When I was a kid I was really interested in Greek and Roman mythology and I thought I knew most of the stories by now, but I missed the story of Niobe so far! I wondered who this Niobe was that I never heard of before and it turned out to be a sad story.
Niobe was a daughter of the king was a daughter of Tantalus and of either Dione, or of Eurythemista or Euryanassa and she was the sister of Pelops and Broteas.
Her father was the ruler of a city called “Tantalis”or “the city of Tantalus”.
As the daughter of an important ruler she probably was used to show how content she was with her life and how proud she was of all her children but people that have read Greek classics before that pride always brings trouble in stories like this and this one is no exception.
According to the myth Niobe made the big mistake to brag that she had more children than Leto, mother of Apollo and Artemis she made a big mistake. She had 14 children, 7 male and 7 female and apparently she boasted that that made her superior to Leto. She went as far to say that the people of the city shouldn’t honor Leto but her!
She had more children that Leto after all and her grandfather was Zeus. For a human to state that they are equal or even better than any god, goddess half-god or parent of one is an act of hubris and its pretty much always punished merciless. What really sealed her faith though is that she said that “even if she would be unfortunate enough to lose one or two children by misfortune it wouldn’t really matter because she had so many children that she could be sure that the majority would survive.”
Leto was furious and had her children Apollo and Diane take it out on her children.
This explains why the portraits of Niobe always seem a bit sad.
Niobe by Guilaumme Rouille, 16th century.
I think what sets Niobe apart from other iconic grieving moms like the Virgin Mary is that Niobe is said to have caused her childrens deaths by her pride.
To lose one child is already more than enough to deal with for a parent, but to be held responsible for it must be even harder.
Niobe seems to be the ultimate inconsolable mother figure and maybe that’s why she sometimes is chosen to adorn graves.
Niobe grieving on the grave of Houdini.
What exactly happened to her children and what became of Niobe in the end I’ll write in another post.
Γεια σου aγαπητοί φίλοι,