Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Punishment of the Arrogant Niobe by Diana and Apollo

In Greek Mythology, Niobe was the daughter of Tantalus. She was married to Amphion and together they had seven sons, and seven daughters. One day, Niobe was attending an annual celebration in the city of Thebes to honor of Leto (Latona) and her two children, Apollo and Artemis. Many people assembled to pay tribute offering up frankincense to the alters while paying their vows. Niobe is said to have arrived wearing extravagant clothing and jewelry, and upon entering the area, she began to protest. She went on and on about her and her husband's power, the fact that they had fourteen children, and the fortune for which they had amassed. She was, in a word, arrogant.

Leto was not pleased and in her rage, she ordered her children to kill Niobe's sons and daughters. Apollo is said to have found the sons practicing athletics where he then began to snipe each one, one-by-one, from the eldest to the youngest. When word reached Niobe and her husband, Amphion immediately became overcome by grief and plunged a dagger into his chest. Niobe, meanwhile, rushed to where her sons lay, embraced their corpses, and taunted Leto again. But as her daughters began to attend to their brothers' bodies, Artemis arrived and began killing them as well. It is said that Niobe, with one daughter left, pleaded for her life but it was to no avail.

I'd be remiss to not mention that there is some back-and-forth disagreement as to how many children were actually annihilated. But one thing does stand: Niobe's pride and arrogance were destroyed. In the wake of this massacre and according to mythology, Niobe is said to have fled to Mount Sipylus in her homeland of Phrygia where as she grieved, she turned into stone. Since she was weeping so unceasingly as she transformed, it is said that her tears continue to pour from the rock to this day.

The Punishment of the Arrogant Niobe by Diana and Apollo, by Pierre-Charles Jombert (1748-1825), is the oil on canvas painting depicting the chaos that had befallen Niobe and her children. It was originally titled this and created as a oil on canvas sketch which won Jombert First Prize at the Prix de Rome in 1772. Jombert would later go one to complete the piece featured here which was much more exquisite and detailed.

In it, we see Apollo and Artemis in the clouds above loosing arrows into Niobe's seven sons and seven daughters. Meanwhile, a despondent and desperate Niobe clings to her last remaining daughter as she seemingly pleads for her life while futilely attempting to shield her. Given the time and era, this piece was quite graphic but certainly represented the lore. Notably, Apollo and Artemis exhibit determination in their expressions, while below, the faces that remain alive exhibit horror and disbelief. Among the motion, shadow, and incredible use of light is a very vivid painting that is beautiful to behold and frightening to conceive.

An old idiom that's often expressed is, "How the mighty have fallen." It's actually derived from Scripture in 2 Samuel 1:27, but over the years, it has evolved to become a phrase used to remark about how someone who exhibited a lot of arrogance now faces the consequences of his or her actions. Niobe--for lack of a better way of saying it--had a big mouth. She had power, she had beauty, she had it all. Yet, seeing others celebrate a goddess and her two children was more than she could apparently handle. Rife with pride, she bellowed about how she deserved the attention and adoration more than Leto, and that led to her downfall. Not every arrogant jerk will face such immediate peril for their actions, but over time, most do lose their grip on power and prestige. What baffles me is how examples like this and so many others don't cause more people to make better choices. Even if they are graced with great wealth and a large family, it is pretty safe to say that an arrogant, entitled attitude toward everything and everyone else will only lead to destruction. Logically speaking, therefore, humility seems to be the safest, smartest way to live. Don't you think?