From Book 6
The Metamorphoses of Arachne
PALLAS, attending to the Muse's song,
Approv'd the just resentment of their wrong;
And thus reflects: While tamely I commend
Those who their injur'd deities defend,
My own divinity affronted stands,
And calls aloud for justice at my hands;
Then takes the hint, asham'd to lag behind,
And on Arachne' bends her vengeful mind;
One at the loom so excellently skill'd,
That to the Goddess she refus'd to yield.
The Low was her birth, and small her native town,
Transformation She from her art alone obtain'd renown.
of Arachne Idmon, her father, made it his employ,
into a Spider To give the spungy fleece a purple dye:
Of vulgar strain her mother, lately dead,
With her own rank had been content to wed;
Yet she their daughter, tho' her time was spent
In a small hamlet, and of mean descent,
Thro' the great towns of Lydia gain'd a name,
And fill'd the neighb'ring countries with her fame.
Oft, to admire the niceness of her skill,
The Nymphs would quit their fountain, shade, or hill:
Thither, from green Tymolus, they repair,
And leave the vineyards, their peculiar care;
Thither, from fam'd Pactolus' golden stream,
Drawn by her art, the curious Naiads came.
Nor would the work, when finish'd, please so much,
As, while she wrought, to view each graceful touch;
Whether the shapeless wool in balls she wound,
Or with quick motion turn'd the spindle round,
Or with her pencil drew the neat design,
Pallas her mistress shone in every line.
This the proud maid with scornful air denies,
And ev'n the Goddess at her work defies;
Disowns her heav'nly mistress ev'ry hour,
Nor asks her aid, nor deprecates her pow'r.
Let us, she cries, but to a tryal come,
And, if she conquers, let her fix my doom.
The Goddess then a beldame's form put on,
With silver hairs her hoary temples shone;
Prop'd by a staff, she hobbles in her walk,
And tott'ring thus begins her old wives' talk.
Young maid attend, nor stubbornly despise
The admonitions of the old, and wise;
For age, tho' scorn'd, a ripe experience bears,
That golden fruit, unknown to blooming years:
Still may remotest fame your labours crown,
And mortals your superior genius own;
But to the Goddess yield, and humbly meek
A pardon for your bold presumption seek;
The Goddess will forgive. At this the maid,
With passion fir'd, her gliding shuttle stay'd;
And, darting vengeance with an angry look,
To Pallas in disguise thus fiercely spoke.
Thou doating thing, whose idle babling tongue
But too well shews the plague of living long;
Hence, and reprove, with this your sage advice,
Your giddy daughter, or your aukward neice;
Know, I despise your counsel, and am still
A woman, ever wedded to my will;
And, if your skilful Goddess better knows,
Let her accept the tryal I propose.
She does, impatient Pallas strait replies,
And, cloath'd with heavenly light, sprung from her odd disguise.
The Nymphs, and virgins of the plain adore
The awful Goddess, and confess her pow'r;
The maid alone stood unappall'd; yet show'd
A transient blush, that for a moment glow'd,
Then disappear'd; as purple streaks adorn
The opening beauties of the rosy morn;
Till Phoebus rising prevalently bright,
Allays the tincture with his silver light.
Yet she persists, and obstinately great,
In hopes of conquest hurries on her fate.
The Goddess now the challenge waves no more,
Nor, kindly good, advises as before.
Strait to their posts appointed both repair,
And fix their threaded looms with equal care:
Around the solid beam the web is ty'd,
While hollow canes the parting warp divide;
Thro' which with nimble flight the shuttles play,
And for the woof prepare a ready way;
The woof and warp unite, press'd by the toothy slay.
Thus both, their mantles button'd to their breast,
Their skilful fingers ply with willing haste,
And work with pleasure; while they chear the eye
With glowing purple of the Tyrian dye:
Or, justly intermixing shades with light,
Their colourings insensibly unite.
As when a show'r transpierc'd with sunny rays,
Its mighty arch along the heav'n displays;
From whence a thousand diff'rent colours rise,
Whose fine transition cheats the clearest eyes;
So like the intermingled shading seems,
And only differs in the last extreams.
Then threads of gold both artfully dispose,
And, as each part in just proportion rose,
Some antique fable in their work disclose.
Pallas in figures wrought the heav'nly Pow'rs,
And Mars's hill among th' Athenian tow'rs.
On lofty thrones twice six celestials sate,
Jove in the midst, and held their warm debate;
The subject weighty, and well-known to fame,
From whom the city shou'd receive its name.
Each God by proper features was exprest,
Jove with majestick mein excell'd the rest.
