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The "Weeping Rock of Niobe" (Niobe Ağlayan Kaya) at the foot of Mount Sipylos (Sipil Daği),
on the outskirts of Magnesia ad Sypilum, Lydia (today the city of Manisa, Turkey).
Ancient Greek mythology, religion and art
Niobe (Νιόβη), was daughter of Tanatalos (Τάνταλος), the semi-divine king of Sipylos (Σίπυλος), and the wife of Amphion (Ἀμφίων), the semi-divine and the co-founder and king of Thebes. She had many children (numbers differ in the versions of various ancient authors), and taunted the nymph Leto who only had two - the twins Apollo and Artemis by Zeus. On the orders of their enraged mother, Apollo and Artemis killed Niobe's children (the Niobids) by shooting them with arrows. Niobe returned home to Sipylos and wept an age for her loss, until Zeus put an end to her misery by turning to her into this rock. Amphion killed himself from grief after the death of his wife and children.
"Being blessed with children, Niobe said that she was more blessed with children than Latona [Leto]. Stung by the taunt, Latona incited Artemis and Apollo against them, and Artemis shot down the females in the house, and Apollo killed all the males together as they were hunting on Cithaeron... Niobe herself quitted Thebes and went to her father Tantalus at Sipylus, and there, on praying to Zeus, she was transformed into a stone, and tears flow night and day from the stone."
Apollodorus, The Library
, Book 3, chapter 5. 
The 2nd century AD Greek travel writer Pausanias
described the "Weeping Rock of Niobe" at the foot of Mount Sipylos (Sipil Daği), on the outskirts of Magnesia ad Sypilum, Lydia (today the city of Manisa, Turkey).
"This Niobe I myself saw when I had gone up to Mount Sipylus. When you are near it is a beetling crag, with not the slightest resemblance to a woman, mourning or otherwise; but if you go further away you will think you see a woman in tears, with head bowed down." 
It seems that even in the time of Pausanias the rock appeared to be naturally-formed and weathered. If it was sculpted in prehistory, the marks of human intervention had long-since been eroded away. With a bit of imagination and some serious squinting, one can see the form of a seated woman with bowed head and empty lap. To the left of the figure is a small cleft or niche from which today a tree grows.
According to local legend, the rock weeps every Friday, a miracle this author failed to witness. He did notice, however, that locals come to a nearby spring to fill enormous plastic containers with the water, because, they say, it tastes excellent, and also because the tap water in the city is not drinkable. 
The theme of Apollo and Artemis shooting the Niobids was depicted many times by ancient Greek artists. Pausanias 
reported seeing an image of "Apollo and Artemis slaying the children of Niobe" in the cave of the Choragic Monument of Thrasyllos
on the south slope of the Athens Acropolis. It is not clear whether this image was a painting, a relief or statue group.
Marble head thought to represent Niobe,
later believed to be a copy of the Aphrodite
of Knidos by Praxiteles (4th century BC).
Roman period. Coarse-grained marble.
The bust is a modern addition.
Palazzo Altemps, National Museum of
Rome. Inv. No. 8586. Ludovisi Collection.
Decorative marble roundel with a relief depicting Apollo and Artemis slaying the children of Niobe.
Roman, probably 1st century BC. From Italy. Diameter 94 cm.
At the top Artemis (left) in a short chiton, and Apollo (right, kneeling), nude except
for a himation, shoot arrows at the Niobids to avenge their mother Leto. It is thought
that the many sculptures depicting this scene may have derived from a frieze which
decorated the throne of the colossal chryselephantine statue of Zeus made by the
Athenian sculptor Pheidias for the supreme god's temple at Olympia around 432 BC. 
Unfortunately, the roundel is displayed in the shadow of a statue.
British Museum. Inv. No. GR 1887.7-21.1 (Sculpture 2200).
The Death of the Niobids, gold relief by Antonio Gentili (1519-1609). Gold sheet on a background
plate of lapis lazuli, decorated with carnelians. From a series of six mythological scenes
made in Rome around 1600, after models by Guglielmo della Porta, made 1552-1555.
