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Published: 11 February 2017

By Andy Ross

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Arachna and other philias

Recently we have been buying new books and what a delight and inspiration these two have been this week. 

The artist, Edward Ardizzone, who you may know from his illustrations of such children's books as Stig of the Dump or the Tim series, also illustrated Arcadian Ballads. A copy arrived in the mail to be eagerly opened, the poems (by James Reeves) read and the pictures admired. And what is really wonderful is that of how the spider began to spin its web.

Hundreds of years ago, Arachne, the daughter of an old dyer and wife, was famed for her ability to weave, and pride made her boast about her talent, challenging the goddess Minerva to a competition. The exquisite piece that Arachne wove was so beautiful but depicted the failings of the gods so well that it was obviously intended to be a barbed comment, a slight which caused  the goddess to fly into a rage and tear the work apart. Turning to the weaver Minerva started to beat her around the head in a stormy passion until Arachne was so thoroughly humiliated that she decided to take her own life. But Minerva took pity on her and instead of allowing Arachne to hang herself, turned her into a spider which to this day hangs upon a silken thread. 

The Ancient Greeks apparently used stories like this not only for entertainment but also as metaphors for life. Many of the words we have in English have their roots in the craft of weaving and spinning and so spiders are an apt creature to admire because of their ability to spin exquisite webs. When another book arrived all about spiders, it was a great coincidence!

Susumu Shingu's Spider is a wonderful book of illustrations which starts "One summer evening" and continues with the story of a spider making a web, catching a moth, and a leaf, and then eating the web. The tale ends with "A hot day begins. The spider takes a long, long nap till the evening." And at the end of the book is an explanation of the spider itself and about the sculptor who made this beautiful publication.