Averroes and Arachne


This year, my A to Z theme is names from The Divine Comedy, the great masterwork of the incredible Dante Alighieri, one of the greatest works of literature of all time. Most of the names featured are thus Italian, Latin, or Greek, and come from mythology, the Bible, ancient history, and Medieval history. It’s kind of sad to think about how many modern readers aren’t familiar with the majority of the people featured in the book, since schools typically no longer teach about either the classical world or Medieval history.

Averroes appears on Pages 25 and 316 of my translation, the somewhat antiquated Laurence Binyon version. He first shows up in Canto IV of Inferno, in a list of wise people in Limbo (on account of not having been Christians), and later is mentioned in Canto XXV of Purgatorio, where the Roman poet Statius claims he was in error for believing the soul to be separate from the intellect.

Averroes is a Medieval Latin form of Aben Rois/Rosh, which in turn was the Hebrew form of ibn Rushd. His full original name was ʾAbū l-Walīd Mohammed Ibn ʾAhmed Ibn Rushd. He lived from 14 April 1126–10 December 1198, and was one of the shining lights of the Golden Age of Islam. Averroes was born to a venerable family in Córdoba, received an excellent education in a wide variety of subjects, and was renowned as a polymath. The many, many subjects he wrote about included medicine, geography, philosophy, mathematics, physics, astronomy, music, and logic.

Averroes is considered the founding father of secular thought in Western Europe. An asteroid, a lunar crater, and a genus of trees have been named for him, and in 1999, the Ibn Rushd Prize for Freedom of Thought was created in his honor. The award is given to those who’ve demonstrated great merits regarding freedom of speech and democracy in the Arab world.

Arachne, as painted by Bernardo Strozzi

Arachne appears on Page 247, Canto XII of Purgatorio, on the road to the second level of Purgatory:

O mad Arachne, so I saw you stare,
Half-spider already, mournful on the shred
Of what you wove to your own despair.

She’s also mentioned on Page 90, Canto XVII of Inferno, as human-faced giant monster Geryon’s body is described as being more colorful and decorative than her weaving.

Arachne was a mortal woman who challenged the goddess Athena to a weaving competition. There are three versions of this myth, each with a different outcome of the contest. However, no matter what the outcome, Athena still turns Arachne into a spider in each story. As a passionate arachnophile, of course I had to choose this as my female A name. I love spiders, and would love to have at least one tarantula someday. I even named my indie publishing imprint Purple Tarantula Press.

Very fittingly, the name Arachne means “spider” in Greek.


8 thoughts on “Averroes and Arachne

  1. Wow, you’re going to give me a good reason to reread the Divine Comedy this summer since I haven’t touched it since college. What an excellent idea for the A-Z Challenge! Dante certainly provides plenty to discuss.
    Looking forward to reading more! Amy Morris-Jones

  2. Divine comedy is on my reading list…. there are so many books and so little time!!!

    I actually know quite a lot about Averroes and have his book the Incoherence of the Incoherence in my to read pile as well. It’s research towards my historical novel set in Granada Spain over the time of the fall of the Arabs c. 1492. but I’ve left it pursuing various other writing projects.

    Perhaps I should get it out again, Ibn Rushd was a fascinating man. Great post, I look forward to reading more about the characters from the Divine Comedy. 🙂 x

  3. Nice start! I was just explaining about the Golden Age of Islam to my students the other day. They seemed very skeptical… We learn about some Arab travelers because they wrote about early Hungarians, but I don’t think they are a part of most US school curricula…
    Happy A to Z! 🙂

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    The Multicolored Diary

  4. I love the story of Arachne, although the ending is not good for her! Interesting read and a great start to your challenge 🙂

  5. I’ve never read it but it is quite funny to me that your A to Z Challenge is related to the Divine Comedy. When I was visiting my mum during Easter, she was trying to find a book that she bought for me a while ago. While she was fumbling about, the Divine Comedy fell off the shelf and my mum said “Uh, I should finally read that.” This is true. I’ll follow you (at least) for the challenge, maybe you’ll inspire me to read this masterpiece.

  6. Pingback: A to Z Reflections 2016 | Onomastics Outside the Box

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