His three-fork'd mace the dewy sea-God shook,
And, looking sternly, smote the ragged rock;
When from the stone leapt forth a spritely steed,
And Neptune claims the city for the deed.
Herself she blazons, with a glitt'ring spear,
And crested helm that veil'd her braided hair,
With shield, and scaly breast-plate, implements of war.
Struck with her pointed launce, the teeming Earth
Seem'd to produce a new surprizing birth;
When, from the glebe, the pledge of conquest sprung,
A tree pale-green with fairest olives hung.
And then, to let her giddy rival learn
What just rewards such boldness was to earn,
Four tryals at each corner had their part,
Design'd in miniature, and touch'd with art.
Haemus in one, and Rodope of Thrace
Transform'd to mountains, fill'd the foremost place;
Who claim'd the titles of the Gods above,
And vainly us'd the epithets of Jove.
Another shew'd, where the Pigmaean dame,
Profaning Juno's venerable name,
Turn'd to an airy crane, descends from far,
And with her Pigmy subjects wages war.
In a third part, the rage of Heav'n's great queen,
Display'd on proud Antigone, was seen:
Who with presumptuous boldness dar'd to vye,
For beauty with the empress of the sky.
Ah! what avails her ancient princely race,
Her sire a king, and Troy her native place:
Now, to a noisy stork transform'd, she flies,
And with her whiten'd pinions cleaves the skies.
And in the last remaining part was drawn
Poor Cinyras that seem'd to weep in stone;
Clasping the temple steps, he sadly mourn'd
His lovely daughters, now to marble turn'd.
With her own tree the finish'd piece is crown'd,
And wreaths of peaceful olive all the work surround.
Arachne drew the fam'd intrigues of Jove,
Chang'd to a bull to gratify his love;
How thro' the briny tide all foaming hoar,
Lovely Europa on his back he bore.
The sea seem'd waving, and the trembling maid
Shrunk up her tender feet, as if afraid;
And, looking back on the forsaken strand,
To her companions wafts her distant hand.
Next she design'd Asteria's fabled rape,
When Jove assum'd a soaring eagle's shape:
And shew'd how Leda lay supinely press'd,
Whilst the soft snowy swan sate hov'ring o'er her breast,
How in a satyr's form the God beguil'd,
When fair Antiope with twins he fill'd.
Then, like Amphytrion, but a real Jove,
In fair Alcmena's arms he cool'd his love.
In fluid gold to Danae's heart he came,
Aegina felt him in a lambent flame.
He took Mnemosyne in shepherd's make,
And for Deois was a speckled snake.
She made thee, Neptune, like a wanton steer,
Pacing the meads for love of Arne dear;
Next like a stream, thy burning flame to slake,
And like a ram, for fair Bisaltis' sake.
Then Ceres in a steed your vigour try'd,
Nor cou'd the mare the yellow Goddess hide.
Next, to a fowl transform'd, you won by force
The snake-hair'd mother of the winged horse;
And, in a dolphin's fishy form, subdu'd
Melantho sweet beneath the oozy flood.
All these the maid with lively features drew,
And open'd proper landskips to the view.
There Phoebus, roving like a country swain,
Attunes his jolly pipe along the plain;
For lovely Isse's sake in shepherd's weeds,
O'er pastures green his bleating flock he feeds,
There Bacchus, imag'd like the clust'ring grape,
Melting bedrops Erigone's fair lap;
And there old Saturn, stung with youthful heat,
Form'd like a stallion, rushes to the feat.
Fresh flow'rs, which twists of ivy intertwine,
Mingling a running foliage, close the neat design.
This the bright Goddess passionately mov'd,
With envy saw, yet inwardly approv'd.
The scene of heav'nly guilt with haste she tore,
Nor longer the affront with patience bore;
A boxen shuttle in her hand she took,
And more than once Arachne's forehead struck.
Th' unhappy maid, impatient of the wrong,
Down from a beam her injur'd person hung;
When Pallas, pitying her wretched state,
At once prevented, and pronounc'd her fate:
Live; but depend, vile wretch, the Goddess cry'd,
Doom'd in suspence for ever to be ty'd;
That all your race, to utmost date of time,
May feel the vengeance, and detest the crime.
Then, going off, she sprinkled her with juice,
Which leaves of baneful aconite produce.
Touch'd with the pois'nous drug, her flowing hair
Fell to the ground, and left her temples bare;
Her usual features vanish'd from their place,
Her body lessen'd all, but most her face.
Her slender fingers, hanging on each side
With many joynts, the use of legs supply'd:
A spider's bag the rest, from which she gives
A thread, and still by constant weaving lives.
Translated under the direction of Sir Samuaul
Garth by John Dryden, Alexander Pope, Joseph Addison, William
Congreve and others.