Apollo and Artemis Attacking the Children of Niobe by Jacques-Louis David
Archetypes | Greek Mythology | Self-Development

Artemis and Apollo Slay The Children Of Niobe

The myth in which Artemis and Apollo slay the children of Niobe is told in various sources of Greco-Roman mythology. It’s a story of how the unconscious rears up to deflate an over-inflated ego and replace self-defeating subconscious programs with self-knowledge.

Sometimes self-knowledge is devastating.

“The ego must avoid destruction and overcome —and even redeem —a highly dangerous aspect of his anima/her animus.” ~ Marie Louise von Franz, Carl Jung, Man And His Symbols

There are several variations in the stories of Artemis and Apollo, but the general gist is that Niobe, the queen of Thebes, appeals to the people of the city and questions why they are worshipping a vagrant like Leto (Latona in Roman mythology).

In Greek mythology, Leto is a Titan that was seduced by Zeus who was tempted by her stunning beauty. From their union, the divine twins’ Artemis and Apollo were born.

The accounts that detail the myth of Niobe, describe an annual event in which the citizens of Thebes honour Leto, Artemis and Apollo. As part of the celebration, people wear a laurel leaf on their heads and burn frankincense in the fire.

Laurel leaf

From the point of esoteric symbolism, the purpose of the rituals to Leto, Artemis and Apollo is synonymous with personal growth.

Both the laurel leaf and frankincense are symbols associated with the sun god Apollo in Greek mythology. The laurel tree, also a symbol of Artemis, represents the Self’s triumph over subconscious programs – namely the capacity to overcome the cravings and attachments of the ego that are driven by emotional needs (eros).

Apollo throws frankincense into the fire during his sacrificial ceremonies. Frankincense is a white incense that denotes inmost truth and purity. This ritual indicates that polluted thoughts and behaviours have been cleansed and subconscious programs have been upgraded to reflect your True Nature (truth).

It is clear that the people of Thebes recognise Leto’s capacity for transformation through self-respect and self-care which the goddess and her children ultimately symbolise. However, the jealous Niobe believes the Thebans should honour her instead.

To make her claim, Niobe boasts that her father, Tantalus, is the only mortal to be invited to dine with the gods in Olympus, her ancestors are the gods Zeus and Atlas, and she is a descendant of the Royal House of Cadmus.

But most importantly, Niobe boasts about having more children than Leto. She has 14 whereas Leto only has two. Here Niobe is declaring she is more abundant than Leto and by worshipping her, the Thebans would also be more abundant.

In Metamorphoses Book VI, Ovid tells us that it is her children that Niobe is most proud of.

“Many things gave her pride; but in truth neither her husband’s art nor the high birth of both and their royal power and state so pleased her, although all those did please, as her children did. And Niobe would have been called most blessed of mothers, had she not seemed so to herself.”

In esoteric symbolism, one interpretation of children is the manifestation of will (masculine principle) and desire (feminine principle). In other words, children represent the experience of physical reality. They are manifestations of ourselves.

Niobe makes her abundance known to all when she declares:

“Wherever I turn my eyes in the palace I see great stores of wealth…Surely I am happy. Who can deny it? And happy I shall remain. This also who can doubt? My very abundance has made me safe. I am too great for fortune to harm; though she should take many from me, still many more will she leave me.” [ibid]

Niobe then goes on to compare her abundance with Leto’s lowly status and perceived lack of achievement.

First of all, she dismisses Leto’s father, the Titan Coeus – the god of discernment – by scoffing “whoever he may be”. This indicates that Niobe does not use her intellectual capacity for analytical or logical thinking. These are traits of Apollo.

Then she reminds the people of Thebes that Leto was “refused a tiny spot for bringing forth her children. Neither heaven nor earth nor sea was open for this goddess of yours; she was outlawed from the universe.” [ibid]

This slight is to highlight that at one time Leto did not even have a life; she was rejected by everyone. The cause of this was Hera, Zeus’ jealous wife who had cursed Leto with restlessness.

Niobe’s final point is that Thebans have “sacrificed enough”. With this, people removed the laurel leaves from their heads and left their sacrifices to Leto unfinished.

Leto is furious over Niobe’s lack of respect and appeals to Apollo and Artemis. It would be of no use if she is not “denied worship at the altar through all coming ages.” 

Apollo and Artemis Attacking the Children of Niobe by Jacques-Louis David
Apollo and Diana (Artemis) Attacking the Children of Niobe by Jacques-Louis David

The twins agree and conceal themselves in clouds and ascend on Thebes. Apollo unleashes a torrent of arrows and slaughters the seven sons of Niobe. Their distraught father, King Amphion took his own life by driving a dagger through his heart.

If you’re familiar with mythology, you have probably noticed that a king has some part to play in almost every story. They are very rarely the protagonist, but if you notice, they are often killed or chased out of the city. 

