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So man became, by way of his passage through the cave, the dreaming animal.

Hans Blumenberg


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Sunday, October 25th, 2009

Dire elixir

Arachne left the ends of her warp as a delicate fringe, while her border showed ivy interwoven with flowers.

Hers was a work whose merit neither Athena nor Envy could deny. The masterwork goaded the goddess into blind fury: she shredded the fabric and its catalogue of the gods' sins. Then, snatching a branch from an olive growing on Mt. Cytorus, she lashed Arachne's face thrice and a fourth time.

The miserable girl couldn't bear the shame; she went and hanged herself. With a hint of pity Pallas said to the dangling corpse, "Live -- but for your sins, continue to hang. Your whole line will pay the same punishment."

Having spoken, Pallas sprinkled Arachne with magic herbs. At the touch of this dire elixir, Arachne's hair fell off and with it her nose and ears. Her head shrank, and then her whole body became small. Instead of legs, her wizened fingers projected from her sides, and the rest of her became all belly -- from which nevertheless she spins thread and as a spider continues the work of her loom to this day.

-- Metamorphoses, Ovid, Book VI
translated by David Drake

Sylvia's class is doing a unit on Greek mythology; she has as reading homework a pagelong summary of the story of Arachne -- she was telling me about it this morning and we agreed that it leaves out way too much detail... Before lunch, we looked up Ovid's telling of the story, which I have not read in many years; I was amazed all over again by it, and Sylvia was interested and receptive. What an extraordinary story-teller! I am thinking the summary-for-schoolkids probably has to leave out all the gods posing as animals to impregnate mortal women stuff,* which is kind of the heart of this story, and Arachne committing suicide by hanging herself is probably similarly verboten... The story's kind of weak when you take all that out.

* (It just said something to the effect of, "Arachne's weaving showed the gods behaving poorly and made fun of them," and that the gods being angry at this is why she was transformed into a spider.)

posted morning of October 25th, 2009: Respond
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Sunday, February 28th, 2010

Mythology

Sylvia and I spent some time this weekend reading stories from a college book of mine, Rhoda Hendricks' 1972 edition Classical Gods and Heroes: Myths as told by the ancient authors -- a good resource although I don't love her translations. Looks like we should find some good translations of Hesiod's Theogony and Works and Days to learn more about the early Greek myths. It will probably be a lot more difficult to learn anything about the early Roman myths, since all the Roman writing about mythology seems to come from well after the Hellenization process was underway. I would like to pick up a good translation of Metamorphoses though, Ovid seems to be a good story-teller.

Anyone who is interested in this stuff and has not read the comments to the previous post should do so -- Randolph reposted a great writeup there from Bryon Boyce.

posted afternoon of February 28th, 2010: Respond
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