I waited for the car to stop and someone to open the trunk, for an impersonal hand behind an impersonal gun to shoot me with an impersonal bullet. But that was hours ago, now I rocked with the traffic. I was tragicum heros. I had spun my thread and, as a spider, wove my ancient web. It had been my best work in journalism. A bold piece. Uncompromising. A pothole slammed my head against the carpeted interior.
In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Arachne had been a storyteller, too. A weaver of stories. Our problem was they weren’t our stories to weave. They were the god’s.
Arachne boasted that she wove better than even Athena, goddess of wisdom, craft, and war. Until Athena darkened her door, and spoke as gods who darken mortal doors still speak, “You can never compare to the gods. Beg forgiveness, that I might spare your soul.”
I tumbled when the car swerved from pavement to gravel.
Arachne foolishly persisted, “I speak only truth. If you think otherwise, challenge me yourself!” So Athena wove a scene of great contest between gods and mortals, in which the gods punished the mortals for thinking themselves equals.
I twisted at my bound wrists to regain some feeling.
Arachne countered with a tapestry depicting the gods as misleaders and abusers of mortals, particularly Zeus, celestial rapist and seducer of mortal women. Arachne had not only insulted the gods, of course, but had done so in a work far more beautiful than Athena’s, and the goddess was enraged. She tore the tapestry to pieces and Arachne, heartbroken, hanged herself. Considering my own dilemma, I must admit, a smarter move than witness protection.
But Athena’s wrath was not assuaged. “Live on then,” she cursed, “and yet hang, condemned one, but, lest you are careless in future, this same condition is declared, in punishment, against your descendants, to the last generation!’ At her words, Arachne’s hair fell out, and her head shrank to the smallest size. Her whole body became tiny, and her slender fingers poked from her sides like legs. The rest was belly, from which she spins her thread and, as a spider, weaves her ancient web.
To show, I thought, as the car finally stopped, how gods punish those who are mortal.