A Book of Myths
Page: 63“Further still!” they cried. “Further still canst thou hurl! thou art a hero indeed!”
[Pg 123] And Perseus, putting forth all his strength, hurled once again, and the discus flew from his hand like a bolt from the hand of Zeus. The watchers held their breath and made ready for a shout of delight as they saw it speed on, further than mortal man had ever hurled before. But joy died in their hearts when a gust of wind caught the discus as it sped and hurled it against Acrisius, the king. And with a sigh like the sigh that passes through the leaves of a tree as the woodman fells it and it crashes to the earth, so did Acrisius fall and lie prone. To his side rushed Perseus, and lifted him tenderly in his arms. But the spirit of Acrisius had fled. And with a great cry of sorrow Perseus called to the people:
“Behold me! I am Perseus, grandson of the man I have slain! Who can avoid the decree of the gods?”
For many a year thereafter Perseus reigned as king, and to him and to his fair wife were born four sons and three daughters. Wisely and well he reigned, and when, at a good old age, Death took him and the wife of his heart, the gods, who had always held him dear, took him up among the stars to live for ever and ever. And there still, on clear and starry nights, we may see him holding the Gorgon’s head. Near him are the father and mother of Andromeda—Cepheus and Cassiopeia, and close beside him stands Andromeda with her white arms spread out across the blue sky as in the days when she stood chained to the rock. And those who sail the watery ways look up for guidance to one whose voyaging is done and whose warfare is accomplished, and take their bearings from the constellation of Cassiopeia.
The quotation is an overworked quotation, like many another of those from Hamlet; yet, have half of those whose lips utter it more than the vaguest acquaintance with the story of Niobe and the cause of her tears? The noble group—attributed to Praxiteles—of Niobe and her last remaining child, in the Uffizi Palace at Florence, has been so often reproduced that it also has helped to make the anguished figure of the Theban queen a familiar one in pictorial tragedy, so that as long as the works of those Titans of art, Shakespeare and Praxiteles, endure, no other monument is wanted for the memory of Niobe.
Like many of the tales of mythology, her tragedy is a story of vengeance wreaked upon a mortal by an angry god. She was the daughter of Tantalus, and her husband was Amphion, King of Thebes, himself a son of Zeus. To her were born seven fair daughters and seven beautiful and gallant sons, and it was not because of her own beauty, nor her husband’s fame, nor their proud descent and the greatness of their kingdom, that the Queen of Thebes was arrogant in her pride. Very sure she was that no woman had ever borne children like her own children, whose peers were not to be found on earth [Pg 125] nor in heaven. Even in our own day there are mortal mothers who feel as Niobe felt.
But amongst the Immortals there was also a mother with children whom she counted as peerless. Latona, mother of Apollo and Diana, was magnificently certain that in all time, nor in eternity to come, could there be a son and daughter so perfect in beauty, in wisdom, and in power as the two that were her own. Loudly did she proclaim her proud belief, and when Niobe heard it she laughed in scorn.