Ovid's Metamorphoses (selections)

Week 5: Ancient Rome - Assignments - Reading - Resources - Images


Reading time: 4 minutes. Word count: 600 words.

The gods of ancient Greece and Rome have serious tempers: you just saw how the jealous Juno punished Callisto for Jupiter's adultery. In the next story, you will see how the gods Apollo and Diana avenge the honor of their mother, the goddess Latona, who is insulted by the foolish Niobe, queen of Thebes.

Niobe's boast

Look, Niobe comes, followed by a crowded throng, visible, in her Phrygian robes woven with gold, and as beautiful as anger will let her be. Turning her lovely head with the hair falling loose over both her shoulders, she pauses, and looks around with pride in her eyes, from her full height, saying:

'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.

"Whichever part of the palace I turn my eyes on, I look at immense wealth. Augment it with my beauty, worthy of a goddess, and add to this my seven daughters, as many sons, and soon my sons - and my daughters-in-law! Now, ask what the reason is for my pride, and then dare to prefer Latona to me, that Titaness, daughter of Coeus, whoever he is.

"Latona, whom the wide earth once refused even a little piece of ground to give birth on. Land, sea, and sky were no refuge for your goddess. She was exiled from the world, until Delos, pitying the wanderer, gave her a precarious place, saying 'Friend, you wander the earth, I the sea.' There she gave birth to twins, only a seventh of my offspring.

"I am fortunate (indeed, who can deny it?) and I will stay fortunate (and who can doubt that too?). My riches make me safe. I am greater than any whom Fortune can harm, and though she could take much away, she would leave me much more. Surely my comforts banish fear. Imagine that some of this host of children could be taken from me, I would still not, bereaved, be reduced to the two of Latona's family. In that state, how far is she from childlessness? Go home - enough of holy things - and take those laurel wreaths from your hair!'

They relinquish them, and leave the rite unfinished, except what is their right, reverencing the goddess in a secret murmur.

Latona's anger

The goddess was deeply angered, and on the summit of Mount Cynthus she spoke to her twin children.

"See, it will be doubted whether I, your mother, proud to have borne you, and giving way to no goddess, except Juno, am a goddess, and worship will be prevented at my altars through all the ages, unless you help me, my children. Nor is this my only grief. This daughter of Tantalus has added insult to injury, and has dared to put her children above you, and has called me childless, may that recoil on her own head, and has shown she has her father's tongue for wickedness."

Latona would have added her entreaties to what she had related, but Phoebus Apollo cried "Enough! Long complaint delays her punishment!"

Phoebe said the same, and falling swiftly through the air, concealed by clouds, they reached the house of Cadmus.

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • Why did Niobe boast that she was superior to the goddess Latona?
  • How does Latona react to Niobe's boasting?
  • Who is going to punish Niobe for her boasting?

Source: A.S.Kline, translator. Ovid's Metamorphoses (2000). Weblink. Kline has made his English translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses freely available over the Internet.

Modern Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:52 PM