Bode Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. 2911.
|Marble statue of a dying female Niobid.
Parian marble. Circa 440-430 BC. Found in 1906 on the Piazza Sallustio,
within the area of the ancient Horti Sallustiani, Rome. Height 149 cm.
Palazzo Massimo alle Terme,
National Museum of Rome. Inv. No. 72274.
|The young woman, one of Niobe's daughters, in obvious pain, falls on one knee and attempts to take out the arrow shot by Artemis from between her shoulders. The sculpture originally included a bronze arrow and earrings.
This is one of three surviving statues, dated to around 440-430 BC, believed to be from the same large group depicting Apollo and Artemis killing the Niobids, which may have decorated the pediment of the Temple of Apollo Daphnephoros at Eretria, Euboea. Some of the temple's sculptures were taken to Rome, probably during the reign of Augustus, and were set up in the Horti Sallustiani, either in a building or the gardens themselves.
The other two statues from the group, a Running Niobid and Lying Niobid, also found in the Horti Sallustiani in 1882 (Via Flavia), are now in the Ny Carlsberg Glypotek, Copenhagen. All three statues had been deliberately hidden in antiquity in underground passages, possibly just before the sack of Rome by Alaric's Visigoths in 410 AD.
The back of the dying Niobid statue.
The small arrow hole can be seen
between her shoulders, just above
the top of the garment.
Marble statue of a female figure,
the so-called Niobid.
2nd century AD Roman copy of a late
3rd century BC Greek original.
National Archaeological Museum, Naples.
From the Farnese Collection.
Torso of a marble statue of the Niobids' pedagogue.
Late Hadrianic period (117-138 AD) copy of a Greek
original. Found in 1840 in the Horti Sallustiani, Rome,
in the area of the co-called Nympheum.
Identified as the pedagogue of Niobe's children
from a statue group of the massacre of the Niobids,
by comparison to copies of the same type.
The pedagogue attempts to save one of the
male children by grabbing him by the arm
and pulling him to his body.
Palazzo Massimo alle Terme.
National Museum of Rome. Inv. No. 380382.
The so-called "Subiaco Ephebe", marble statue of a falling
youth, perhaps depicting a fleeing or dying Niobid.
Imperial period copy of a late Hellenistic bronze original.
Anatolian marble. Found 1884-1884 in the Villa di Nerone, Subiaco.
Palazzo Massimo alle Terme. National Museum of Rome. Inv. No. 1075.
A marble head from a statue of a sleeping or dead girl, perhaps a Niobid.
Imperial period copy of a late Hellenistic bronze original. Anatolian
marble. Found together with the "Subiaco Ephebe" (see above).
Palazzo Massimo alle Terme. National Museum of Rome. Inv. No. 1194.
Two fragments fragment of a marble relief panel depicting
the slaughter of the Niobids by Apollo and Artemis.
Antonine period, 2nd century AD. Pentelic marble. Excavated
1952 -1954 at the Temple of Poseidon at Isthmia, Corinthia.
Isthmia Archaeological Museum. Slab 3, Figure 3.
Left fragment, Inv. No. IS 6, discovered in 1952.
Right fragment, Inv. No. IS 171, discovered in 1954.
|Two series of marble panels with reliefs depicting the myths of the Kalydonian Boar hunt and the slaughter of the Niobids decorated the base on which colossal marble statues of Poseidon and Amphitrite stood. The three-times lifesize statues, probably made by Attic sculptors, depicted Poseidon, the patron deity of Isthmia, standing with his consort Amphitrite enthroned to his right. Only fragments of the statues and panels have survived, and the Isthmia museum exhibits Amphitrite's torso, two parts of the Niobid reliefs (see the other below) and one of the hunt relief.
It is thought that the subject matter of the reliefs was meant to warn the athletes participating in the pan-Hellenic Isthmian games against cheating and excessive pride.
