Welcome to Easy Stories in English, the podcast that will take your English from OK to Good, and from Good to Great.
I am Ariel Goodbody, your host for this show. Today’s story is for beginners. The name of the story is Arachne, the Spider Woman. You can find a transcript of the episode at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/SpiderWoman. That’s EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/SpiderWoman. This contains the full story, as well as my conversation before it.
Today’s story comes from Greek mythology, so Greek myths. Greece has some of the most famous myths in the world. Greece is a country in Europe. Apart from myths, it’s also famous for olives, ouzo, history and culture. Many important things came from Greece, such as democracy, and a lot of Western philosophy also comes from Greece.
The Greek gods from Greek mythology were known for being quite bad people. The king of the gods, Zeus, was particularly bad. He often attacked women and had sex with them. Zeus was married to Hera. Another Greek goddess who you might know, so a female Greek god, is Athena. Athena is the god of some arts that women do, for example sewing.
I am mentioning the names of these gods now because the English pronunciation is very different. If I say “Zeus” to an Italian person, they probably won’t understand me unless I write it down, because the sounds of English have changed so much from the sounds of other languages. Latin and Greek names sound quite different in English.
I think Greek mythology is very interesting. What makes it complicated is that the myths all have lots of different versions. So when one person tells the myth it is different from when another person tells the myth. Nowadays we like to have the “real” version. We like to think that there is a “correct” version of every story, but really, with myths there are always differences. The person who tells the myth changes the story to make it how they like, and of course I am no different. So I have changed some parts of this myth to make it more how I like. Maybe you disagree with the changes. That’s OK! But maybe you like the changes, who knows. Either way, if you feel something about this story, please do go and leave a comment at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/SpiderWoman.
OK, I’ll just explain some words that are in today’s story.
Spider. A spider is a small insect. It is black and it has eight legs and six eyes. It is a bit hairy. And spiders are usually everyone’s least favourite insect. Pretty much everyone hates spiders. They are ugly and, for a lot of people, they are scary. When some people see a spider they kill it. When some people see a spider they trap it in a glass and throw it outside. When some people see a spider they scream and jump on a chair. There are lots of reactions.
I used to be afraid of spiders but now I don’t really mind them. I don’t love them, but I don’t hate them, either. Still, I don’t think I could ever have a pet spider. You know, some people keep tarantulas, the really big, hairy, poisonous spiders, as pets. I could never do that! Tarantulas, eugh, they just look horrible! I think they’re better dead than a pet.
A thread. A thread is a long piece of material. So clothes are made of lots of thread. When you put lots of thread together you can make it into a material, such as wool or silk or cotton. When you sew you put a thread through a needle.
The process of making material from thread is called weaving. So weave is spelled W-E-A-V-E and the past tense of “weave” is “wove”. I have never woven before. It is not a common thing nowadays, but in the past, when people wanted to make clothes, they had to take thread and weave it and weaving was a difficult process.
Traditionally, it is women who did weaving. I think nowadays they use factories to weave cloth and material. You might recognise the word “weave” from a previous story, The Weaver Girl and the Cowherd, because there was Cloud Weaver in the story. Cloud Weaver was a fairy who wove the clouds in the sky.
If you do decide to weave, you will need a loom. So a loom is the big wooden tool that you use to weave. You sit at your loom and weave cloth.
A goddess. A goddess is a female god. I mentioned Hera and Athena before. So they are two Greek goddesses.
Human. A human is a person who is not a god, but they’re also not an animal. So I am a human, you are probably a human, if you are listening to this. Humans are different from gods and different from animals.
Jealous. When you are jealous you want something that someone else has. For example, maybe your friend just went on holiday to Mallorca and you really want to go there. You say, ‘Oh, I’m so jealous! I want to go to Mallorca.’ Children often get very jealous. Stereotypically, men get jealous if their girlfriend talks to other men because they think she might be flirting with them. Also, the Greek gods really are very jealous people. The female Greek gods especially got jealous because their husbands would often sleep with human women.
Proud. When you are proud it means you are happy because something you own is doing really well. It’s often used for children. For example, if your son is doing very well in school, you will probably be very proud of him. But of course people can also be proud of themselves. I’m proud of myself for making this podcast, and people might also be proud of their friends.
However, we do say that pride comes before a fall. If you are too proud, you will have problems, because if you are too proud you will not listen to other people. So it is not good to be too proud of yourself.
Punish. When you punish someone, you hurt them for doing something bad. So let’s say your son did really well in school but then he went and broke into people’s cars and stole things. That is a very serious thing, it’s a crime, so you would probably punish your son. You might say, ‘You can’t leave the house for a week.’ You might take away his pocket money. In the olden days, you might even hit him. These are all forms of punishment, and in Greek mythology, the gods often punished humans for being too proud.
Finally, if you abuse your power, it means you have a lot of power but you are using it in the wrong way. For example, I am a teacher and being a teacher you have the power to do a lot of things. So a lot of teachers shout at children or get angry if children forget things. I think this is abusing your power because I think classrooms should be a nice, welcoming environment for everyone.
