Nemesis (mythology)

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Nemesis, by Alfred Rethel (1837)

In Greek mythology, Nemesis (Greek, Νέμεσις), also called Rhamnousia/Rhamnusia ("the goddess of Rhamnous") at her sanctuary at Rhamnous, north of Marathon, was the spirit of divine retribution against those who succumb to hubris (arrogance before the deities). Another name was Adrasteia, meaning "the inescapable."[1] The Greeks personified vengeful fate as a remorseless goddess: the goddess of revenge.

The name Nemesis is related to the Greek word νέμειν [némein], meaning "to give what is due".[2]

Background[edit]

Divine retribution is a major theme in the Hellenic world view, providing the unifying theme of the tragedies of Sophocles and many other literary works.[3][4] Hesiod states: "Also deadly Nyx bore Nemesis an affliction to mortals subject to death." (Theogony, 223, though perhaps an interpolated line). Nemesis appears in a still more concrete form in a fragment of the epic Cypria.

She is implacable justice: that of Zeus in the Olympian scheme of things, although it is clear she existed prior to him, as her images look similar to several other goddesses, such as Cybele, Rhea, Demeter, and Artemis.[5]

Nemesis, Roman marble from Egypt, second century AD (Louvre)

As the "Goddess of Rhamnous", Nemesis was honored and placated in an archaic sanctuary in the isolated district of Rhamnous, in northeastern Attica. There she was a daughter of Oceanus, the primeval river-ocean that encircles the world. Pausanias noted her iconic statue there. It included a crown of stags and little Nikes and was made by Pheidias after the Battle of Marathon (490 BC), crafted from a block of Parian marble brought by the overconfident Persians, who had intended to make a memorial stele after their expected victory.[6]

Origins[edit]

Nemesis has been described as the daughter of Oceanus or Zeus, but according to Hesiod she was a child of Erebus and Nyx. She has also been described as the daughter of Nyx alone. Her cult may have originated at Smyrna.

In some metaphysical mythology, Nemesis produced the egg from which hatched two sets of twins: Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra, and the Dioscuri, Castor and Pollux. While many myths indicate Zeus and Leda to be the parents of Helen of Troy, the author of the compilation of myth called Bibliotheke notes the possibility of Nemesis being the mother of Helen. Nemesis, to avoid Zeus, turns into a goose, but he turns into a swan and mates with her. Nemesis in her bird form lays an egg that is discovered in the marshes by a shepherd, who passes the egg to Leda. It is in this way that Leda comes to be the mother of Helen of Troy, as she kept the egg in a chest until it hatched.[7]

Acts and deeds[edit]

Although a respected goddess, Nemesis had brought much sorrow to mortals such as Echo and Narcissus. Narcissus was a very beautiful and arrogant hunter from the territory of Thespiae and Boeotia, who disdained the ones who loved him. Nemesis lured him to a pool where he saw his own reflection in the water and fell in love with it, not realizing it was only an image. He was unable to leave the beauty of his reflection and he eventually died.[8] Nemesis believed that no one should ever have too much good, and she had always cursed those who were blessed with countless gifts.

Fortune and retribution[edit]

The word Nemesis originally meant the distributor of fortune, neither good nor bad, simply in due proportion to each according to what was deserved. Later, nemesis came to suggest the resentment caused by any disturbance of this right proportion, the sense of justice that could not allow it to pass unpunished.

O. Gruppe (1906) and others connect the name with "to feel just resentment". From the fourth century onward, Nemesis, as the just balancer of Fortune's chance, could be associated with Tyche.

In the Greek tragedies Nemesis appears chiefly as the avenger of crime and the punisher of hubris, and as such is akin to Atë and the Erinyes. She was sometimes called "Adrasteia", probably meaning "one from whom there is no escape"; her epithet Erinys ("implacable") is specially applied to Demeter and the Phrygian mother goddess, Cybele.

Local cult[edit]

A festival called Nemeseia (by some identified with the Genesia) was held at Athens. Its object was to avert the nemesis of the dead, who were supposed to have the power of punishing the living, if their cult had been in any way neglected (Sophocles, Electra, 792; E. Rohde, Psyche, 1907, i. 236, note I).

