For today’s Women’s Wednesday we will be focusing on Niobe. Daughter of Tantalus and sister of Pelops, for centuries her name has been identified with the concrete danger of being too prideful.
Object of her pride, in fact, were her seven sons and seven daughters (although the number changes according to the source) she had together with her husband Amphion. Niobe was envious of the attention given to the goddess of womanly demure and motherhood, Leto. Not understanding why she was not worshipped as much as the other goddess, Niobe went on a rant about how she deserved more attention. The speech angered Leto so much that she ordered Apollo and Artemis, her children, to kill respectively all the male and female children of Niobe; overtaken by grief, Amphion took his life, thus wrapping up the family misfortune. The tragedy heavily affected Niobe’s mental health: talking and moving no more, people thought she had turned into stone.
According to Boccaccio, Niobe’s story should be an admonition about the price of being too proud of something that is not the result of your work. The author, in fact, thinks that having numerous children is not a mother’s virtue, but comes from nature obeying to the gods' will.
“Niobe”, illumination from the manuscript “Cas des nobles hommes et femmes”, ms. Français 12420, f. 24r, 15h century, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des manuscrits, Paris.