“History is the template,” Gertruida said – because she knew everything – when she concluded her lecture on Nero. “It’s almost inevitable that it should repeat itself. So: know the past, and the future will not be a mystery any longer.”
“That may be true, Gertruida. But when you go back far enough, history and myth are so entwined and mixed that we no longer know what – exactly – happened in the beginning.”
Servaas scowled at this , muttering that Precilla should read her Bible properly. “It’s all in there,” he said.
“Of course Servaas. We all know that. But Precilla has a point. The oldest stories we have come from Herodotus and scribes like him. The area we know as the Middle East was a rich source for such stories – with the countries of Canaan, Babylon, Egypt and Assyria providing the background for these.” Gertruida closed her eyes to visualise the area. “And oh! Those people loved stories! This was, you’ll remember, before TV and newspapers. If you could tell a rollicking good story, you had a captive audience.”
“Do you know any of those?” Vetfaan was bored. History wasn’t something he felt passionate about. But stories…now that’s the stuff to listen to in Boggel’s Place.
Scratching her head, Gertruida stared at the ceiling for a minute. “Well…” she said….
“There was this young lady, Arachne, the daughter of a humble shepherd. At a very early age she began working with wool, and soon she took up weaving. Her skill developed until nobody could work the loom like she did – as a spinster she had no equal. She wove pictures into her cloth that seemed so lifelike that people started saying she received her skill from the gods – a statement that made Arachne extremely angry.
No, she said, I taught myself. The gods have nothing to do with this. And, by the way, my weaving is far superior to anything even the immortals can do. So there!
Then one day, an old lady appeared at her doorstep.
You shouldn’t boast like that, my child. You’ll have to apologise, otherwise those gods may want to punish you.
Oh, hogwash! If the gods think they can do better, let them come down here. We’ll have a little contest, see? And then I’ll prove their weaving to be inferior.
All of a sudden, the old lady changed into the most splendid sight. There was Athena, the goddess of art and craft, in all her splendour.
By Zeus! You little hussy! Now you’ve done it! We’ll have a contest here and now. The one who loses, must promise never to touch a spindle or loom – ever again. Understood?
Arachne wasn’t phased in the least. So confident was she that she agreed to the challenge, and the two women started weaving immediately.
Arachne used all her skill to produce the finest, most beautiful tapestry she had ever created. The cloth was so thin, she could see her hand through it. And on it she used many colours to depict various pictures in which the deceit and cunning of the gods were portrayed.
But Athena! Oh, she used fleece as her background, colouring it with the blue of the sky, the green of the pastures, the yellow of sunshine and the purple hues of autumn. So magnificent was her weaving, that Arachne immediately knew she had lost.
Arachne did the typical female thing: she burst into tears. No, cried she, I cannot live without my weaving!
Athena took pity on the bawling lass, but a bet is a bet: Arache would never touch a loom or a spindle again. What to do? The wailing was just too much for Athena to bear.
So she took her spear and touched the unfortunate Arachne – turning her into a spider. That way, the goddess reckoned, Arachne could go on doing what she did best: spinning and weaving – but without touching a spindle or loom.”
Gertruida sits back with a satisfied smile. “That’s why we still talk about the spiders as arachnids today – remembering the weaver who boasted herself into spinning webs for the rest of her life.”
Servaas nods happily. “Pride before the fall, huh?”
“It is always wrong to overemphasise one’s abilities.” Oudoom wonders if it is wrong to bring mythology into next Sunday’s sermon, mulls over it for a second and decides against it. His congregation might very well remember the story and not the message.
The group at he bar falls silent for a while. They think of recent events – involving so many politicians, sportsmen and women, actors and performers – and contemplate the intricate tapestry people weave to prove their superiority. How many of them end up being consumed by the opinion they hold of themselves? Too many? All of them?
“The world is filled with spiders,” Servaas says at length. “So many spiders…”
“Mmmm…” Precilla wrinkles her nose, imagining the earth caught in a spider’s tapestry. “So Arancha was rewarded, blessed and cursed – all at the same time?”
“Yes, my dear.” There’s a sardonic smile on Gertruida’s lips. “Just like us… Caught in a Web we’re spinning ourselves, doomed to eternal creative captivity.”
Of course the patrons at the bar don’t understand. So few do…