Study Guide

Minerva and Arachne

  • Introduction

    Close your eyes. No, seriously, close your eyes. (If you can read this, it means you're peeking.) Fine, you can keep your eyes open. But you owe us. Now, imagine Michael Jordan going one-on-one with Kobe Bryant in a basketball battle to the death. Or maybe you prefer football. Picture the Packers and Steelers slugging it out while you watch from center field; so close you can see every hit, every stiff-arm, and every flag the referee throws. How about Muhammad Ali going ten rounds against the Italian Stallion, Rocky Balboa? Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles vs. the X-men? Spongebob vs. Squidworth? Remember, it's a battle to the death. Just use your imagination.

    Got it? Good.

    Now, replace whatever you're imagining with two women having a weaving contest. Wait, where are you going? Don't go! It's still a battle to the death. It's just a weaving battle. Sure, weaving might be boring on its own, but when you combine it with life-and-death struggle it's hardcore. Seriously, you're going to want to stay for this.

    The story of Minerva and Arachne is the eternal story of mortal versus god (or goddess). Which is the Supreme Being? It's a question we've been asking for ages. Gods are all-powerful, but humanity has the ability to grow, learn, and adapt. Ancient myth and Biblical tradition both are full of stories in which mortals challenge the divine. These challenges almost always end badly, and from a certain perspective we might say that these stories exist to warn us against such contests. But we keep revisiting the subject. Either we don't understand the warning, or we can't give up thinking that we might eventually win. Maybe both. Regardless, we keep reading and writing stories like Minerva and Arachne to help us explore the issue.

    In a modern context, stories like Minerva and Arachne lead us to subjects like abortion, stem cell research, efforts to create artificial intelligence, and the struggle to harness dark matter. These politically charged topics often breed discussion about the line separating mortals from gods. If we create artificial intelligence, does that make us god-like? God created intelligent beings, how would our accomplishment be any different? What if we find a way to clone humans? Is that god-like? Where do you draw the line? No, Minerva and Arachne is not directly tied to these subjects, but these are the questions the story brings up, and this is why you should care.