Niobe is a tragic hero in ancient Greek mythology. She is the wife of Amphion (the myth of Amphion here) king of Thebes and the daughter of Tantalus (myth of Tantalus here) punished by the gods. Niobe has a large family and once ridiculed Leto (mother of Apollo and Artemis) that she had only two children and because of this insult, Apollo and Artemis killed Niobe’s children. The poor mother suffered so much, she looked for her father and saw Tantalus punished by the gods – so all misfortunes led, according to one myth, Niobe to ask Zeus to turn her to stone, according to another myth, she became petrified when she saw her children killed.
Myth of Niobe
Niobe, the wife of Amphion, king of Thebes, had seven sons and seven daughters. Tantalus’ daughter was proud of her children. They were as beautiful as young gods. The gods gave Niobe happiness, wealth, and wonderful children, but Tantalus’ daughter was not grateful.
Once the daughter of the blind prophet Tiresias, the prophetess Manto, passing through the streets of the seven-door Thebes, invited all the Thebans to offer sacrifices to Latona and her children – twins: the golden-curled, long-range Apollo and the virgin Artemis. The Thebans responded to Manto’s call, adorned their heads with laurel wreaths, and went to the altars of the gods. Only Niobe, proud of her power and the happiness sent to her by the gods, did not want to go and sacrifice to Latona.
Niobe’s haughty words disturbed the Thebans. But still they made their sacrifices. The Theban women humbly begged the great Latona not to be angry.
Goddess Latona heard the haughty fir trees of Niobe, She called her children Apollo and Artemis and, complaining about Niobe, told them.
“The proud Tantalus daughter has deeply offended me, your mother. She doesn’t believe I’m a goddess! Niobe does not recognize me, although in strength and glory I am second only to Hera, the great wife of Zeus. Won’t you children take revenge for this insult? Because if you leave Niobe without revenge, people will stop worshiping me as a goddess and will destroy my altars. Tantalus’ daughter has offended you too. He compares you, the immortal gods, to his mortal children. She is as arrogant as her father Tantalus!”
The archer Apollo interrupted his mother:
“Oh, finish sooner! Don’t say anything more! With your complaints you only delay the punishment!”
“Enough! Do not speak!”, Artemis shouted angrily.
Wrapped in a cloud, the angry brother and sister hurried from the top of Kint to Thebes. The golden arrows rattled ominously in their archers. Apollo and Artemis reached the Seven Gates. Thebes. Apollo invisible stopped on the flat field near the city walls, where the Theban youth practiced war games. When the long-range Apollo, enveloped in the cloud, stood by the walls of Thebes, two sons of Niobe’s, Ismen and Sipil, dressed in purple cloaks, rode on wild horses. Suddenly Ismen cried out – a golden arrow of Apollo pierced his chest. He dropped the golden reins and fell dead to the ground. Sipil heard the terrible ringing of the bowstring of Apollo’s bow; he wanted to save his fast horse from the terrible danger. Sipil is the highest speed in the field – like a sailor fleeing a terrible storm, he flies at sea, stretching all the sails of the ship. The deadly arrow overtook Niobe’s son; she slammed into his back next to his neck. Niobe’s sons Faydim and Tantalus fought, holding hands tightly. An arrow flashed in the air and pierced both of them. They fell with a groan. Death simultaneously extinguished the light of life in their eyes, at the same time they let out their last breath. Their brother Alpenor runs to them, wants to lift them, embraces their cold bodies, but his heart is pierced by Apollo’s arrow and he falls breathless on the bodies of his brothers. Apollo struck Nioba Damasichton’s other son in the thigh, up to the knee; Damasichton wants to snatch the golden arrow from the wound, but suddenly another arrow hits his throat with a hiss. The last of Niobe’s sons, the young Ilioney, raised his hands to heaven and prayed to the gods:
“Oh, Olympian gods, have mercy, spare me.”
His request touched the terrible Apollo. But it’s too late! The golden arrow has flown out of the bowstring and cannot return. It also pierced the heart of Niobe’s last son. The news of the great misfortune quickly reached Niobe. With tears in their eyes, the servants also told Amphion about the death of his sons.
Amphion could not bear their loss, he pierced his chest with a sharp sword.
Niobe weeps, leaning over the bodies of her sons and husband. She kisses their cold lips. Her heart breaks with suffering. In desperation, the poor woman stretches out her hands to heaven. But she does not pray for mercy. The misfortune did not soften her heart. She shouted angrily:
“Rejoice, cruel Latone! Rejoice until your heart is filled with my sorrow! You win, rival! Oh, no, what am I saying, you haven’t won! I, the unfortunate one, still have more children than you, the happy one! And although there are many breathless bodies of my children around me, I still defeated you, I still have more children left than you have.”
No sooner had Niobe fallen silent, and the terrible clang of a string was heard. Horror gripped everyone. Only Niobe remained calm, her misfortune inspiring courage.
There was a ringing of the bowstring of Artemis’ bow. One of Niobe’s daughters, standing in deep grief around her brothers’ bodies, fell, struck by an arrow. Here again the bowstring rings and Niobe’s second daughter falls. Six golden arrows flew one after the other from the bowstring of Artemis’s bow, and six beautiful, young daughters of Niobe lay breathless. Only the youngest daughter remained. She threw herself at her mother and hid in the skirts, in the folds of her dress.
The misfortune broke Nioba’s proud heart.
“Leave me at least the youngest daughter, the great Latone!”, Niobe prays, filled with grief. “Leave me at least one!”
But the goddess did not take pity and Artemis’ arrow pierced even the youngest daughter.
Niobe stands upright, surrounded by the bodies of daughters, sons and a man. It was as if she had been petrified by grief. The wind does not blow her hair. Her face is pale, without a drop of blood; life does not flicker in her eyes, her heart does not beat in her chest, only sorrowful tears fall from her eyes. Its members have turned into a cold stone. A violent whirlwind sweeps and takes Niobe to her homeland Lydia. There, at the top of Mount Sipil, stands the petrified Niobe, shedding tears of sorrow forever.
Exposed according to Ovid’s poem “Metamorphoses”