A Book of Myths
Page: 64“The goddess has a son and a daughter,” she said. “Beautiful and wise and powerful they may be, but I have borne seven daughters and seven sons, and each son is more than the peer of Apollo, each daughter more than the equal of Diana, the moon-goddess!”
And to her boastful words Latona gave ear, and anger began to grow in her heart.
Each year the people of Thebes were wont to hold a great festival in honour of Latona and her son and daughter, and it was an evil day for Niobe when she came upon the adoring crowd that, laurel-crowned, bore frankincense to lay before the altars of the gods whose glories they had assembled together to celebrate.
“Oh foolish ones!” she said, and her voice was full of scorn, “am I not greater than Latona? I am the daughter of a goddess, my husband, the king, the son of a god. Am I not fair? am I not queenly as Latona herself? And, of a surety, I am richer by far than the goddess who has but one daughter and one son. Look on my seven noble sons! behold the beauty of my [Pg 126] seven daughters, and see if they in beauty and all else do not equal the dwellers in Olympus!”
And when the people looked, and shouted aloud, for in truth Niobe and her children were like unto gods, their queen said, “Do not waste thy worship, my people. Rather make the prayers to thy king and to me and to my children who buttress us round and make our strength so great, that fearlessly we can despise the gods.”
In her home on the Cynthian mountain top, Latona heard the arrogant words of the queen of Thebes, and even as a gust of wind blows smouldering ashes into a consuming fire, her growing anger flamed into rage. She called Apollo and Diana to her, and commanded them to avenge the blasphemous insult which had been given to them and to their mother. And the twin gods listened with burning hearts.
“Truly shalt thou be avenged!” cried Apollo. “The shameless one shall learn that not unscathed goes she who profanes the honour of the mother of the deathless gods!”
And with their silver bows in their hands, Apollo, the smiter from afar, and Diana, the virgin huntress, hasted to Thebes. There they found all the noble youths of the kingdom pursuing their sports. Some rode, some were having chariot-races, and excelling in all things were the seven sons of Niobe.
Apollo lost no time. A shaft from his quiver flew, as flies a bolt from the hand of Zeus, and the first-born of Niobe fell, like a young pine broken by [Pg 127] the wind, on the floor of his winning chariot. His brother, who followed him, went on the heels of his comrade swiftly down to the Shades. Two of the other sons of Niobe were wrestling together, their great muscles moving under the skin of white satin that covered their perfect bodies, and as they gripped each other, yet another shaft was driven from the bow of Apollo, and both lads fell, joined by one arrow, on the earth, and there breathed their lives away.