Arachne’s Myth


Arachne’ s Myth is one of the mythological tales found in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a work that the Latin writer wrote around 8 CE, during the time of Augustus. This epic mythological poem is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful and fascinating works that a human being has ever written. The Metamorphoses are in fact a “summa” of mythological knowledge, a sort of encyclopaedia of myth, where the poet Ovid was able to represent by 246 fables the order of the world, the enchantment and magic of nature, in which every metamorphosis, even the most tragic and painful, becomes an opportunity to poetically explain the mystery of existence.

So what is the story of Arachne?

Arachne was a girl of humble origins who lived in Lydia, an ancient region of Asian Turkey. She was a very skilled girl in the art of weaving clothes and making embroidery, and she was so good that it was said that Minerva, goddess of the Arts, Philosophy, Science and Technology, and of the Art of War as well, had taught the young maiden the secrets of the art of weaving.

One day Arachne not only denied to have been taught by the goddess, but even said that she was better than the goddess and publicly challenged her to an artistic competition. 

Unfortunately, as we know, one should never disrespect the divinities, and whoever did so was guilty of Ybris, which in ancient Greek means ‘haughtiness’, lack of humility. When the goddess saw the marvellous cloth made by Arachne, she realised that she had in fact been outdone and was incandescent with rage: she gave her rival a hard blow and destroyed her work of art.

Arachne, unable to bear the destruction of her cloth, tried to commit suicide. But Minerva did not allow her to do so: in ancient mythology a mortal who had challenged a divinity would deserve a more tragic punishment than death. The one inflicted on Arachne was the metamorphosis into a spider, condemned to make and unmake threads for all eternity.

Aracne ou la dialectique, Paolo Veronese, 1520.
Aracne or Dialectics, Paolo Veronese, 1520

The spider is a little gem of a microcosm, its art is its technique, with its complexity and delicacy. This mythological origin, its tragic metamorphosis, for better or worse turns it into a creature of Minerva, associated with art and, in the case of Arachne, with the patience and perseverance that all arts require.

In the Mural of the Penitents, every object, plant and animal has its reason of existence, each of them has its own story. It took a great deal of patience on Aina’s side to collect all these stories, and the great talent of Arachne to weave this great cloth with all of them. First it took shape on a sheet of paper and then, with tenacious perseverance, this big wall was slowly filled with colour following the lines woven in the preparatory sketch. As if the patient spider had set to produce the best of her webs between two trees separated by more than 17 metres. A gigantic spider’s web capable of attracting all kinds of insects and beasts, even the most curious ones, as well as the gaze of those passing by.

La retícula del mural
The net-like of the Mural

Little by little, this website will reveal the weft threads of this great cloth that is the mural, like a magnifying glass that allows us to see the essence, the network of a fabric of life and art. The life and work of two artists intimately linked to the city of Barcelona, but also the animal and plant life of the Penitents’ neighbourhood and the work of its painters.

Without claiming to be like Ovid’s Metamorphoses, in the mural we also wanted to poetically explain certain things of the existing world. We live in a society that is always in a hurry, without time, where waiting and patience are not very appreciated. Too many details bore us, get us tired, take “too much” time. A great art historian, Aby Warburg, used to say that the Good Lord (or the Devil) is hidden in a detail. We know that art in general, even the one which seems fast and essential to us, is almost always the result of patient and persevering work, like that of the spider, that will spin and spin again, starting its web all over again, and will always have to wait to get its result. The industriousness of this arthropod can teach us that we must be patient and “lose” or devote some time to details. Observe carefully, search, doubt, investigate and thus discover the story that a small detail can hide. By the way, did you find Arachne in the mural?

Aracne al mural dels Penitents
Arachne in the mural

And finally, let us add a couple of quirk facts: 

Jean Pierre was not afraid of spiders, on the contrary, in his studio-atelier where he spent hours, days, weeks and even months, meticulously working on a copper plate, spiders freely wove their webs. One day his daughter Catherine asked him: Why, when you clean, you don’t remove the cobwebs? He replied that he would not be the one to destroy such a perfect and wonderful work of art. The spiders lived there and the cobwebs were part of the studio. He always had great admiration and respect for this queen of the art and technique. His meticulously detailed works are the clearest example of this admiration for her technical rigour, the result of his own demand and of his constant study.

Second quirk fact: this mural is in the neighbourhood of Barcelona called “The Penitents”. The metamorphosis of the poor Arachne was a penitence imposed by a goddess who did not tolerate being outdone by a mere mortal. Therefore, it seems that “the queen of the mural” has found her place among the Penitents. In this house that hosts this great work, spiders will always be respected. As well as being a tribute to the memory of two artists, the mural is also a small tribute to all the small beasts in the neighbourhood. And at the same time, it is the summit of the transformation of this little piece of country road that has undergone a beautiful metamorphosis. Art and its language can redeem or compensate for many things, as well as preserve the gift of memory.

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