Study Guide

Minerva and Arachne Context

Context

The vast majority of ancient Greek myths exist in at least two of three written versions. That's written versions that we've discovered. There are likely at least a few stories out there that we've yet to discover, and references in books that we do have tell us that there are hundreds of books that seem to have completely disappeared over time. That's why is so amazing to find that the story of Minerva and Arachne. It doesn't seem to have been written down (at least not the whole thing) before Ovid included it in his book, Metamorphoses. Ovid's is the first complete version of the story. At least as far as we know. Isn't that exciting? What do you mean you don't know who Ovid is? Oh. Well, let's fix that.

Pause for biographical info about Ovid:

Plubius Ovidius Naso (Ovid) was born on March 20th, 43 BC, about 90 miles outside of Rome. He had the good fortune to be born into money (his father was rich) and so received an excellent education. To his father's irritation, Ovid used his education to write poetry. Among his books of poetry are:

  • The Loves
  • The Heroines (female heroes)
  • The Art of Love
  • The Cure for Love
  • And, of course, Metamorphoses.

Ovid was exiled from Rome in the year 8 AD. We don't know for sure why he was exiled. It may or may not have had something to do with his poetry. Regardless, Ovid is considered one of the best poets of the Roman era.

Unpause:

That's Ovid. His book, Metamorphoses, is generally considered one of the most comprehensive collections of ancient Greek mythology ever written. You might say it's the first dictionary of Greek myth. You can learn much more about the work by checking out our coverage of the book itself.

In writing the Metamorphoses, Ovid drew tons of material from the myths and legends laid down by poets before him. What made his work so unique, other than his own poetic style, is that he stuffed ALL of the myths he could find into one place. It comes as no surprise, then, that the Metamorphoses have had a huge influence on literature for the last 2,000 years. Major authors throughout history, including people like Geoffrey Chaucer and William Shakespeare, credit the Metamorphoses as a source of inspiration. Ovid is like a literary version of Elvis: everybody has heard of him... like it or not.

Minerva and Arachne is the beginning of Book VI of the Metamorphoses. As we said above, it seems to be one of a very few stories that never fully appeared anywhere else. Several earlier poets make vague references to the story, but Ovid seems to have been the first one to write the whole thing down. This theory lends a huge amount of weight to Ovid's skill as an author. If true, it shows that Ovid didn't just copy stories. He also wrote them on his own when he had to. A jack of all trades and a master of some!

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