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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.
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 female figure,
the so-called Niobid.
2nd century AD Roman copy of a late
3rd century BC Greek original.
National Archaeological Museum, Naples.
||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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