A mortal woman in Greek mythology, Niobe (Νιόβη), daughter of Tantalus and either Euryanassa, Eurythemista, Clytia, Dione, or Laodice, and the wife of Amphion, boasted of her superiority to Leto because she had fourteen children (the Niobids), seven male and seven female, while Leto had only two (Apollo and Artemis). Apollo killed her sons as they practiced athletics, with the last begging for his life (Apollo would have spared his life, but had already released the arrow), and Artemis killed her daughters. Apollo and Artemis used poisoned arrows to kill them, though according to some versions a number of the Niobids were spared (Chloris, usually). Amphion, at the sight of his dead sons, either killed himself or was killed by Apollo after swearing revenge. A devastated Niobe fled to Mount Sipylus of Lydia in Asia Minor and turned into stone as she wept, or committed suicide. Mount Sipylus has a rock carving of a female face on it that the locals claimed was Niobe, though it was probably originally intended to be Cybele. The stone is said to have wept tears during the summer. The rock appears to weep because it is porous limestone and rainwater seeps through the pores.
There are various accounts about how and where Niobe perished; the story that returns Niobe from Thebes to her Lydian homeland is but one.
The story of Niobe is mentioned by Achilles to Priam near the end of Homer's Iliad. Priam is like Niobe in that he is grieving for his son Hector, who was killed and not buried for several days. Niobe is also referenced in Sophocles's Antigone: as she is marched toward her death, Antigone compares her own loneliness to that of Niobe.
Aedon was the queen of Thebes who attempted to kill the son of her rival, Niobe, also her sister-in-law (Aedon was married to Zethus), and accidentally killed her own daughter, Itylus instead and thus, the gods again changed her into a nightingale.
Another Niobe, also from Greek mythology, was a daughter of Phoroneus, and the first mortal woman to attract the love of the god Zeus. By Zeus, this Niobe was the mother of Argus, legendary founder of the Greek city of Argos. Another child named Pelasgus is sometimes mentioned as the twin of Argus. This Niobe lived many generations before Niobe, daughter of Tantalus.
- The number varies. Aelian (Varia Historia xii. 36): "But Hesiod says they were nine boys and ten girls— unless after all the verses are not Hesiod but are falsely ascribed to him as are many others." Nine would make a triple triplet, triplicity being character of numerous sisterhoods (J.E. Harrison, A Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion (1903), "The Maiden-Trinities" pp 286ff. Ten would equate to a full two hands of male dactyls.