The story of Niobe has furnished Byron with a fine illustration of the fallen condition of modern Rome:
“The Niobe of nations!
there she stands,
Childless and crownless in her voiceless woe;
An empty urn within her withered hands,
Whose holy dust was scattered long ago;
The Scipios’ tomb contains no ashes now:
The very sepulchres lie tenantless
Of their heroic dwellers; dost thou flow,
Old Tiber! through a marble wilderness?
Rise with thy yellow waves, and mantle her distress.”
Childe Harold, iv. 79.
This affecting story has been made the subject of a celebrated statue in the imperial gallery of Florence. It is the principal figure of a group supposed to have been originally arranged in the pediment of a temple. The figure of the mother clasped by the arm of her terrified child is one of the most admired of the ancient statues. It ranks with the Laocoon and the Apollo among the masterpieces of art. The following is a translation of a Greek epigram supposed to relate to this statue:
“To stone the gods have
changed her, but in vain;
The sculptor’s art has made her breathe again.”
Tragic as is the story of Niobe, we cannot forbear to smile at the use Moore has made of it in “Rhymes on the Road”:
“’Twas in his carriage
Sir Richard Blackmore used to rhyme,
And, if the wits don’t do him wrong,
’Twixt death and epics passed his time,
Scribbling and killing all day long;
Like Phoebus in his car at ease,
Now warbling forth a lofty song,
Now murdering the young Niobes.”
Sir Richard Blackmore was a physician, and at the same time a very prolific and very tasteless poet, whose works are now forgotten, unless when recalled to mind by some wit like Moore for the sake of a joke.
THE GRAEAE OR GRAY-MAIDS—PERSEUS—MEDUSA—ATLAS—ANDROMEDA
The Graeae were three sisters who were gray-haired from their birth, whence their name. The Gorgons were monstrous females with huge teeth like those of swine, brazen claws, and snaky hair. None of these beings make much figure in mythology except Medusa, the Gorgon, whose story we shall next advert to. We mention them chiefly to introduce an ingenious theory of some modern writers, namely, that the Gorgons and Graeae were only personifications of the terrors of the sea, the former denoting the strong billows of the wide open main, and the latter the white-crested waves that dash against the rocks of the coast. Their names in Greek signify the above epithets.