Study Guide

Minerva and Arachne Religion

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This theme is a little more abstract, but still something we're forced to consider when we read this story. This is the man (or woman) versus god (or goddess) theme. In part, this theme falls under the ancient definition of hubris, but we're separating it out to give it special emphasis. Arachne challenges Minerva to a throw-down. She straight up says, "I'm a better weaver than you are, and I can prove it." She says this to a goddess. What might have happened if she had won the contest and gotten away with it? It would have proven than humanity can exceed divinity. The implications here are staggering. No matter what religion (if any) you follow, one thing remains constant: God > human. If this idea turned out to be false it would completely destabilize religion as we know it. Why worship someone who is inferior (less capable) to you?

The delicate balance between what divinity has achieved and what mankind might someday achieve is a heavily contested topic in modern society. The basic idea behind things like cloning, artificial intelligence, and the creation of matter (or energy) seem to directly contradict what we know about the divine. As far as we know, only a god can create life. If human beings learn to create life, do we become gods? If Arachne really is a better weaver, does she become the new goddess of crafts?

Questions About Religion

  1. What defines a god or goddess? How do you know who is and who isn't a god?
  2. Are humans inferior to gods? How do you know? What if it were the other way around?
  3. What does Arachne's fate suggest about the possibility of humans challenging the gods? What does it teach us about the difference between humans and gods in ancient cultures?
  4. How has the idea of challenging the gods changed in the face of modern religions such as Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, and other beliefs?

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