Department of Greek & Latin


Arachne Versus Athena

A live performance for Roman Epic, 2015

In a special session of the Roman Epic (CLAS7109) course on 6 February 2015, the students observed a live performance of the contest between two principal characters from Ovid's Metamorphoses, impersonated by the course instructors-the goddess Athena (Antony Makrinos) and her insubordinate apprentice Arachne (Emily Lord-Kambitsch).

Dr. Makrinos produced an arrangement of A.D. Melville's 2008 translation of the Ovid passage in order to create a stronger impression of a dialogue between Athena and Arachne during the weaving of their respective stories on the loom. These stories were represented for the class in the form of a PowerPoint presentation featuring paintings of the scenes woven in Ovid's poem. 

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Athena addresses Arachne's insubordination

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The Weaving contest

The performance was followed by a close reading of the text, accompanied by the construction of a spidergram on the board representing various themes the course instructors and students highlighted in the course of the discussion (including transformation, artist as the epic heroine, the cultural function of art, the significance of weaving, and the definition of immortality). By employing this performance and incorporating the subsequent discussion, the teachers aimed to explore the impact of this method as a 'living spidergram', an immersive, performative, and experiential means of exploring connections between the greater themes of the course (such as the relationship between gods and mortals in epic poetry, the voice of the individual poet within the epic tradition) through an interactive engagement with a specific text.


The students' impressions of this session provide an initial understanding of the benefits of this type of teaching and the opportunities it offers undergraduates to encounter and interpret a text, and its role within the course in a new way.

'I think the class worked really well. Firstly, you have the surprising element of an unexpected performance which is surely very memorable to the class. Secondly, I liked the idea of the web on the board as it is related to the overall topic of spider/weaving/writing poetry as weaving (deducere carmen) and the supportive images you presented on Powerpoint...That creates a coherent theme that runs through the lesson.'

'I thought it was great that you both wanted to surprise us and using different teaching methods (at least in my opinion) is a great way to keep us on our toes!'

'I probably will never forget the performance, which will help me when I have to prepare for my final exams. It was a graphic way to explain the myth of Arachne and to remember with more detail the characteristics of Ovid and the Metamorphoses.'

'Through the representation we could talk during the remaining lesson about the story, drawing different ideas and its main themes, so, after having not just read, but visualized, it was easier for us.'

Students also delivered some helpful feedback for improvement and future directions for this teaching approach that will emphasise the connection between the performance and the discussion.

'I think it is important that the sheet and the web on the board are well coordinated with each other. Perhaps you could ask the students after the performance what they found conspicuous/what became evident in acting and not in a mere reading of the text. This could then lead the way to a discussion of the text's structure/characters/points on the notesheet.'

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Athena versus Arachne

Antony Makrinos and Emily Lord-Kambitsch will present a paper at the CALT Learning and Teaching Conference, Monday 13 April, entitled 'Athena versus Arachne: Experiential Learning, and Teaching through Performance'. This paper will look at the case study of this session in order to discuss the use of performance in the classroom to create an experiential learning environment for students to engage with a curriculum in a holistic way, with consideration for the greater aims of the course.