At Smyrna there were two manifestations of Nemesis, more akin to Aphrodite than to Artemis. The reason for this duality is hard to explain. It is suggested that they represent two aspects of the goddess, the kindly and the implacable, or the goddesses of the old city and the new city refounded by Alexander. The martyrology Acts of Pionius, set in the "Decian persecution" of AD 250–51, mentions a lapsed Smyrnan Christian who was attending to the sacrifices at the altar of the temple of these Nemeses.

Rome[edit]

Nemesis on a brass sestertius of Hadrian, struck at Rome AD 136

Pax-Nemesis was worshipped on occasion at Rome by victorious generals, and in imperial times was the patroness of gladiators and of the venatores, who fought in the arena with wild beasts, and was one of the tutelary deities of the drilling-ground (Nemesis campestris). Sometimes, but rarely, seen on imperial coinage, mainly under Claudius and Hadrian. In the third century AD there is evidence of the belief in an all-powerful Nemesis-Fortuna. She was worshipped by a society called Hadrian's freedmen. The poet Mesomedes wrote a hymn to Nemesis in the early second century AD, where he addressed her

Nemesis, winged balancer of life,
dark-faced goddess, daughter of Justice,

and mentioned her "adamantine bridles" that restrain "the frivolous insolences of mortals."

In early times the representations of Nemesis resembled Aphrodite, who sometimes bears the epithet Nemesis.

Later, as the maiden goddess of proportion and the avenger of crime, she has as attributes a measuring rod (tally stick), a bridle, scales, a sword, and a scourge, and she rides in a chariot drawn by griffins.

Nemesis is also known to have been called "Adrastia". Ammianus Marcellinus includes her in a digression on Justice following his description of the death of Gallus Caesar.[9]

In modern literature[edit]

  • Percy Jackson & the Olympians - Nemesis is mentioned as the goddess of revenge, and the mother of a minor antagonist, Ethan Nakamura, who claims Nemesis traded his eye for power.
  • The Heroes of Olympus - Nemesis appears in The Mark of Athena, and gives Leo Valdez a fortune cookie that can solve a problem he cannot solve on his own, for a price. She is mentioned to have a motorcycle with Pac-Man-like wheels.
  • Project: Nemesis is about a kaiju who was the basis for the myth of Nemesis. In the novel the monster is resurrected using the DNA of a murdered girl and cuts a path of destruction to Boston so it can exact revenge on the murderer.
  • In both A Caribbean Mystery and Nemesis, detective stories written by Agatha Christie, the main protagonist, Miss Marple, refers to herself or is referred to as 'Nemesis'.
  • Nemesis is a playable character in Smite (video game).
  • Nemesis is mentioned in Ryse: Son of Rome. In the games legend, which is played out in a flashback cutscene, Nemesis revived the warrior Damocles after he was betrayed by his generals so he can seek his revenge. It is unknown if the Goddess that helps the main protagonist Marius throughout the game is Nemesis.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 936; Euripides, Rhesus 342
  2. ^ Entry economy in the Online Etymological Dictionary
  3. ^ The Nemesis Theory, University of California, retrieved October 12, 2013 
  4. ^ Examples of Nemesis in Literature, retrieved October 12, 2013 
  5. ^ The primeval concept of Nemesis is traced by Marcel Mauss (Mauss, The Gift: the form and reason for exchange in archaic societies, 2002:23: "Generosity is an obligation, because Nemesis avenges the poor... This is the ancient morality of the gift, which has become a principle of justice". Jean Coman, in discussing Nemesis in Aeschylus (Coman, L'idée de la Némésis chez Eschyle, Strasbourg, 1931:40-43) detected "traces of a less rational, and probably older, concept of deity and its relationshiop to man", as Michael B. Hornum observed in Nemesis, the Roman State and the Games, 1993:9.
  6. ^ Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.33.2-3.
  7. ^ (Pseudo-Apollodorus) R. Scott Smith, Stephen Trzaskoma, and Hyginus. Apollodorus' Library and Hyginus' Fabulae: Two Handbooks of Greek Mythology. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub., 2007:60.
  8. ^ Ovid, Met. III.339-510 http://ovid.lib.virginia.edu/trans/Metamorph3.htm#476975712
  9. ^ Ammianus Marcellinus 14.11.25

References[edit]

External links[edit]