In this particular myth, the queen is the central character. King and queen are the ruler archetype, the decision-maker of the psyche. In this instance, Amphion and Niobe represent ego-consciousness which is displayed by Niobe’s bragging – which can only come from ego-consciousness. 

When kings die in myth, it indicates an aspect of ego-conscious has died and replaced by the aspect of consciousness of the character that kills him. In this instance, Apollo is the cause of the king’s death. Like his grandfather, Coeus, Apollo also represents intellect.

The seven sons and seven daughters of Niobe are the seven energy centres (chakras) that influence thoughts and behaviours and ultimately impact your physical reality. 

The chakra system is a spiritual model that is used to divide the body into seven key areas. Each chakra governs a certain area of the body and is assigned certain attributes, emotional responses, aches, pains, illness and disease. We explain this in more depth in the chakra chart which is available with our Essential Self-Development Program. 

Using the chakra system can help you to determine which archetype energies are presently trying to make themselves known. What happens in your inner world influences your experience of the outer world.

“Our consciousness interacts with the energy of the universe….The way we use that consciousness – the way we direct our awareness – produces profound and immediate changes in the atoms and molecules of our bodies. Science also shows us that our consciousness affects the material reality around us. As our consciousness changes, so changes the world.” ~ Dawson Church, Mind To Matter

Despite the loss of her sons, Niobe arrogantly claims she still has more children than Leto. But they also perish, from “unseen wounds” (presumably Apollo’s poisoned arrow) and by the bow of Artemis. 

Whereas the sons represent thoughts, the daughters represent emotions. Thoughts influence emotions, so if you don’t have thoughts that come from ego-consciousness, you won’t have emotions or behaviours that come from ego-consciousness either.

With all 14 children perished, and the death of her husband, Niobe’s life is thrown into despair. The trauma causes her to sit in silence, frozen in shock. Ovid tells us, “there is nothing alive in the picture” and all “her vitals are stone”.

This is a classic description of the negative attributes associated with the caregiver archetype; inner desolation, lack of life energy, loneliness, stagnation and lack of emotional connection.

depression

Niobe remains in this condition for nine days without eating. On the tenth day, she eats meat.

Nine days comes up quite a lot in Greek mythology. Sometimes it’s nine weeks, or nine years; a passing of time. This signifies the transformation of energy in the evolution of a cycle, hence the numerical scale 0-9. 10 signifies the beginning of a new cycle; 0,1 etc…

The evolution of a cycle of energy is explained in full detail in the Number Symbolism Course. 

When Niobe eats again, it means she is providing herself with psychological and emotional nourishment. When she weeps she is releasing fragmented consciousness which will enable her to be whole again. 

Jung emphasised that man can achieve wholeness only through self-knowledge and acceptance of unconscious content which he showed surfaces as archetypes or complexes.

“The archetypes thus have their own initiative and their own specific energy. These powers enable them both to produce a meaningful interpretation (in their own symbolic style) and to interfere in a given situation with their own impulses and their own thought formations.” ~ Carl Jung, Man and His Symbols

In myth, as in real life, food is a symbol of self-care (if you’re eating the right diet). The is the role of the caregiver archetype – the masculine principle of which is reflected in the qualities of Apollo; self-respect, honour, loyalty and self-love.

What Does Niobe Represent in Greek Mythology?

To understand what Niobe represents in this myth, we need to take a look at who her parents were. This will help us to determine which archetype she falls under.

When myth does not tell you much about the history of a character, research their parents. Remember, children are an aspect of consciousness that can be determined by their heritage; they are the physical manifestation of a particular archetype and this represents an aspect of that archetype.

Niobe is the daughter of Tantalus and Dione, the daughter of Atlas who carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. Plato also describes Tantalus as ‘he who has much to bear’.

Tantalus is where we get the English word, tantalising, which essentially means, desire or temptation that cannot be satisfied. Someone that is never satisfied is never happy and can be said to be carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders.

Dione is associated with the goddess Aphrodite. In Homer’s version, she is the goddess’s mother – suggesting she gives birth to the attributes of Aphrodite. But given Dione comes from a bloodline that is carrying a burden we can safely assume she represents the negative attributes.

Aphrodite is a personification of the lover archetype.

Niobe, therefore, represents ego-centric attributes associated with the lover archetype; gluttony, materialistic, self-indulgence and unsatisfied cravings. She boasted about everything she had in her life but still wanted more; the praise and adoration of the people.

This suggests that Niobe does not receive all the emotional well-being she needs; she is lacking self-esteem and self-actualisation.

