, Volume 92, Issue 4, pp 699–711

The Transmission of Ovid’s Arachne Metamorphosis in Jeremias Gotthelf’s Die Schwarze Spinne


DOI: 10.1007/s11061-007-9071-y

Cite this article as:
Gallagher, D. Neophilologus (2008) 92: 699. doi:10.1007/s11061-007-9071-y


In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the pagan goddess Pallas Athene initiates the grotesque metamorphosis of Arachne, but this metamorphosis has been transmitted via legends such as Der Geist im Glas, Die Spinne auf der Heidenburg, the Rohrbacher Sage Vo dr schwarze Spinnele and stories such as Langbein’s Die schwarze Spinne, so that it now operates in Gotthelf’s Biedermeier novella Die schwarze Spinne (1842) in a Christian allegorical mode. Gotthelf’s story shares with Ovid the motif of the change of the woman into a spider, a physical description of the gradual metamorphosis, and the use of metamorphosis for punitive purposes, but it differs from Ovid in that the descriptions are much more protracted, there are two metamorphoses into a spider rather than one and the actual metamorphosis is executed via the agency of the devil rather than a goddess. Gotthelf’s style is an extraordinary mixture of didactic Christian allegory and modern science fiction. It is highly probable that Ovid’s Metamorphoses influenced the German and Swiss legends Gotthelf used for his novella, and since the legends had already assumed motifs from Ovid, Ovid’s poem is the original inspiration for the transmission of the metamorphic image of the Spiderwoman to Swiss literature.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of London, Royal HollowayAughton, LancashireUK

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