The story of Arachne spreads. When Niobe, the queen of Thebes, hears it, she doesn’t take it as a warning. Niobe is proud of her husband Amphion, a skillful lyre player, and of her many children. One day, a woman storms through Thebes speaking a prophecy and telling the women to pray and offer incense to the goddess Latona and her children. The women obey.
Similar to Arachne who was proud of her independent skill at weaving, Niobe is proud of her husband and children. Like Arachne, Niobe believes that she owes no one but herself the credit for her blessed life. She does not believe that Latona—goddess of motherhood—deserves any praise when she herself birthed her children.
When Niobe sees the women worshipping Latona, she gets angry. She feels that the women should worship her because her distant relations are gods and she has seven daughters and seven sons. Niobe is wealthy and powerful, but Latona has no home on earth and only two children. Niobe boasts that she is too blessed to suffer misfortune. The women cease their worship but continue to pray to Latona under their breath.
Not only does Niobe believe that Latona can claim no credit for her blessed life, but she also believes that her blessings surpass Latona’s to the point that she, Niobe, should be worshipped like a goddess. This indicates that Niobe, among others, believes she can rise to the level of goddess through her own accomplishments.
When Latona hears Niobe’s speech, she is furious. She tells her children, Apollo and Diana, to help her reclaim the honor she deserves. Apollo and Diana fly down at once and land on the roof of Niobe’s palace. Niobe’s seven sons have just mounted their horses for a race. Apollo and Diana kill each son with arrows. One of the sons begs for mercy, but he is already fatally wounded. Amphion kills himself with his sword, unable to bear the grief of losing his sons.
Although Niobe has offended Latona, Latona’s punishment is particularly cruel. Latona has Diana and Apollo—her children—kill Latona’s children. This shows that Latona’s own experience as a mother does not prevent her from killing Niobe’s children. She uses her pride in her own children to punish Niobe for her pride in hers.
Niobe, hearing of the tragedy, runs to her sons and throws herself on their dead bodies. She calls out to Latona, boasting that she is still more powerful than her because her grief is stronger than Latona’s joy. Apollo and Diana kill each of Niobe’s daughters as they attempt to comfort their mother. Niobe begs the gods to spare her youngest daughter, but they ignore her request. Niobe collapses over her dead children. She turns to stone, unable to move but still weeping. Then, a wind sweeps her to a mountain top where she grieves for eternity.
Although Latona seemingly wins over Niobe, Niobe claims in her final moments that she is still the winner because her grief is stronger than Latona’s joy. Niobe is forced to suffer the intense grief of losing all her children—a loss which highlights her previous richness. Latona, in not truly suffering loss, does not experience the level of love that Niobe does when she watches her children die.