Niobe (mythology)

Niobe statue
   In Greek mythology, Niobe was a queen of Thebes. She was a handsome, proud woman. Her husband built and ruled the city. She had seven sons and seven daughters. According to the leg­end, Niobe interrupted the citizens in the midst of their services in honor of the god­dess Leto and her two children, Apollo and Artemis. She berated them for offering sac­rifices to an unknown, unseen goddess and her offspring, while she, a queen in regal beauty, stood in their midst with seven sons and seven daughters. She boasted openly that her wealth and her children were be­yond the reach of the envious gods. The citizens abandoned the sacrifices. The god­dess Leto, on a point of Mount Cynthus, addressed her children in anger and con­fusion, calling attention to the want of re­spect shown her by the people of Thebes. As the sons of Niobe were at their games on the plain of Thebes, one throwing the discus, another driving a chariot, others wrestling, etc., Apollo sent shaft after shaft with unerring aim from his bow. Two fell from their chariots, two others in the act of wrestling were transfixed by the same arrow. An elder brother running to their aid fell prostrate with an arrow through his body. The young­est son, seeing the fate of his brethren, raised his arms imploringly toward the gods; but it was too late,—an arrow had already left the bow of Apollo. He, too, fell slain. Even then the spirit of Niobe was unbroken. In the midst of her anguish she boasted of her seven daughters of un­surpassed beauty and grace, saying that sons-in-law would take the place of her sons. Again the arrows of Apollo sped. The daughters fell one after another, even around the biers of their dead brothers.

   While the unhappy mother clasped the youngest, the last of her children, to her heart, the child died transfixed by a fatal shaft. Niobe, in excess of grief, was turned into stone. A whirlwind wafted her away to her native mountain, where she may still be seen a mass of stone, from which a tric­kling fountain flows. The Niobe group is the subject of a piece of beautiful Grecian sculpture in the Uffizi gallery at Florence. In describing Rome, once mistress of the world, Byron has used the legend of Niobe beautifully:

The Niobe of nations, there she stands, 
Childless and crownless in her voiceless woe.