In Athens there was a young woman called Arachne, who was the best maker of cloth in the whole city. Everyone told her she was quite wonderful, until Arachne began to become proud:
“I am the best weaver in the whole world!”
“Well, yes, except for the Goddess Athena.”
“Athena?! Ha, she could be my student!”
An old woman approached Arachne and said people should respect the gods, because they can get angry.
“I am not scared of Athena. Let her come here and we shall compete.”
There was a flash, and suddenly the old woman had gone, replaced by Athena herself. The competition began.
Athena, the goddess, decided to weave a beautiful scene from another competition she had been in, with the God Poseidon for who would own the city of Athens. The picture was marvelous, and everyone thought Athena quite skilled.
Arachne, on the other hand, decided to have some fun at Athena’s expense: she weaved a picture of Zeus, the king of the gods and father of Athena, with other partners he had seduced. The weaving was sensational, better than Athena’s, but when she saw what was in the picture Athena grew very angry. She stood up, ripped the picture to pieces, destroyed Arachne’s loom so the girl could never weave again, and slashed the girl’s face.
“You must respect the gods!” Athena said.
Arachne, however, would not bow, because she was the better weaver and Athena had destroyed the loom. Instead, Arachne hung herself.
Seeing how much the girl wanted to weave, but not forgiving her for her insult, Athena untied the rope, and sprinkled Arachne’s body with a poison called aconite. She then turned Arachne into a spider so she would continue her weaving forever.
note: it is not clear whether Athena turned Arachne into a spider as a punishment, or out of pity.
note 2: the Greek word for spider is arachne, and the word ‘arachnid’ (the group of animals to which spiders belong) comes from this word.