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What do Minerva’s and Arachne’s tapestries
tell us about the women’s perspectives?
The images, themes, and organization of Minerva’s
and Arachne’s tapestries are strikingly different. Minerva’s tapestry
is an orderly work that depicts the majesty of the gods and the
lowliness of humans. In the center of her tapestry, the gods sit
in august solemnity. In the corners, they punish various humans
by turning them into animals. The symmetry and orderliness of the
work reflects its theme of divine grandeur. In contrast, Arachne’s
work depicts the gods as deceitful and humans as their victims.
In Arachne’s tapestry, it is the gods rather than the mortals who
turn into animals. The gods in her work take the guise of animals
to rape humans. The chaotic nature of Arachne’s tapestry reflects
the messiness caused by divine exploitation. Minerva’s and Arachne’s
perspectives are entirely different. Yet the result of the contest
allows both women to hang onto their opposite points of view. From
Minerva’s perspective, transforming Arachne into a spider is simply
what the gods in her tapestry would do. She is punishing a mortal
by turning her into a beast. For Arachne, however, being turned
into a spider is evidence of the kind of godly cruelty depicted
in her tapestry.
Should we consider Orpheus a failed
Orpheus is known as an artist of surpassing
skill. Using his art, he manages incredible feats, such as convincing
Dis and Proserpina to give back his dead love, Eurydice. Still,
we might argue that he is a failure. He loses his wife for a second
time by looking back at her, after which he spins into a depression,
rejecting women, arguing in favor of homosexual love, and singing
songs in solitude. His art does not save him from death: Wild Thracian
women drown out his music and mutilate his body. But if Orpheus
can be called a failure, he cannot be called an artistic failure.
True, he lost Eurydice for the second time. But his art succeeded
in persuading Dis and Proserpina to give her back. Only his love
for her caused him to lose her. In addition, the remarkable power
of Orpheus’s songs speaks to his talent. The stories he tells in
Books X and XI are some of the loveliest and most memorable in the
poem. And like a true artist, Orpheus goes to his death still working.
Ovid suggests that no matter what happens to Orpheus’s body, the
songs he creates will live on. Not only do his creations survive
him, but in death, Orpheus is reunited with Eurydice. Orpheus’s
art allows him to triumph over death itself, which suggests that
he is anything but a failed artist.
Why should Ulysses, rather than Ajax,
win Achilles’ arms?
In one way, Ajax deserves the arms of Achilles.
Arms and weaponry belong to soldiers, and besides Achilles, there
is no greater solider than Ajax. Apart from Ajax’s professional
claim on the arms, there is the fact that Ulysses does not need
them. His own arms are in perfect condition, and Achilles’ are too
big for him. Yet the artistry of Achilles’ arms, particularly the
shield, gives Ulysses a claim to them. The shield, on which Vulcan
has engraved the entire world, is the original ekphrasis (description
of a visual piece of art) in Western literature. It is an important
work of art that should not be damaged by warfare. The possessor
of the shield should be someone who can truly appreciate it. Ajax
cannot; Ulysses can. While the utilitarian purpose of the arms makes
them Ajax’s rightful property, their artistic qualities make them
Ace your assignments with our guide to Metamorphoses!