According to the museum reconstruction drawings, the fragments above show part of the figure of Artemis shooting an arrow. However, the figure in the second part (see photo below) is more dificult to identify. It depicts a bearded man with short hair, who in the reconstruction drawing holds a weapon (a sword or club) in his raised right hand. In other depictions of the Niobids scene only Apollo and Artemis are shown taking part in the slaughter, while the Niobids themselves are passive victims who do not defend themselves. This figure is evidently not Apollo, so who then? Perhaps he belongs to the Kalydonian Boar hunt reliefs. The fragmentary part of the hunt relief appears to depict Artemis (or Atalanta?) drawing her bow, unusually with Hermes (with a petasos hat) to the left of her.
The statue group may have been replaced in the mid 2nd century AD by a chryselephantine (gold and ivory) statue group featuring Poseidon and Amphitrite in a chariot. This group was described by Pausanias, who wrote that it was dedicated by Herodes Atticus, and that "among the reliefs on the base of the statue of Poseidon are the sons of Tyndareus [the Dioskouroi]". (See the Herodes Atticus page for further details.)
The second fragmentary relief panel of the slaughter of the Niobids (?)
in the Isthmia Archaeological Museum. Slab 5, Figure 5.
This part is displayed in the museum to the right of the one above.
Photos of both parts are at approximately the same scale.
Engraving of a painting depicting Niobe among a group of female mythological
figures, with their names inscribed in Greek. Leto (Λητώ), Niobe (Νιόβη) and
Phoebe (Φοίβη) standing, and Aglaia (Ἀγλαΐα) and Hilaeira (Ιλάειρα) kneeling
and playing knucklebones (ἀστράγαλοι, astragaloi).
Monochrome painting in red on a white marble plaque. From Herculaneum.
Signed ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ ΑΘΗΝΑΙΟΣ ΕΓΡΑΦΕΝ (Alexandros Athenaios egraphen,
Alexander of Athens drew this) in the top left corner.
1st century BC - 1st century AD, in the style of 5th century BC.
Height 45.7 cm, width 38.1 cm.
National Archaeological Museum, Naples. Inv. No. 9562.
|Some early publications named the painting "Niobide Giocatrici di astragali" (Niobids playing dice astragali) and even "the five daughters of Niobe". The scene has also been described as Phoebe attempting to pacify Leto and Niobe, while Aglaia and Hilaeira, two of the Niobids, to play knucklebones, unaware of their imminent fate.
Source: Domeniconi Monaco, Specimens from the Naples Museum, Plate 22. William Clowes and Sons, London 1884. At the Internet Archive.
||Notes, references and links
1. Apollodorus on the niobe myth
Apollodorus, The Library, Book 3, chapter 5, section 6. English Translation by Sir James George Frazer, in 2 Volumes. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA; William Heinemann Ltd., London, 1921. At Perseus Digital Library.
The myth of Niobe was also related by Homer and Ovid:
Homer, The Iliad, Book 24, lines 571-688. Translated by Samuel Butler. Longmans, Green and Co., London, 1898. At Perseus Digital Library.
Brookes More (Editor), P. Ovidius Naso, Metamorphoses, Book 6, lines 146-312. Cornhill Publishing Co., Boston, 1922. At Perseus Digital Library.
2. Pausanias on the "Weeping Rock of Niobe" and the Choragic Monument of Thrasyllos
Pausanias, Description of Greece, Book I, Chapter 21, section 3. English translation by W.H.S. Jones and H.A. Ormerod, in 4 Volumes. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA; William Heinemann, London, 1918. At Perseus Digital Library.
Some scholars believe Pausanias may have come from Magnesia ad Sypilum (today Manisa, Turkey), the home of Tantalos and Niobe, as his references to this area are so detailed.
3. Niobe's spring
For further information about drinking water in Turkish cites,
see Ionian Spring Part 1 at The Cheshire Cat Blog.
4. The slaughter of the Niobids in the British Museum
See: Arthur H. Smith (1860-1941), Catalogue of sculpture in the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities Volume 3, pages 260-263 and Plate XXVI. British Museum, London, 1904. At Heidelberg University Library.
|Photos and articles © David John|
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