Spiders Trust in Airy Dreams

In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Arachne weaves a narrative in a tapestry so exquisite that Athena, green with jealousy, turns her into a spider. Since this ancient tale was spun, the spider has graced the pages of countless texts and is often described as the opposition to orthodoxy, most notably in Swift’s “The Battle of the Books.” Cast as the modern quarreler in the debate against the ancients, the spider is criticized for threading its mansion from the entrails of its own guts (the blood of other insects). But before Aesop arrives at this judgement, he attests: “For, pray, gentlemen, was ever anything so modern as the spider in his air, his turns and his paradoxes? He argues on the behalf of you his brethren and himself, with many boastings of his native stock and great genius; that he spins and spits wholly from himself, and scorns to own any obligation or assistance from without. Then he displays to you great skill in architecture, and improvement in the mathematics.” In this light, it is easy to see why the spider still inspires modern writers. In his poem “The Spider,” Loren Eiseley takes up the the spider's case and describes him as the master of architecture who knows not to build a foundation where it can be “forfeit to the mole and worm.”

The Spider
By Loren Eiseley

His science has progressed past stone,
His strange and dark geometrics,
Impossible to flesh and bone,
Revive upon the passing breeze
The house the blundering foot destroys.
Indifferent to what is lost
He trusts the wind and yet employs
The jeweled stability of frost.
Foundations buried underfoot
Are forfeit to the mole and worm
But spiders know it and will put
Their trust in airy dreams more firm
Than any rock and raise from dew
Frail stairs the careless wind blows through.