Saturday, October 8, 2011

A few notes for Niobe

Niobe would have been spoken of as the most fortunate of mothers,
if she had not seemed so to herself.

I know we're not quite "done" with Athena vs. Arachne - the startling conclusion of their certamen remains to be read. But looking ahead:

- William S. Anderson is quite helpful in drawing some of the parallels between Niobe and Pentheus (of book 3) - both are warned by prophets (Pentheus by Tiresias, Niobe by Manto), both confront citizens of their state who are worshipping a deity other than their leaders, i.e., Pentheus as King of Thebes and Niobe now as wife of the king of Thebes, and both cry out: "Quis furor?"
What madness, to prefer the gods you are told about to the ones you see? Why is Latona worshipped at the altars, while as yet my godhead is without its incense? Tantalus is my father, who is the only man to eat the food of the gods. My mother is one of the seven sisters, the Pleiades. Great Atlas, who carries the axis of the heavens on his shoulders, is one of my grandfathers. Jupiter is the other, and I glory in having him as my father-in-law as well. The peoples of Phrygia fear me. Cadmus’s royal house is under my rule: and the walls, built to my husband’s lyre, and Thebes’s people, will be ruled by his power and mine. (Kline)
caelestes? aut cur colitur Latona per aras, numen adhuc sine ture meum est? mihi Tantalus auctor, cui licuit soli superorum tangere mensas, Pleiadum soror est genetrix mea, maximus Atlas 175est avus, aetherium qui fert cervicibus axem; Iuppiter alter avus socero quoque glorior illo. Me gentes metuunt Phrygiae, me regia Cadmi sub domina est, fidibusque mei commissa mariti moenia cum populis a meque viroque reguntur.
- Anderson is also helpful in noting the meaningful resonances of Niobe's family tree: daughter of Tantalos, sister of Pelops (whom Tantalos chopped up and served to the gods, only to be miraculously re-constituted, minus a shoulder) and Broteas (another strange fate), mother of 14 healthy children, wife of Amphion, daughter-in-law of Antiope. (Left: Jupiter and Antiope by Franz Anton Maulbertsch.)

- If you have a chance, have a look at where Niobe appears in Homer, Iliad 24 - the moment within the scene between Achilles and Priam - what role does the tale of Niobe (around line 602 ff.) and the description of her eating, play there? Achilles says to Priam:
"Thy son, old sire, is given back according to thy wish, and lieth upon a bier; and at break of day thou shalt thyself behold him, as thou bearest him hence; but for this present let us bethink us of supper. For even the fair-haired Niobe bethought her of meat, albeit twelve children perished in her halls, six daughters and six lusty sons. The sons Apollo slew with shafts from his silver bow, being wroth against Niobe, and the daughters the archer Artemis, for that Niobe had matched her with fair-cheeked Leto, saying that the goddess had borne but twain, while herself was mother to many; wherefore they, for all they were but twain, destroyed them all. For nine days' space they lay in their blood, nor was there any to bury them, for the son of Cronos turned the folk to stones; howbeit on the tenth day the gods of heaven buried them; and Niobe bethought her of meat, for she was wearied with the shedding of tears. And now somewhere amid the rocks, on the lonely mountains, on Sipylus, where, men say, are the couching-places of goddesses, even of the nymphs that range swiftly in the dance about Achelous, there, albeit a stone, she broodeth over her woes sent by the gods. But come, let us twain likewise, noble old sire, bethink us of meat; and thereafter shalt thou make lament over thy dear son, when thou hast borne him into Ilios; mourned shall he be of thee many tears."
- As Niobe proudly notes, she's also the granddaughter, via her mother Dione, of Atlas.

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