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Pallas et Arachne.

ARACHNE AND MINERVA

All this Minerva heard; and she approved
their songs and their resentment; but her heart
was brooding thus, “It is an easy thing
to praise another, I should do as they:
no creature of the earth should ever slight
the majesty that dwells in me,—without
just retribution.”—So her thought was turned
upon the fortune of Arachne — proud,
who would not ever yield to her the praise
won by the art of deftly weaving wool,
a girl who had not fame for place of birth,
nor fame for birth, but only fame for skill!

For it was well known that her father dwelt
in Colophon; where, at his humble trade,
he dyed in Phocean purples, fleecy wool.
Her mother, also of the lower class,
had died. Arachne in a mountain town
by skill had grown so famous in the Land
of Lydia, that unnumbered curious nymphs
eager to witness her dexterity,
deserted the lush vineyards of Timolus;
or even left the cool and flowing streams
of bright Pactolus, to admire the cloth,
or to observe her deftly spinning wool.

So graceful was her motion then,—if she
was twisting the coarse wool in little balls,
or if she teased it with her finger-tips,
or if she softened the fine fleece, drawn forth
in misty films, or if she twirled the smooth
round spindle with her energetic thumb,
or if with needle she embroidered cloth;—

in all her motions one might well perceive
how much Minerva had instructed her:
but this she ever would deny, displeased
to share her fame; and said, “Let her contend
in art with me; and if her skill prevails,
I then will forfeit all!”

Minerva heard,
and came to her, disguised with long grey hair,
and with a staff to steady her weak limbs.
She seemed a feeble woman, very old,
and quavered as she said, “Old age is not
the cause of every ill; experience comes
with lengthened years; and, therefore, you should not
despise my words. It is no harm in you
to long for praise of mortals, when
your nimble hands are spinning the soft wool,—
but you should not deny Minerva's art—
and you should pray that she may pardon you,
for she will grant you pardon if you ask.”

Arachne, scowling with an evil face.
Looked at the goddess, as she dropped her thread.
She hardly could restrain her threatening hand,
and, trembling in her anger, she replied
to you, disguised Minerva:

“Silly fool,—
worn out and witless in your palsied age,
a great age is your great misfortune!— Let
your daughter and your son's wife—if the Gods
have blessed you—let them profit by your words;
within myself, my knowledge is contained
sufficient; you need not believe that your
advice does any good; for I am quite
unchanged in my opinion. Get you gone,—
advise your goddess to come here herself,
and not avoid the contest!”

Instantly,
the goddess said, “Minerva comes to you!”
And with those brief words, put aside the shape
of the old woman, and revealed herself,
Minerva, goddess.

All the other Nymphs
and matrons of Mygdonia worshiped her;
but not Arachne, who defiant stood;—
although at first she flushed up—then went pale—
then blushed again, reluctant.—So, at first,
the sky suffuses, as Aurora moves,
and, quickly when the glorious sun comes up,
pales into white.

She even rushed upon
her own destruction, for she would not give
from her desire to gain the victory.
Nor did the daughter of almighty Jove
decline: disdaining to delay with words,
she hesitated not.

And both, at once,
selected their positions, stretched their webs
with finest warp, and separated warp with sley.
The woof was next inserted in the web
by means of the sharp shuttles, which
their nimble fingers pushed along, so drawn
within the warp, and so the teeth notched in
the moving sley might strike them.—Both, in haste,
girded their garments to their breasts and moved
their skilful arms, beguiling their fatigue
in eager action.

Myriad tints appeared
besides the Tyrian purple—royal dye,
extracted in brass vessels.—As the bow,
that spans new glory in the curving sky,
its glittering rays reflected in the rain,
spreads out a multitude of blended tints,
in scintillating beauty to the sight
of all who gaze upon it; — so the threads,
inwoven, mingled in a thousand tints,
harmonious and contrasting; shot with gold:
and there, depicted in those shining webs,
were shown the histories of ancient days:—

Minerva worked the Athenian Hill of Mars,
where ancient Cecrops built his citadel,
and showed the old contention for the name
it should be given.—Twelve celestial Gods
surrounded Jupiter, on lofty thrones;
and all their features were so nicely drawn,
that each could be distinguished.—Jupiter
appeared as monarch of those judging Gods.

There Neptune, guardian of the sea, was shown
contending with Minerva. As he struck
the Rock with his long trident, a wild horse
sprang forth which he bequeathed to man. He claimed
his right to name the city for that gift.

And then she wove a portrait of herself,
bearing a shield, and in her hand a lance,
sharp-pointed, and a helmet on her head—
her breast well-guarded by her Aegis: there
she struck her spear into the fertile earth,
from which a branch of olive seemed to sprout,
pale with new clustered fruits.—And those twelve Gods,
appeared to judge, that olive as a gift
surpassed the horse which Neptune gave to man.

And, so Arachne, rival of her fame,
might learn the folly of her mad attempt,
from the great deeds of ancient histories,
and what award presumption must expect,
Minerva wove four corners with life scenes
of contest, brightly colored, but of size
diminutive.

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