In Greek mythology, the Niobids were the children of Amphion of Thebes and Niobe, slain by Apollo and Artemis because Niobe, born of the royal house of Phrygia, had boastfully compared the greater number of her own offspring with those of Leto, Apollo's and Artemis' mother: a classic example of hubris.
The number of Niobids mentioned most usually numbered twelve (Homer) or fourteen (Euripides and pseudo-Apollodorus), but other sources mention twenty, four (Herodotus), or eighteen (Sappho). Generally half these children were sons, the other half daughters. The names of some of the children are mentioned; these lists vary by author:
- Bibliotheca: Agenor, Astycrateia, Astyoche, Cleodoxa, Damasichthon, Eupinytus, Ismenus, Neaera, Ogygia, Pelopia, Phaedimus, Phthia, Phylomache, Sipylus, Tantalus
- Hyginus: Archenor, Astycrateia, Astynome, Chias, Chloris, Cleodoxa, Damasichthon, Eudoxa, Eupinytus, Ismenus, Neaera, Ogygia, Phaedimus, Phthia, Sipylus, Tantalus, Thera
- Ovid: Alphenor, Damasichthon, Ilioneus, Ismenus, Phaedimus, Sipylus, Tantalus; the daughters' names are not given.
- Scholiast on Euripides: Alalcomeneus, Eudorus, Argeius, Lysippus, Phereus, Xanthus, Chione, Clytia, Hore, Lamippe, Melia, Pelopia (according to Pherecydes); Archenor, Archagoras, Menestratus, [one son's name missing], Astycrateia, Ogygia, Pelopia (according to Hellanicus)
- Lactantius Placidus: Antagorus, Archemorus, Eupinytus, Phaedimus, Sipylus, Tantalus, Xenarchus, Astycrateia, Chloris, Cleodoxe, Neaera, Ogime (=Ogygia?) Pelopia, Phegea
Other different names were also mentioned, including Amyclas and Meliboea (also in Apollodorus, see below).
Manto, the seeress daughter of Tiresias, overheard Niobe's remark and bid the Theban women placate Leto, in vain. Apollo and Artemis slew all the children of Niobe with their arrows, Apollo shooting the sons, Artemis the daughters. According to some sources, however, two of the Niobids who had supplicated Leto were spared: Apollodorus gives their names as Meliboea (Chloris) and Amyclas. Another apparent survivor is Phylomache, who is mentioned by Apollodorus as one of the two possible spouses of Pelias.
In another version of the myth, the Niobids are the children of Philottus and Niobe, daughter of Assaon. When Niobe dared to dispute with Leto about the beauty of her children, her punishment was as follows. Assaon made advances to his own daughter, which she refused. He then invited her children to a banquet and burnt them all to death. Philottus had perished whilst hunting. As a result of these calamities, Niobe flung herself from a high rock. Assaon, reflecting over his crimes, also killed himself.
Due to their appearance in the mythology of Apollo, male and female Niobids frequently appeared in classical art. One of the two ivory reliefs added to the doors of the Temple of Apollo Palatinus in its Augustan rebuild depicted their death. They are also known from figurative sculpture, examples of which are to be found at the Palazzo Massimo in Rome and in the group of Niobids (including Niobe sheltering one of her daughters) found in Rome in 1583 along with the Wrestlers and brought to the Uffizi in Florence in 1775.
Niobe and her children, (Uffizi).
In popular culture
The novels Niobe and Pelops: Children of Tantalus, Niobe and Amphion: The Road to Thebes and Niobe and Chloris: Arrows of Artermis by Victoria Grossack and Alice Underwood, set in Greece's Bronze Age, posit another solution to the Niobids' cause of death. Although Apollo and Artemis are given the blame, the mass murderer is a mortal grappling for power.
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- Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, 1960, §77.
- A number attributed to Hesiod by various scholiasts (Graves 1960:259.
- Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library, 3.5.6.
- Hyginus. Fabulae, 11,69.
- Ovid. Metamorphoses, 6.255ff.
- Scholia on Euripides, Phoenician Women, 159
- Lactantius Placidus on Statius' Thebaid, 3. 198; First Vatican mythographer, 153
- Meliboëa had turned so pale with fear that she was still nicknamed Chloris when she married Neleus some years later." (Graves 1960:259).
- Bibliotheca 1. 9. 10
- Ovid. Metamorphoses, VI.401-04.
- Possibly the same as Philottus, son of Hephaestus, mentioned in Hyginus' Fabulae, 158
- Parthenius, Love Romances, 33
- Propertius, II.31.12‑16.
- Uffizi Gallery - The Portrait, Baroccio And Niobe Rooms.