Queen Niobe in Greek Mythology
The story of Niobe is one of the most widespread of tales from Greek mythology, with the story told and retold by many writers in antiquity. The tale of Niobe is the quintessential example of hubris, the pride and arrogance of mankind, which brings forth the vengeance of quick to anger gods.
Niobe was the queen of Thebes, having married one of the city’s founders, Amphion, but more importantly she was also the daughter of Tantalus, the Lydian king punished for eternity in Tartarus.
Niobe Daughter of Tantalus
Generally speaking, Niobe was thought to be the daughter of Tantalus and Dione (or Taygete), making her sister to Broteas and Pelops. The actions of her father had cursed the family line, a curse that would last for several generations.
Despite the curse, Niobe initially did well for herself, marrying Amphion, and giving birth to a number of children. The writers of antiquity would tell of different numbers of children, but commonly it was said that Niobe had either 12 or 14 children, with an equal number of sons and daughters; the children of Niobe would be known as the Niobids.
Niobe Angers the Gods
Niobe would cause her own downfall through her own actions, just as so many in her family line did. Niobe would boast that she deserved to be worshipped in the same manner as the Greek goddesses. Niobe would proclaim her right as the granddaughter of Zeus, but then more problematically she proclaimed herself to be greater than one of the more important Greek goddesses, Leto.
Leto was the Greek goddess of motherhood, but she had had only two children, and as Niobe had had many times more children, the daughter of Tantalus believed herself to be superior. The two children of Leto though, were the Olympian deities, Apollo and Artemis.
Now either Leto herself was affronted by the remarks of Niobe, or else Apollo and Artemis were affronted for their mother, and the two Olympians travelled to Thebes.
Artemis and Apollo would then take up their bows and arrows, and Artemis would shoot dead the daughters of Niobe, and Apollo would shoot the sons. Apollo was also said to have killed Amphion, when the king of Thebes threatened vengeance against the gods.
Niobe and her Slain Children
Niobe and the Aftermath
For nine days the bodies of the slain Niobids lay unburied, for it was said that Zeus had turned the people of Thebes to stone to prevent them assisting, and Niobe herself was too distraught. Niobe in this period was reported to have wept continually for the nine days, and not eating at all.
On the tenth day after the slaughter, the gods themselves came to bury the killed children of Niobe at Thebes. After her children had been buried, Niobe would leave Thebes and travel to Mount Sipylus, the homeland of her father. There, upon the mountain, Niobe would pray to Zeus, asking that the god should turn her into stone; and Zeus granted her wish, and for evermore, a weeping rock could be found on Mount Sipylus.
Later retellings of the story of Niobe would speak of how not all the children of Niobe were killed by Apollo and Artemis. The most famous of these retellings sees a daughter, Meliboea, saved after the Niobid prayed to Leto. Meliboea though had witnessed the slaughter of her siblings, and thereafter she was pale with terror, and so Meliboea became known as Chloris, the pale one.