Gustave Doré, Purgatorio: Canto XII, plate 19, The vision of Purgatory and Paradise by Dante Alighieri, trans. Henry Francis Cary, 1894. Gift of John McCutcheon. Rare Books, Archives & Special Collections

Arachne was born a mortal woman, gifted in the art of weaving. Hubris and self-regard caused her to challenge Athena to a weaving contest, which resulted in the goddess flying into a rage when she could find no fault with Arachne’s work, and battering her with the shuttle of her loom. After taking her own life in shame, Arachne was transformed into a spider. Her story stands as a cautionary tale about daring to challenge the gods. This is a common theme in the Divine Comedy: whether it is against the Christian God or the Greco-Roman pantheon doesn't matter - defiance of divine authority merits punishment. As a result, she is referenced in both the Inferno and Purgatorio: Dante places a carving of Arachne in Purgatory among a host of biblical and classical figures, frozen mid-transformation as an illustration of the sin of Pride. Gustave DorĂ© renders this in typically Romantic style, with an emphasis on the body-horror of Arachne's metamorphosis, the eroticisation of her femininity, and the pity Dante feels for her - none of which is present in the text itself.