Bulfinch's Mythology The Age of Fable
Page: 75"Spare me one, and that the youngest! Oh, spare me one of so many?!" she cried; and while she spoke, that one fell dead. Desolate she sat, among sons, daughters, husband, all dead, and seemed torpid with grief. The breeze moved not her hair, nor color was on her cheek, her eyes glared fixed and immovable, there was no sign of life about her. Her very tongue clave to the roof of her mouth, and her veins ceased to convey the tide of life. Her neck bent not, her arms made no gesture, her foot no step. She was changed to stone, within and without. Yet tears continued to flow; and, borne on a whirlwind to her native mountain, she still remains, a mass of rock, from which a trickling stream flows, the tribute of her never-ending grief.
The story of Niobe has furnished Byron with a fine illustration of the fallen condition of modern Rome:
"The Niobe of nations! There she stands,
Childless and crownless in her voiceless woe;
An empty urn within her withered hands,
Whose holy dust was scattered long ago;
The Scipios' tomb contains no ashes now;
The very sepulchres lie tenantless
Of their heroic dwellers; dost thou flow,
Old Tiber! Through a marble wilderness?
Rise with thy yellow waves, and mantle her distress."
Childe Harold, IV.79
The slaughter of the children of Niobe by Apollo, alludes to the
Greek belief that pestilence and illness were sent by Apollo, and
one dying by sickness was said to be struck by Apollo's arrow.
It is to this that Morris alludes in the Earthly Paradise:
"While from the freshness of his blue abode,
Glad his death-bearing arrows to forget,
The broad sun blazed, nor scattered plagues as yet."
Our illustration of this story is a copy of a celebrated statue in the imperial gallery of Florence. It is the principal figure of a group supposed to have been originally arranged in the pediment of a temple. The figure of the mother clasped by the arm of her terrified child, is one of the most admired of the ancient statues. It ranks with the Laocoon and the Apollo among the masterpieces of art. The following is a translation of a Greek epigram supposed to relate to this statue:
"To stone the gods have changed her, but in vain;
The sculptor's art has made her breathe again."
Tragic as is the story of Niobe we cannot forbear to smile at the use Moore has made of it in Rhymes on the Road:
"'Twas in his carriage the sublime
Sir Richard Blackmore used to rhyme,
And, if the wits don't do him wrong,
'Twixt death and epics passed his time,
Scribbling and killing all day long;
Like Phoebus in his car at ease,
Now warbling forth a lofty song,
Now murdering the young Niobes."
Sir Richard Blackmore was a physician, and at the same time a very prolific and very tasteless poet, whose works are now forgotten, unless when recalled to mind by some wit like Moore for the sake of a joke.