Parents might also abuse their power. Presidents might also abuse their power. Anyone in a position of power can potentially abuse it.
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OK, so listen and enjoy!
Arachne, the Spider Woman
Once, in Old Greece, there was a woman. Her name was Arachne. Arachne’s father was a shepherd. He was called Idmon. Idmon was a good shepherd, and they had many, many sheep. The sheep made much wool. They made so much wool that Idmon could not sell all of it, so their house was full of old wool. Arachne liked to play with the wool. Slowly, she learned how to make thread. Over time, she turned all the wool in the house into thread. But she could not weave, because they did not have a loom.
One day, Idmon came home from town. He had sold much wool. He was carrying something big.
‘Father, what is that?’ said Arachne. She went to help her father. The thing was very heavy.
‘It is a loom. We have so much thread, so why don’t you weave as well?’
Arachne fell in love with the loom. Every day she sat with it for hours. At first, she made many mistakes, and she broke all the thread. But slowly, she learned how to weave, and she made pictures with the thread.
As Arachne grew older, her talent grew as well. She got better and better at weaving. Arachne did not know any other weavers, so she did not know that she was an excellent weaver.
One day, Idmon took one of her pictures to town, and the people of the town loved it. They had never seen such a beautiful picture. They asked him where he had bought it, and he told them that his daughter made it.
The next day, many people came to see Arachne.
‘Oh dear. Have I done something wrong?’
‘No! We want to see you weave.’
They did not believe it at first. A young girl could not weave such beautiful pictures! But they watched her weave, and it was true.
After that, people came every day to watch Arachne weave. They told her her pictures were beautiful. Her father started selling them, and they made lots of money. He stopped selling the wool from the sheep, and gave it all to Arachne. Arachne wove day and night, and she was very happy.
Athena was the goddess of many things. One of her things was weaving. So naturally, she heard about Arachne. One day, she made herself look like an old woman, and she came to visit. She saw the girl working. “She is amazing,” she thought. “No human should be so good.” Athena was jealous, so she went up to the girl.
‘You are an amazing weaver!’ she said.
‘Thank you,’ said Arachne, smiling.
‘You weave even better than the gods.’
Arachne smiled, and said again, ‘Thank you.’
Athena changed her form. She showed her true form. Arachne gasped, and stopped weaving.
‘Athena! You are the goddess of weaving. Thank you so much. I love weaving.’
‘You should not thank me,’ said Athena. ‘You should be saying “sorry”! You said you were better than the gods. You are a human! You are too proud.’
‘I am sorry, Athena,’ said Arachne. She looked truly sad. ‘I do not really believe that I am better than the gods.’
‘We will see. Let us have a competition. We will each weave a picture. If your picture is better, I will agree that you can weave better than the gods. But if my picture is better, I will punish you.’
Arachne waited for a moment, and then said, ‘I accept.’
Athena pulled out her loom. It was much brighter and prettier than Arachne’s simple loom. They both sat down with lots of threads and started working. Everyone from the town came and watched.
Athena moved quickly, and soon she was making a beautiful picture. In her picture she showed the gods punishing humans. Zeus punished Ixion, because Ixion fell in love with his wife, Hera. Demeter punished Erysichthon, because Erysichthon cut down Demeter’s trees to make a table. Finally, Apollo punished Marsyas, because Marsyas lost a competition against Apollo. The people all thought the picture was very impressive.
Arachne worked much more slowly. But as her picture grew, it was also very beautiful. Arachne also showed the gods. But in Arachne’s picture, the gods were hurting humans who had done nothing wrong. Arachne showed the gods abusing their power. Zeus tricked women and attacked them. Pluto took away Persephone. Finally, Apollo punished Marsyas, because Marsyas lost the competition against Apollo. The last part was the same as Athena’s picture. But Athena was saying that the human was wrong, while Arachne was saying that Apollo was wrong.
When they looked at both pictures, it was clear that Arachne’s was better. The style and colours were nicer. More than that, though, the picture was much more interesting. All the people gasped at Arachne’s picture. It was a very dangerous thing to do.
Athena was very, very angry. Arachne had won the competition. She could not say that she herself had won. But she stopped her anger, and smiled.
‘You think all the gods are bad, do you? We all abuse our power, and hurt humans, do we?’
Arachne smiled and said nothing. She did not have to say it. Her picture said it.
‘Fine, then. I will do what you want, and abuse my power.’
Athena clapped her hands. Suddenly, Arachne started changing. Her body grew smaller, and her legs grew longer. In fact, she grew six extra legs. Her arms and legs grew very hairy. Her skin turned black. Four more eyes grew on her face.
Athena had turned her into a spider. The first spider. Athena laughed at Arachne, who was smaller than her hand now.
‘There. I abused my power. Are you happy? But I am not that bad. You can still weave. There is thread in your stomach. Go, and weave your little pictures.’
Arachne ran away. She wove a web and lived inside it. After Athena left, Idmon looked at his daughter and cried.
Arachne was the first spider, but she had children. Throughout time, Arachne and her children wove webs. They never wove beautiful pictures, but they never stopped weaving completely. Because even the gods cannot stop humans from making art.