in Leuconoe’s tale in Met. 4.

26 Vial 2010: 283 (curiously, Vial describes this gift as ‘inherited from her father,’ though Idmon is a humble dyer, not a famous weaver). For Vial, however, there is no question of defiance, since what the transformation represents is Arachne’s inevitable ‘accession to her name, that is, to her own identity’ (282); cf. Frontisi-Ducroux 2003: 269, suggesting that Minerva ‘concludes that this supertalented mortal can be nothing but a spider and must therefore become a spider.’ Another perspective in Harich-Schwarzbauer 2016: 156, who suggests that Minerva’s goal is just to make her rival disappear and that the spider’s residual talent is an unanticipated side-effect of the magic potion (it is ‘thanks to Hecate’ that Arachne continues to weave).

27 The passages touched on in this section are for the most part the ‘usual suspects’ originally collected by Dickerman 1911, also discussed by Frontisi-Ducroux 2003: 268-70.

28 Feeney 1991: 193 ‘embodying the stylistic thinness which is the fate of failed small-scale compositions,’ a reading that can of course be turned upside down, as it is by e.g, Rosati 2009: 270, linking exiles with ‘the tenuitas that defines the refined ‘Callimachean’ character of Arachne’s art.’

29 This unsurprising (naturalistic) collocation is sanctioned by poetic usage, e.g., ἀράχνια λεπτά (Hom. Od. 8.280), ἀράχνια . . . | λεπτά (Theoc. 16.96-7), aranei tenuia fila (Lucr. 3.383), tenuem texens sublimis aranea telum (Catull. 68.49); a ‘slender band’ (tenui . . . limbo, 6.127) makes a suitable border for the future arachnid’s tapestry.

30 The essential study is Rosati 1999, who shows that the episode is not just ‘the most complete narrative illustration of the metaphor of textus’ but ‘the aition of the metaphor itself. The story shows how from the clever artist-weaver is born, once and for all, the spider; but also how, from the spider, from its exemplary skill, the metaphor of spinning and weaving a text is born’ (250).

31 Feeney 1991: 193. Again, I harp on Feeney’s brief discussion because his perspective has been so influential.

32 This claim is not contradicted by the distinction Seneca proceeds to draw between the gifts of ars and natura (incertum est et inaequabile, quidquid ars tradit; ex aequo uenit, quod natura distribuit, Ep. 121.23); what is conferred in either case is ars, albeit contrasted and differently valued forms of ars.

33 My argument here brushes up against large questions about the status of the ‘artwork,’ in antiquity and as such; see Squire and Platt 2010.

34 These passages notably do not distinguish the spider’s single-thread productions from the warp-and-weft technique of human weaving.

35 A much-remarked anachronism: how can Leuconoe refer to spiders before the first spider has been created?

36 Though I don’t recall seeing this argument made.

37 The phrase lumina fallit (6.66, cf. lumina fallere possent, 4.177) appears in a simile comparing the range of tapestry-colors to the imperceptible color-transitions in the rainbow. The passage is normally taken to apply to both weavers, but di Fiore 1998 makes a strong case for applying the first illic et passage to Arachne, the second to Minerva; likewise, with additional arguments, Andrae 2003: 230-4.

38 Here I pass over the fragility of the spider’s web, only noting that Pliny extols its strength (withstanding wind and heaps of dust): age firmitas, quando rumpentibus ventis, qua pulverum mole degravante! (Nat. 11.82).

39 Frontisi-Ducroux draws attention to another poignant loss: ‘Transparent and colorless designs: what a painful trial for the dyer’s daughter!’ (2003: 272). Arachne keeps her craft but loses one of its most pleasurable components.

40 Here I part ways with Kirichenko, who claims that ‘by transforming [Arachne] into a spider,’ Minerva ‘effectively turns the metamorphosed body of her opponent . . . into a semantically unequivocal and ever-lasting testimony of her superior power’ (2021: 111). ‘Semantically unequivocal’ is certainly just what Minerva would like the spider to be!

41 Ballestra-Puech 2006: 66. She cites Democritus (quoted above) and Aelian; add Pliny, who admires how promptly and perfectly the mending is accomplished (scissa protinus reficit ad polituram sarciens, Nat. 11.84).

42 Johnson 2008: 94 describes miserata as ‘mildly sarcastic,’ others (e.g. Rosati 2009: 269) as ‘ironic.’ I take it that miserata, like the intruded caelestia crimina discussed above, channels Minerva’s preferred view of her actions: she gets the pleasure of punishment while also claiming credit for clemency.

43 Johnson 2008: 94.

44 Rosati 2009: 269.

45 Ballestra-Puech 2006: 66.

46 In pointed contrast to Arachne’s hair loss, his girlfriend’s baldness is her own doing and cannot be attributed to a rival’s magic concoction: non te cantatae laeserunt paelicis herbae, | non anus Haemoniae perfida lauit aqua, Am. 1.14.39-40.

47 Ziogas 2013: 103.

48 Sidney, Astrophil and Stella 1.12; for the motif of ‘male pregnancy,’ famously developed in Plato’s Symposium, see Leitao 2012.

49 Still worth reading on this topic: Gilbert and Gubar 1979: 3-16.

50 Cf. Salzman-Mitchell, who sees in Minerva’s assault ‘a standard gender struggle between the male and the female, Minerva arrogating the male for herself’ (2005: 138).

51 Ballestra-Puech 2006: 66, in the course of a different argument, her point being that Arachne thereby thwarts Minerva’s curse on her progeny. Arachne’s textilic maternity is also appreciated by Vial 2010: 283: ‘her belly, deprived of human functions, acquires . . . a new fecundity.’

52 Palladis exemplo de me sine matre creata | carmina sunt, Tr. 3.14.13-14, cited by Ballestra-Puech 2007: 66-7, linking Arachne with Ovid and, less convincingly, via Ericthonius, prolem sine matre creatam (2.553) with Minerva.

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Ellen Oliensis, « Why is Arachne a spider? (Ovid, Metamorphoses 6.129-45) »Dictynna [En ligne], 20 | 2023, mis en ligne le 01 décembre 2023, consulté le 21 avril 2024. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/dictynna/3375 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/dictynna.3375

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Ellen Oliensis

University of California, Berkeley

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