How It’s Told
By Anthony Casperson

How a person tells the story often reveals something more about them than the truth of the event.

What? No, I’m not making any sort of reference to current events. You won’t find a single direct mention of those things below. Anyway, back to my point.

For instance, have you ever heard of the story of Arachne in Greek mythology? The interesting thing is that even if you are familiar with the Hellenistic tale depicting the origin of spiders, you might still be able to say that you haven’t heard one of the versions of the story of Arachne.

You see, there are different versions of the tale. And largely the differences revolve around the characterization of Athena in the story. Is she a caring individual granting favor upon a gifted woman? Or is she a spiteful antagonist who wouldn’t be upstaged by a mere mortal?

Every version starts off the same. There was a woman, named Arachne, who was a most talented weaver. No other human came close to her skill in this craft. And within the story, a contest arises between Arachne and the goddess Athena, who held oversight in the areas of the crafting arts, including weaving. But then the stories diverge depending in who is telling it.

In one, Zeus is the person to set up the weaving competition. He challenges the two weavers that whoever lost would have to vow to never touch the loom again. When Athena won the competition, she saw that Arachne was devastated at never being able to weave again. Pitying the poor mortal, Athena transformed the woman into a spider so that she could continue to weave while keeping the vow to never touch a loom. This leaned into Athena’s place of being a goddess of wisdom as well, outsmarting Zeus’s cruel challenge.

However, the more popular version of the story comes from a Roman storyteller (likely via the area of Sparta, but more on that later). Here, Arachne challenges Athena directly to the weaving competition. And Arachne wins it. Enraged, Athena acts in such a way that Arachne ends up hanging herself. And eventually, Athena finds the hanging body, returns Arachne to life, and transforms her into a spider as a punishment. Ever weaving.

There’s actually a third version where the events play out much like the second version, but Athena throws a magic potion at Arachne, turning her into a spider. But this version mostly just changes the method of transformation, so I’m counting it like the one above.

Why are there multiple versions of the same story? And why does it hinge on how villainous Athena is? Well mostly, it has to do with where you find the story. What the people in the area think about Athena.

You see, the first version I told, was most popular around the area of Athens. You know, the city that takes its name from Athena herself. So, of course, they would hold her in a more positive view. Her skill and wisdom were prized in Athens and most of Greece.

But the other version(s) comes from places that have a different opinion of Athena. And this mainly arises from the fact that in Greco-Roman mythology there were two gods of war: Athena and Ares (or Minerva and Mercury as they’re named in Roman mythology). Athena focused on the tactical aspects of war, while Ares found his place in the physical aspects of war. One outthought her opponents, while the other overpowered his.

The versions of the tale that show Athena in a negative light come from the areas that valued physical combat over tactics. (Not that both weren’t used. It’s just about which is more valued.) It’s a type of propaganda to lift up one’s favored side by denigrating the opposing side. (I told you already, this isn’t about current events.)

And these places would be Sparta, where Ares was held in high regard, and various Roman city-states. The whole reason why the one version of the tale is well known comes from the fact that it was a Roman poet who wrote the story.

While I believe that every version of Arachne’s story is a human fabrication meant to teach something about the society of the Greco-Roman audience (because spiders actually came as a result of God’s creation of all things as shown in Genesis), there is something we can learn from looking at the versions of the story.

How a person tells the story often reveals something more about them than the truth of the event.

Our hatreds and biases rise to the surface, villainizing those whom we deem less good, and lifting up the things we value. Though the truth of an event is sure (it actually happened a certain way), the parts that we emphasize reveal what is important to us. And if we refuse to question whether or not these perspectives are good, they can blind us to the truth.

The Apostle Paul writes about this very thing with regard to the blindness among those who refuse the truth of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 1:20-24. “Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

The truth of God enfleshed in humanity who came to die a miserable death on the cross and bring salvation to those who accept that truth sounds ridiculous to many.

When Jesus tried to show this to the cultural elite of Jewish society (the Pharisees and Sadducees), they thought him a fool. Asking for some sign, wonder, or miracle, they blindly stumbled over the truth that stood in pain sight. They considered Jesus a liar and a criminal against the nation because the story they told held no room for a suffering Savior, even though that very thing had been predicted centuries before.

Their version of the events revealed their unwillingness to listen to the God they supposedly served.

And when Jesus’ followers spoke forth to the elite culture of the Greco-Roman world, foolishness returned as a moniker. The culture sought a rational explanation, something physical to prove the spiritual reality. But looking at the reality of a crucified Savior, the Greeks saw only a foolish belief system relying on a dead body. They refused to bear witness to the spiritual reality of God paying for his people’s sins. And they certainly turned a blind eye to the empty tomb.

Their version of the events revealed their unwillingness to accept anything other than what a tiny human mind could create by itself.

But to we who witness the truth of the story, who see the events as they happened, the cross of Jesus reveals true wisdom and power. The amazing grace of the Creator who seeks to restore our relationship with him.

The true version of events reveals God to all who are willing to listen to it.

So, let’s keep in mind that we have the ability to lie to ourselves about the events around us, especially when they fall easily into our preconceived perspectives. And let’s ask if the version of events that we tell is actually the truth or just our biases and hatreds revealing themselves.

Does our version reveal something about ourselves? Or the truth? How it’s told makes a difference.