Mythology Mondays: The problem of vanity

Niobe is another of the children of Tantalus, the sister of Pelops. Her life was cursed as well, but she’s not generally recognized in the Tantalid line because, of course, she’s a woman.

Niobe married the King of Thebes and had fourteen children, seven boys and seven girls. Each was more beautiful than the next. Niobe began to boast that she had better the goddess Leto, the mother of twins Artemis and Apollo, because she had fourteen perfect children instead of just two.

Well, it’s easy enough to guess that comparing yourself to a god at all is not a good idea. Worse still is saying that you’re better then them.

“She bore two children; so her womb was worth
A seventh part of mine. O happy me!
(Who would deny it?) and happy I’ll remain
(Who could doubt that?) My riches make me safe.
Yes, I’m too great to suffer Fortune’s blows.”
Ovid’s Metamorphoses VI

Apollo and Artemis hear of Niobe’s boast and they quickly go to work. They appear in Thebes. Apollo shoots each of Niobe’s sons with poison arrows; Artemis takes down the daughters with the same. Niobe’s husband killed himself when he heard the news.

“She sat bereft
Amid her sons, her daughters and her husband,
All lifeless corpses, rigid in her ruin.
Her hair no breeze can stir; her cheeks are drained
And bloodless; in her doleful face her eyes
Stare fixed and hard - a likeness without life.”
Ovid’s Metamorphoses VI

Niobe’s heart is hardened by the tragedy. As she sits among the corpses, she turns to stone in grief. And yet the stone itself continues to weep.

“And as will happen, new tales bring back old,
And one of them this story then retold.”
Ovid’s Metamorphoses VI


  • By Eleni, May 4, 2009 @ 9:49 pm

    I remember this myth from 7th grade. Everyone in the whole grade was assigned a different person from Greek mythology whom we had to do a project on and then impersonate for a day. My best friend had Niobe. I was Penelope, known for waiting faithfully for her husband for 20 years while he had adventures and slept around. Still, a better end than Niobe. Those Greek gods are harsh, though I guess she should have known better.

  • By Hezabelle, May 4, 2009 @ 10:23 pm

    Haha I loved the mythology unit in high school! I kicked ass at it. Penelope’s a good one, you lucked out!

    Ever read Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad?

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