Delahoyde & Hughes



1) What is Arachne's punishment?
2) In what context have we heard of Niobe before?


Arachne's hubris is enough to instigate the spinning and weaving contest with Minerva. More interesting than the etiological elements here (arachnids = spiders) is the politics of art involved (132). Aside from Minerva's pettiness and jealousy, why does Arachne receive such a vicious punishment? Is it her skill, or the content of her artistic works?

Why are spiders associated with this particular story?

You may remember Niobe from the fourth episode in Sophocles' tragedy Antigone, or from Achilles' reference to her in the Iliad when trying to get Priam to let go of enough of his grief at least to eat something. Antigone compares herself to Niobe.
  • What do Antigone and Niobe have in common?
  • What do Niobe and Arachne have in common so that their stories are juxtaposed?
  • In the end of the story, Niobe is turned to stone. In your imagination, what causes her metamorphosis to stone? How is her transformation appropriate?

We hear of the origin of frogs (141) and then of Marsyas who, because he played flute better than Apollo, was flayed, becoming "one great wound" (141) -- a sort of Mr. Anatomy figure -- gross. A brief mention of Pelops' ivory shoulder brings us into the next story.

Tereus, Procne, and Philomela:
Chaucer includes this story as one of the stories in his Legend of Good Women -- really more an anthology of bad men. The story again involves self-blame for being raped (146, 149) -- this time Philomela, whose tongue is severed so that she cannot tell the tale. The tongue's writhing about on the floor Ovid compares, with outrageous indelicacy to say the least, with a snake, so that the sexist association between a woman's tongue and a serpent arises at the most vile time (147).

When all is revealed, sisters Procne and Philomela conspire to butcher and feed Procne's husband Tereus, the rapist, his own son Itys. "What's for dinner, mommy?" Tereus wants to rip his own guts open when it dawns on him. Mercifully for this rather dysfunctional family, they all turn into birds.

Metamorphoses Book VII
Ovid Index
Orpheus: Roman Mythology