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Thomas Bulfinch
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 980 pages of information about The Age of Fable.

CHAPTER XIV

MINERVA—­NIOBE

MINERVA

Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, was the daughter of Jupiter.  She was said to have leaped forth from his brain, mature, and in complete armor.  She presided over the useful and ornamental arts, both those of men—­such as agriculture and navigation—­and those of women,—­spinning, weaving, and needlework.  She was also a warlike divinity; but it was defensive war only that she patronized, and she had no sympathy with Mars’s savage love of violence and bloodshed.  Athens was her chosen seat, her own city, awarded to her as the prize of a contest with Neptune, who also aspired to it.  The tale ran that in the reign of Cecrops, the first king of Athens, the two deities contended for the possession of the city.  The gods decreed that it should be awarded to that one who produced the gift most useful to mortals.  Neptune gave the horse; Minerva produced the olive.  The gods gave judgment that the olive was the more useful of the two, and awarded the city to the goddess; and it was named after her, Athens, her name in Greek being Athene.

There was another contest, in which a mortal dared to come in competition with Minerva.  That mortal was Arachne, a maiden who had attained such skill in the arts of weaving and embroidery that the nymphs themselves would leave their groves and fountains to come and gaze upon her work.  It was not only beautiful when it was done, but beautiful also in the doing.  To watch her, as she took the wool in its rude state and formed it into rolls, or separated it with her fingers and carded it till it looked as light and soft as a cloud, or twirled the spindle with skilful touch, or wove the web, or, after it was woven, adorned it with her needle, one would have said that Minerva herself had taught her.  But this she denied, and could not bear to be thought a pupil even of a goddess.  “Let Minerva try her skill with mine,” said she; “if beaten I will pay the penalty.”  Minerva heard this and was displeased.  She assumed the form of an old woman and went and gave Arachne some friendly advice “I have had much experience,” said she, “and I hope you will not despise my counsel.  Challenge your fellow-mortals as you will, but do not compete with a goddess.  On the contrary, I advise you to ask her forgiveness for what you have said, and as she is merciful perhaps she will pardon you.”  Arachne stopped her spinning and looked at the old dame with anger in her countenance.  “Keep your counsel,” said she, “for your daughters or handmaids; for my part I know what I say, and I stand to it.  I am not afraid of the goddess; let her try her skill, if she dare venture.”  “She comes,” said Minerva; and dropping her disguise stood confessed.  The nymphs bent low in homage, and all the bystanders paid reverence.  Arachne alone was unterrified.  She blushed, indeed;

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