Arachne (Spider) and Other Critters

Category: ?

1 Introduction

The myth of Arachne is best known not from a Greek source, but the Latin poet Ovid’s epic poem Metamorphoses (6.1–145). Accordingly, it is sometimes misinterpreted as somehow inauthentic or non-Greek, a mere late Roman invention. This not only presumes a false dichotomy between Greek and Roman, it is also false even by the logic of that dichotomy, as the myth is in fact attested in Greek, albeit in a source few encounter, namely the scholia (explanatory notes) on Nicander’s Theriaca. In fact, since Ovid certainly knew Nicander, and read his Greek poets with scholia when they were available to him, it is quite possible that he derived the myth from such a source (albeit hardly from the scholia as they survive today).

In any case, I here translate the Greek scholia’s brief summaries of the myth, from the edition of the Scholia in Nicandri Theriaka by A. Crugnola; the Ovidian version, which is more attractive as literature, can be easily found online and in print in any number of languages.

2 Translation

Nicander, Theriaca 8–12

“They tell that evil-working venomous spiders, together with noxious creeping animals (or ‘reptiles’), vipers and a myriad pests of the hearth are from the blood of Titans, at least if Hesiod of Ascra laid down the truth on the heights of secluded Melissēeis (on Mt Helicon) by the waters of the river Permessus.”

Ἀλλ‘ ἤτοι κακοεργὰ φαλάγγια, σὺν καὶ ἀνιγρούς
ἑρπηστὰς ἔχιάς τε καὶ ἄχθεα μυρία γαίης
Τιτήνων ἐνέπουσιν ἀφ‘ αἵματος, εἰ ἐτεόν περ
Ἀσκραῖος μυχάτοιο Μελισσήεντος ἐπ‘ ὄχθαις
Ἡσίοδος κατέλεξε παρ‘ ὕδασι Περμησσοῖο.

Scholium on Theriaca 8,
“They tell that evil-working phalángia …”

Phalángia: a kind of small serpents [sic; the word in fact refers to venomous spiders, as the following makes clear].

“They say that Arachne (‘Spider’) challenged Athena about her works, and that, while she was originally a woman, she was on this account transformed into the animal now (called by this name).”

Scholium on Theriaca 10,
“… are from the blood of Titans.”

“He says that these animals issued forth from the blood of Typhoeus after he was struck by the lightning bolt.”

Scholium on Theriaca 8–12

“One should know that Nicander is not saying the truth here, for Hesiod never said this in his works; concerning the origin of biting (and ‘stinging’) animals, it cannot be found in Hesiod that it is from the blood of the Titans.

“Acusilaus, however, says that all biting animals arose from the blood of Typhon.

“Apollonius of Rhodes, in the Founding of Alexandria, says it was from drops of blood of Gorgo.

“Theophilus the follower of Zenodotus gives the account (historeî) that there were two siblings in Attica, a brother called Phalanx and a sister Arachne. And Phalanx learned the business of fighting with arms from Athena, but Arachne the business of loom-working. But when they had intercourse with each other, they were abhorred by the gods, and changed into creeping animals which happen to be devoured by their own children.”