The Life of the Spider HTML version

The Clotho Spider
She is named Durand’s Clotho (Clotho Durandi, LATR.), in memory of him who first
called attention to this particular Spider. To enter on eternity under the safe-conduct of a
diminutive animal which saves us from speedy oblivion under the mallows and rockets is
no contemptible advantage. Most men disappear without leaving an echo to repeat their
name; they lie buried in forgetfulness, the worst of graves.
Others, among the naturalists, benefit by the designation given to this or that object in
life’s treasure-house: it is the skiff wherein they keep afloat for a brief while. A patch of
lichen on the bark of an old tree, a blade of grass, a puny beastie: any one of these hands
down a man’s name to posterity as effectively as a new comet. For all its abuses, this
manner of honouring the departed is eminently respectable. If we would carve an epitaph
of some duration, what could we find better than a Beetle’s wing-case, a Snail’s shell or a
Spider’s web? Granite is worth none of them. Entrusted to the hard stone, an inscription
becomes obliterated; entrusted to a Butterfly’s wing, it is indestructible. ‘Durand,’
therefore, by all means.
But why drag in ‘Clotho’? Is it the whim of a nomenclator, at a loss for words to denote
the ever-swelling tide of beasts that require cataloguing? Not entirely. A mythological
name came to his mind, one which sounded well and which, moreover, was not out of
place in designating a spinstress. The Clotho of antiquity is the youngest of the three
Fates; she holds the distaff whence our destinies are spun, a distaff wound with plenty of
rough flocks, just a few shreds of silk and, very rarely, a thin strand of gold.
Prettily shaped and clad, as far as a Spider can be, the Clotho of the naturalists is, above
all, a highly talented spinstress; and this is the reason why she is called after the distaff-
bearing deity of the infernal regions. It is a pity that the analogy extends no further. The
mythological Clotho, niggardly with her silk and lavish with her coarse flocks, spins us a
harsh existence; the eight-legged Clotho uses naught but exquisite silk. She works for
herself; the other works for us, who are hardly worth the trouble.
Would we make her acquaintance? On the rocky slopes in the oliveland, scorched and
blistered by the sun, turn over the flat stones, those of a fair size; search, above all, the
piles which the shepherds set up for a seat whence to watch the sheep browsing amongst
the lavender below. Do not be too easily disheartened: the Clotho is rare; not every spot
suits her. If fortune smile at last upon our perseverance, we shall see, clinging to the
lower surface of the stone which we have lifted, an edifice of a weather-beaten aspect,
shaped like an over-turned cupola and about the size of half a tangerine orange. The
outside is encrusted or hung with small shells, particles of earth and, especially, dried
The edge of the cupola is scalloped into a dozen angular lobes, the points of which spread
and are fixed to the stone. In between these straps is the same number of spacious