In ancient Greek culture, Dikē (Greek: Δίκη, English translation: "justice") was the spirit of moral order and fair judgement based on immemorial custom, in the sense of socially enforced norms and conventional rules. According to Hesiod (Theogony, l. 901), she was fathered by Zeus upon his second consort, Themis.
The sculptures of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia have as their unifying iconographical conception the dikē of Zeus, and in poetry she is often the attendant (paredros) of Zeus. In the philosophical climate of late 5th century Athens, dikē could be anthropomorphised as a goddess of moral justice. She was one of the three second-generation Horae, along with Eunomia ("order") and Eirene ("peace"):
"Eunomia and that unsullied fountain Dikē, her sister, sure support of cities; and Eirene of the same kin, who are the stewards of wealth for mankind — three glorious daughters of wise-counselled Themis."
She ruled over human justice, while her mother Themis ruled over divine justice. Her opposite was adikia ("injustice"): in reliefs on the archaic Chest of Cypselus preserved at Olympia, a comely Dikē throttled an ugly Adikia and beat her with a stick.
The later art of rhetoric treated the personification of abstract concepts as an artistic device, which devolved into the allegorizing that Late Antiquity bequeathed to patristic literature. In a further euhemerist interpretation, Dikē was born a mortal and Zeus placed her on Earth to keep mankind just. He quickly learned this was impossible and placed her next to him on Mount Olympus.
One of her epithets was Astraea, referring to her appearance as the constellation Virgo. According to Aratus' account of the constellation's origin, Dike lived upon Earth during the Golden and Silver ages, when there were no wars or diseases, men did not yet know how to sail, and men raised fine crops. They grew greedy, however, and Dike was sickened. She proclaimed:
Behold what manner of race the fathers of the Golden Age left behind them! Far meaner than themselves! but you will breed a viler progeny! Verily wars and cruel bloodshed shall be unto men and grievous woe shall be laid upon them.
—Aratus, Phaenomena 123
Dike left Earth for the sky, from which, as the constellation, she watched the despicable human race. After her departure, the human race declined into the Brazen Age, when diseases arose and they learned how to sail.
- Jeffrey M. Hurwit, "Narrative Resonance in the East Pediment of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia' The Art Bulletin 69.1 (March 1987:6-15).
- For example, in Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus, 1377, or in Plutarch's Life of Alexander 52, or, in yet another tradition, in the Orphic hymn 61. 2.
- See Walter Burkert, "The special character of Greek anthropomorphism", in Greek Religion III.4 (Harvard University Press) 1985:182-89.
- She is already given a genealogy, as daughter of Themis, in Hesiod, Theogony 901, and approaches the throne of Zeus with lamentation at human injustices in Works and Days, 239f, both poems ca. late seventh century BCE.
- Pindar, Thirteenth Olympian Ode 6 ff (Conway, tr.).
- Minutely described by Pausanias in the later second century CE (Pausanias, Description of Greece, v.18.2.
- Aratus (1921). Callimachus, Hymns and Epigrams. Lycophron. Aratus.. Loeb Classical Library 129. Mair, A. W. & G. R. (trans). London: William Heinemann. Phaenomena ll. 96-136.
- Theoi Project: Dike Excerpts from Greek literature in translation.