Friday, June 10, 2016

Mount Olympus, Athena and Arachne - Oh My!

Athena with her Sword and Shield *
The next sock in our Sock of the Month Club: Park Your Socks series is the Fern and Forest sock, named after Washington's lush rain forest (the only one in the U.S.!), gorgeous mossy green trails, and the spectacular views of Mount Olympus at Olympic National Park.

Mount Olympus in the US, you say?  I thought it was in Greece?  Well, it's not that Mount Olympus.

The Olympic Mountains is a mountain range in the state of Washington, and Mount Olympus is the highest point of the Olympic Mountains.  With a long approach, heavy annual snowfall and difficult terrain, it is known by mountain climbers as a particularly difficult peak to climb.

And yes, indeed, it was named after the legendary home of the Greek gods. The local Native American name was Sunh-a-do, and it was later given its first European name "El Cerro del la Rosalina (The Hill of the Holy One Rosalia)" by a Spanish explorer in 1774.  But just four short years later in 1778  British explorer Captain John Meares was so astounded by its beauty that he named the mountain Mount Olympus and said "For truly it must be the home of the Gods."

In Greek mythology, the peak was the home of the Twelve Olympian Gods, but of the dozen my hands-down favorite Olympian god is Athena.  The goddess of war who was also the goddess of handicrafts, she was known for her spinning and weaving and was sometimes shown with a distaff in her hand.

Girls learning to spin and hold their distaffs. **
A quick tangent for my non-spinning friends - So what's a distaff?  A distaff is a pole to hold your flax as you spin on a drop spindle, and the best distaffs are long enough so that you can hold it tucked into your armpit to keep both of your hands free to spin.  A distaff can be as simple as a long stick you pick up off the forest floor or it can be an elaborately carved piece of art.

A distaff is used for flax and other plant fibers, not wool and other animal fibers.  Today in legal terms your mother's side of the family is called your distaff side, because your spinning skills (and your distaff) would have been handed down from your mother's side.

But back to the goddess Athena ... the favorite Athena myth among fiber friends has to be the legend of Athena and Arachne.

Athena weaving on the left and Arachne on the right. ***
Arachne (a mortal) was a student of Athena, and learned to be a wonderful weaver from the goddess.  But Arachne grew vain about her weaving skills, and bragged that she was a better weaver than the goddess.  Athena heard rumors of Arachne's bragging, and disguised herself as an old woman to visit Arachne to hear the bragging for herself.  Arachne told the old woman (not realizing that it was Athena) that she could weave better than Athena, and said that if Athena would agree to a contest she would prove it.  The old woman revealed herself as Athena, and agreed to the contest.  Both weavers set up their looms and both set to their work.  But this was no ordinary over-under-over-under weaving, both women wove intricate storytelling tapestries.  Athena wove a stunning scene of her victory over Poseidon, but Arachne wove a tapestry showing 21 scenes of the infidelities of the gods, including many showing the infidelity of Zeus (Athena's father!).

Fern and Forest Socks
Both tapestries were flawlessly spun and woven, but Athena was enraged by being equaled by a mortal and offended by Arachne's subject matter.  Athena threw her spindle at Arachne's tapestry with such force that it broke the loom and destroyed the tapestry, then she turned Arachne into a spider and declared that she and all of her descendants would spin and weave for all eternity.

Note to self:  If you are ever challenged to a weaving competition with a goddess, stick to weaving scenes of rainbows and butterflies - not a subject that is going to enrage a goddess!

Today spiders continue to spin and weave flawlessly, and the scientific name for spiders is arachnids, named after the great spinner and weaver Arachne.

If you feel inspired by Arachne, you are welcome to spin your own yarn for the Fern and Forests socks, but if you are short on time we suggest the gorgeous colors of Rowan's Fine Art Yarn.

Happy Knitting . . . . Scout

* This figure of Athena is one of many gorgeous statues at the Academy of Athens, Greece's national academy.  The city of Athens was named after Athena and she was their protector goddess.

** Painting by Swiss painter Albrecht Samuel Anker.  It shows a medieval domestic scene of a woman teaching spinning to young girls, although it was actually painted much later, in 1888.

***  I could not find the original source of this intriguing photo anywhere - so if you know where it came from please let us know!  Athena, on the left, weaves a scene of herself before the chariot of Poseidon, and Arachne's weaving on the right shows Zeus, in the form of a white bull, seducing and abducting Europa (yup, it's creepy).

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