Asteroid Files: Niobe

As we say goodbye to Leo season, and look ahead to Virgo, we have one last Royal who will test you, and your resolve. Will you be able to stand up to her challenge?

The Astronomy: 71 Niobe is a large, slowly rotating main-belt asteroid. It was discovered by the German astronomer Robert Luther on August 13, 1861, and named after Niobe, a character in Greek mythology. In 1861, the brightness of this asteroid was shown to vary by German astronomer Friedrich Tietjen. In 2006, it was examined by radar using the Arecibo Observatory radio telescope in Puerto Rico. This was supplemented by optical observations intended to build a lightcurve. The resulting estimated rotation period of 35.6 hours, or 1.48 Earth days, superseded an earlier estimate of the rotation period as 14.3 hours. The radar data produced an estimate of a maximum equatorial diameter of 94 km, which is consistent with earlier estimates based upon infrared data if the shape is assumed to be slightly elongated. The rotation period was further refined to 35.864 ± 0.001 hours during observations through 2010. Six stellar occultations of this asteroid between 2004 and 2007 produced chords ranging from 13–72 km (8–45 mi), which are statistically consistent with the published maximum diameter estimates.

The Myth: Niobe was a daughter of Tantalus and of either Dione, the most frequently cited, or of Eurythemista or Euryanassa, and the sister of Pelops and Broteas. She was mentioned in Homer’s Iliad which relates her proud hubris, for which she was punished by Leto, who sent Apollo and Artemis to slay all of her children, after which her children lay unburied for nine days while she abstained from food. Once the gods interred them, she retreated to her native Sipylus, “where Nymphs dance around the River Acheloos, and although being a stone, she broods over the sorrows sent from the Gods”. Later writers asserted that Niobe was wedded to Amphion, one of the twin founders of Thebes, where there was a single sanctuary where the twin founders were venerated, but in fact no shrine to Niobe. Niobe boasted of her fourteen children, seven male and seven female (the Niobids), to Leto who only had two children, the twins Apollo and Artemis. The number varies in different sources. Her speech which caused the indignation of the goddess was rendered in the following manner:

It was on occasion of the annual celebration in honor of Latona and her offspring, Apollo and Diana, when the people of Thebes were assembled, their brows crowned with laurel, bearing frankincense to the altars and paying their vows, that Niobe appeared among the crowd. Her attire was splendid with gold and gems, and her face as beautiful as the face of an angry woman can be. She stood and surveyed the people with haughty looks. “What folly,” said she, “is this! to prefer beings whom you never saw to those who stand before your eyes! Why should Latona be honored with worship rather than I? My father was Tantalus, who was received as a guest at the table of the gods; my mother was a goddess. My husband built and rules this city, Thebes; and Phrygia is my paternal inheritance. Wherever I turn my eyes I survey the elements of my power; nor is my form and presence unworthy of a goddess. To all this let me add, I have seven sons and seven daughters, and look for sons-in-law and daughters-in-law of pretensions worthy of my alliance. Have I not cause for pride? Will you prefer to me this Latona, the Titan’s daughter, with her two children? I have seven times as many. Fortunate indeed am I, and fortunate I shall remain! Will any one deny this?

Using arrows, Artemis killed Niobe’s daughters and Apollo killed Niobe’s sons. According to some versions, at least one Niobid (usually Meliboea) was spared. Their father, Amphion, at the sight of his dead sons, either killed himself or was killed by Apollo for having sworn revenge. Devastated, Niobe fled back to Mount Sipylus and was turned into stone, and, as she wept unceasingly, waters started to pour from her petrified complexion. Mount Sipylus indeed has a natural rock formation which resembles a female face, and it has been associated with Niobe since ancient times and described by Pausanias. The rock formation is also known as the “Weeping Rock”, since rainwater seeps through its porous limestone. The only Niobid spared stayed greenish pale from horror for the rest of her life, and for that reason she was called Chloris (the pale one).

Why She Matters: In astrological terms, Niobe is viewed mainly as a cautionary tale of Pride gone way too far, like Arachne. She is viewed as the worst possible scenario- Someone who is given much in life, is ungrateful and boastful, and who sees it all taken from her. She is also a foil for Artemis and Apollo, where their bloodlust is revealed- They are, at their core, hunters who will gleefully murder whatever prey their mother sets them to. In that sense they are far more Titan than Olympian. It is important to note that Niobe is part of the bloodline of Tantalus, and can be seen as sort of the end result of the Tantalus process- Once you finally get what you want, how will it change you? Who will you be upon the fulfillment of your desires? And if you were to lose it all, who are you then?

To find out where she shows up in your chart, go to astro.com, put in your birth details and in the extended options, all the way at the bottom, there will be a menu of additional objects. Under that is a blank space where you can enter the number 71, for Niobe. Once you have it entered, generate the chart! Where does Niobe affect your life? Let us know in the comments below!

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