A Book of Myths
Page: 65Their elder brother ran to their aid, and to him, too, came death, swift and sure. The two youngest, even as they cried for mercy to an unknown god, were hurried after them by the unerring arrows of Apollo. The cries of those who watched this terrible slaying were not long in bringing Niobe to the place where her sons lay dead. Yet, even then, her pride was unconquered, and she defied the gods, and Latona, to whose jealousy she ascribed the fate of her “seven spears.”
“Not yet hast thou conquered, Latona!” she cried. “My seven sons lie dead, yet to me still remain the seven perfect lovelinesses that I have borne. Try to match them, if thou canst, with the beauty of thy two! Still am I richer than thou, O cruel and envious mother of one daughter and one son!”
But even as she spoke, Diana had drawn her bow, and as the scythe of a mower quickly cuts down, one after the other, the tall white blossoms in the meadow, so did her arrows slay the daughters of Niobe. When one only remained, the pride of Niobe was broken. [Pg 128] With her arms round the little slender frame of her golden-haired youngest born, she looked up to heaven, and cried upon all the gods for mercy.
“She is so little!” she wailed. “So young—so dear! Ah, spare me one,” she said, “only one out of so many!”
But the gods laughed. Like a harsh note of music sounded the twang of Diana’s bow. Pierced by a silver arrow, the little girl lay dead. The dignity of Latona was avenged.
Overwhelmed by despair, King Amphion killed himself, and Niobe was left alone to gaze on the ruin around her. For nine days she sat, a Greek Rachel, weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they were not. On the tenth day, the sight was too much even for the superhuman hearts of the gods to endure. They turned the bodies into stone and themselves buried them. And when they looked on the face of Niobe and saw on it a bleeding anguish that no human hand could stay nor the word of any god comfort, the gods were merciful. Her grief was immortalised, for Niobe, at their will, became a stone, and was carried by a wailing tempest to the summit of Mount Sipylus, in Lydia, where a spring of Argos bore her name. Yet although a rock was Niobe, from her blind eyes of stone the tears still flowed, a clear stream of running water, symbol of a mother’s anguish and never-ending grief.