Minerva and Arachne, by Annie Morris

Minerva and Arachne
by Annie Morris

(After a painting by René-Antoine Houasse 1645-1710)

She was still holding her shuttle of hard Cytorian boxwood
and used it to strike Arachne a number of times on the forehead. (Ovid, 6.132-133)

Minerva first draws my eye; she dazzles in white
          and Tyrian purple. Her right arm raised above
her helmet, a wooden shuttle in her hand, held
          like a dagger. Then Arachne, in arrogant yellow
and insolent green, as she tries to flee the canvas.

The basket of spindles, threaded with rainbows,
          unused – the contest is done, Arachne won.

Minerva treads on her trade-mark shield, her spear,
          too, on the ground – no matter, the aegis guards her,
it bears the head of a gorgon.

Then I notice, how Arachne’s left arm, raised above
          her head, open-handed to protect her face, is a mirror
opposite of the Goddess; and how her right arm
          stretches out at the same angle, as if to put her hand
on someone’s shoulder, just as the Goddess’ rests
          on hers.

And their legs, the same – an opposite match, a strange
          kind of synchronisation. But who mirrors

I look closer at Minerva’s left hand; her little finger
          almost caresses Arachne’s neck but at the same time
points to where the Lydian girl will soon place a halter
          to hang herself.

I glance to the left of the scene, where her gallows wait.

But even the Gods have mercy, there is an escape,
          should Arachne withdraw her hubris, walk through
the enlightened doorway behind her.

No tapestries, no ordered Gods, no misdemeanours,
          no transformation.

I marvel at this chosen moment that possesses its past,
          and holds its future – all is there to see.


René-Antoine Houasse, Minerva and Arachne, 1706

Annie Morris lives in South West London and is in the final months of studying for an MA in Creative Writing with the Open University. As well as writing poetry she sings and writes her own songs.

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