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Magnesia: Niobe's Rock


Niobe vase, Louvre, Paris (France).
Niobe vase (Louvre)
Niobe's Rock near Magnesia near the Sipylus: rock in the shape of a weeping woman, believed to be -by the ancient Greeks- Niobe.

According to an ancient legend, already told by Homer (Iliad, 24.602-617), Niobe was the daughter of Tantalus, and wife of Amphion. On one occasion, she insulted the gods by saying that Leto, the mother of the gods Apollo and Artemis, was a poor woman, having only two children, whereas she herself had six sons and six daughters. Apollo and Artemis, famous archers, avenged their mother by killing all children of Niobe, who recognized her error too late. A more merciful god changed the crying woman into a rock, enabling her to forget her mourning.

Ancient-Warfare.com, the online home of Ancient Warfare magazine
The Niobe rock at Manisa. Photo Marco Prins.
The Niobe rock

                  Somewhere in the rocks
in Sipylus, among the lonely mountains,
where, men say, goddess nymphs lie down to sleep,
the ones that dance beside the Achelous,
there Niobe, though turned to stone, still broods,
thinking of the pain the gods have given her.
[Homer, Iliad, 24.614-617;
tr. Ian Johnston]


One of the daughters of Niobe. Statue at the Palazzo Massimo, Roma (Italy). Photo Jona Lendering.
One of the daughters of Niobe (Palazzo Massimo, Rome)
This rock, which has the shape of a weeping woman prostrating, can be seen south of the Turkish town Manisa, ancient Magnesia. If you look at the second photo, you can recognize her: her face is to the left, and she is prostrating over another rock, her feet to the right.

It must be mentioned that in the Iliad, Niobe stays alive; Achilles quotes her story to entice his guest Priam to have dinner with him, because people must not mourn too long. The lines quoted above were, in Antiquity, believed to be an interpolation, to explain the cult of the rock near Magnesia.

The children of Niobe, in various poses breathing their last breath, were a popular theme in Hellenistic art.

The rock of Niobe can be seen on this satellite photo.
Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2004
Revision: 29 Dec. 2009
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