25. The Gods’ Vengeance Upon Niobe Was Truly Terrible
Niobe’s impiety shocked the Thebans, and they returned to their daily pursuits in awestruck silence fear of what was to come. They had good reason for fear, because Niobe’s decision to taunt Leto turned out to be a bad idea. That hubris provoked Leto’s children, the god and goddess Apollo and Artemis, to seek vengeance for the insult to their mom, who had suffered greatly on their behalf (see entry about Leto below). The siblings, whose nicknames included “The Immortal Archers”, showed up at the citadel of Thebes. From its towers, they watched the Theban youths engaged in sports below, while the Latona festival in honor of their mother was ignored.
Apollo strung his golden bow, and shot all seven of Niobe’s sons, one after the other. Not to be outdone, Artemis strung her bow, and slew all seven of Niobe’s daughters. A grieving Niobe found herself surrounded by the corpses of her offspring. Her children lay unburied for nine days, because the gods turned the Thebans into stone, until the tenth day, when they allowed the burials to proceed. Even then, they were not yet done with Niobe. As if her punishment was not already horrible enough, Zeus piled on and turned Niobe into a pillar of stone, in which state she was condemned to weep throughout eternity for her loss.