The UK charity organisation Mind points out that you can still have low self-esteem even when you:

  • like and value yourself as a person
  • are able to make decisions and assert yourself
  • recognise your strengths and positives
  • feel able to try new or difficult things
  • show kindness towards yourself
  • move past mistakes without blaming yourself unfairly
  • take the time you need for yourself
  • believe you matter and are good enough
  • believe you deserve happiness.

We see many of these traits in Niobe. However, even though you may have a positive opinion about yourself and your achievements, if you are not centred and connected to your inner power, the shadow side of self-esteem appears as grandiose narcissism – a negative quality of the lover archetype.

Grandiose narcissism is a trait of self-assured extraverts that have a tendency to give in to one’s own needs, and disregard the needs and feelings of others ((Lobbestael, et al., 2014). They also have an unrealistic sense of superiority towards people they see as rivals.

The signs of a grandiose narcissist are a boastful nature and an addictive personality. They are generally extraverted people with an over-inflated ego and a miscued sense of entitlement.

 Narcissus Michelangelo Caravaggio
Narcissus, Michelangelo Caravaggio (1594-96)

However, they lack inner-stability and emotional intelligence. They may be dependent on drugs, have a negative self-image so go to the gym to bulk up, obsess about their appearance, addicted to sex, bore easily, have materialistic tendencies, vanity, self-indulgent behaviours and hold narrow-minded views in which the only opinion that matters is their own.

When you’re in this mindset, it’s because you’re not applying the positive attributes of the caregiver archetype; self-love, self-care, compassion, patience, generosity, flexibility, and acting with good intentions from the heart.

As a result, you lack self-esteem and self-love. You are on a downward spiral towards anxiety and depression. 

The lesson we learn from the myth of Artemis and Apollo slaying the children of Niobe is that when your motivations are self-indulgent and driven by external rewards, you neglect the caregiver archetype; you neglect your capacity for personal growth, and ultimately true happiness.

If you have the mindset of a grandiose narcissist, remember the words of Ovid:

“Then, truly do all men and women fear the wrath of the goddess so openly displayed; and al more zealously than ever worship the dread divinity of the twin gods’ mother.”

When a guide comes upon the altar of Leto, he says: “be merciful to me”. Show compassion and forgiveness to people that you can cause harm to.

Including yourself.

The Symbolic Meaning of the Number 14

To help us interpret the myth of Niobe, we also have to take a look at the number 14. At its core, the symbolic meaning of the number 14 is about recognising unconscious content which needs to be integrated to destroy existing programs.

As I explain in the Number Symbolism Guide, the 14 is connected with King David in the Bible. Here’s an excerpt:

“As David matures, he struggles to control his desire for earthly things and, out of lust, has an affair with the beautiful Bethsheba, the wife of one of his loyal soldiers.

David’s story reflects how the personal unconscious becomes polluted with programs and emotions that he cannot control. David allowed his instincts to get the better of him and through selfishness, betrayed one of his brothers in arms.

“When you indulge in a moment of selfishness, spurred on by your lower conscious, you betray yourself.” ~ Richard J. Oldale, Number Symbolism

Ultimately, the lesson you need to learn when you see the number 14 is to adopt balance, self-control and independence; all of which are qualities associated with Apollo and Artemis.

However, there is another version of the story. In the Illiad, Homer mentions that Niobe has 12 children, six sons and six daughters.

“For even the fair-haired Niobe bethought her of meat, albeit twelve children perished in her halls, six daughters and six lusty sons. [605] The sons Apollo slew with shafts from his silver bow, being wroth against Niobe, and the daughters the archer Artemis, for that Niobe, had matched her with fair-cheeked Leto, saying that the goddess had borne but twain, while herself was mother to many; wherefore they, for all they were but twain, destroyed them all. [610] For nine days’ space they lay in their blood, nor was there any to bury them, for the son of Cronos turned the folk to stones; howbeit on the tenth day the gods of heaven buried them; and Niobe bethought her of meat, for she was wearied with the shedding of tears.” Homer, Illiad II. 24.596 (605-613)

The number 12 basically represents wholeness, but from a negative perspective, 12 represents the inner struggle you experience when you allow the ego-conscious to govern your life and neglect your inner world.

As mentioned above, Niobe clearly represents an over-inflated ego which is demonstrated by her hubris and boasts of abundance.

It’s worth noting there are 12 main archetypes that influence the self-ego axis. In Greek Mythology, the only 12 archetypes that really matter are the Olympians – two of which are Apollo and Artemis.

Archetypal energies are powerful tools that help determine which unconscious energies are trying to break through into your conscious thinking.

Master Mind Content has developed a self-development program that shows you how to recognise archetypal energies and adjust your thoughts, actions and emotions accordingly. With these tools, you will be able to release repressed consciousness, develop your personality and upgrade your subconscious programs with energies that deliver a better quality experience of life.

Sign up for our Essential Self-Development Program today, release repressed consciousness and enrich your quality of life.

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