NIOBEAll Lydia was astonished at her fate
the Rumor spread to Phrygia, soon the world
was filled with fear and wonder. Niobe
had known her long before,—when in Maeonia
near to Mount Sipylus; but the sad fate
which overtook Arachne, lost on her,
she never ceased her boasting and refused
to honor the great Gods.
So many things
increased her pride: She loved to boast
her husband's skill, their noble family,
the rising grandeur of their kingdom. Such
felicities were great delights to her;
but nothing could exceed the haughty way
she boasted of her children: and, in truth,
Niobe might have been adjudged on earth,
the happiest mother of mankind, if pride
had not destroyed her wit.
It happened then,
that Manto, daughter of Tiresias,
who told the future; when she felt the fire
of prophecy descend upon her, rushed
upon the street and shouted in the midst:
“You women of Ismenus! go and give
to high Latona and her children, twain,
incense and prayer. Go, and with laurel wreathe
your hair in garlands, as your sacred prayers
arise to heaven. Give heed, for by my speech
Latona has ordained these holy rites.”
At once, the Theban women wreathe their brows
with laurel, and they cast in hallowed flame
the grateful incense, while they supplicate
all favors of the ever-living Gods.
And while they worship, Niobe comes there,
surrounded with a troup that follow her,
and most conspicuous in her purple robe,
bright with inwoven threads of yellow gold.
Beautiful in her anger, she tosses back
her graceful head. The glory of her hair
shines on her shoulders. Standing forth,
she looks upon them with her haughty eyes,
and taunts them, “Madness has prevailed on you
to worship some imagined Gods of Heaven,
which you have only heard of; but the Gods
that truly are on earth, and can be seen,
are all neglected! Come, explain to me,
why is Latona worshiped and adored,
and frankincense not offered unto me?
For my divinity is known to you.
“Tantalus was my father, who alone
approached the tables of the Gods in heaven;
my mother, sister of the Pleiades,
was daughter of huge Atlas, who supports
the world upon his shoulders; I can boast
of Jupiter as father of my sire,
I count him also as my father-in-law.
The peoples of my Phrygia dread my power,
and I am mistress of the palace built
by Cadmus. By my husband, I am queen
of those great walls that reared themselves
to the sweet music of his sounding lyre.
We rule together all the people they
encompass and defend. And everywhere
my gaze is turned, an evidence of wealth
“In my features you can see
the beauty of a goddess, but above
that majesty is all the glory due
to me, the mother of my seven sons
and daughters seven. And the time will come
when by their marriage they will magnify
the circle of my power invincible.
“All must acknowledge my just cause of pride
and must no longer worship, in despite
of my superior birth, this deity,
a daughter of ignoble Coeus, whom
one time the great Earth would not even grant
sufficient space for travail: whom the Heavens,
the Land, the Sea together once compelled
to wander, hopeless on all hostile shores!
Throughout the world she found herself rebuffed,
till Delos, sorry for the vagrant, said,
‘Homeless you roam the lands, and I the seas!’
And even her refuge always was adrift.
“And there she bore two children, who, compared
with mine, are but as one to seven. Who
denies my fortunate condition?—Who
can doubt my future?—I am surely safe.
“The wealth of my abundance is too strong
for Fortune to assail me. Let her rage
despoil me of large substance; yet so much
would still be mine, for I have risen above
the blight of apprehension. But, suppose
a few of my fair children should be taken!
Even so deprived, I could not be reduced
to only two, as this Latona, who,
might quite as well be childless.—Get you gone
from this insensate sacrifice. Make haste!
Cast off the wreathing laurels from your brows!”
They plucked the garlands from their hair, and left
the sacrifice, obedient to her will,
although in gentle murmurs they adored
the goddess Niobe had so defamed.
Latona, furious when she heard the speech,
flew swiftly to the utmost peak of Cynthus,
and spoke to her two children in these words:
“Behold your mother, proud of having borne
such glorious children! I will yield
prestige before no goddess—save alone
immortal Juno! I have been debased,
and driven for all ages from my own—
my altars, unto me devoted long,
and so must languish through eternity,
unless by you sustained. Nor is this all;.
That daughter of Tantalus, bold Niobe,
has added curses to her evil deeds,
and with a tongue as wicked as her sire's,
has raised her base-born children over mine.
Has even called me childless! A sad fate
more surely should be hers! Oh, I entreat”—
But Phoebus answered her, “No more complaint
is necessary, for it only serves
to hinder the swift sequel of her doom.”
And with the same words Phoebe answered her.
And having spoken, they descended through
the shielding shadows of surrounding clouds,
and hovered on the citadel of Cadmus.