Dike (mythology)

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Goddess of justice and the spirit of moral order and fair judgement
Member of The Horae
An 1886 bas-relief figure of Dike Astraea in the Old Supreme Court Chamber at the Vermont State House
AbodeMount Olympus
SymbolScales / Balance
Personal information
ParentsZeus and Themis
SiblingsHorae, Eirene, Eunomia, Moirai
Roman equivalentJustitia

In Greek mythology, Dike or Dice[1] (/ˈdk/ or /ˈds/;[2] Greek: Δίκη, díkē, 'custom') is the goddess of justice and the spirit of moral order and fair judgement as a transcendent universal ideal or 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. She and her mother are both personifications of justice. She is depicted as a young, slender woman carrying a balance scale and wearing a laurel wreath. The constellation Libra (the Scales) was anciently thought to represent her distinctive symbol.

She is often associated with Astraea, the goddess of innocence and purity. Astraea is also one of her epithets, referring to her appearance in the nearby constellation Virgo which is said to represent Astraea. This reflects her symbolic association with Astraea, who, too, has a similar iconography.


The sculptures of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia have as their unifying iconographical conception the dikē of Zeus,[3] and in poetry she is often the attendant (πάρεδρος, paredros) of Zeus.[4] In the philosophical climate of late 5th century Athens, dikē could be anthropomorphised[5] as a goddess of moral justice.[6] She was one of the three second-generation Horae, along with Eunomia ("order") and Eirene ("peace"):[7]

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.[8] Her opposite was adikia ("injustice"); in reliefs on the archaic Chest of Cypselus preserved at Olympia,[9] an attractive depiction Dikē throttled an ugly depiction of 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.

Dike Astraea[edit]

One of her epithets was Astraea, referring to her appearance as the constellation Virgo. According to Aratus's account of the constellation's origin, Dike lived upon Earth during the Golden and Silver ages, when there were no wars or diseases, men raised fine crops and did not yet know how to sail.[10] 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 Bronze Age, when diseases arose and humanity learned how to sail.

In the Bible[edit]

The consensus of most biblical scholars[11] is that the book of Acts contains a reference to Dike in its final chapter. In Acts 27, the Apostle Paul is conducted toward Rome under guard after having appealed his legal case to Caesar.[12] After getting caught in a storm, having their boat ran aground, and narrowly escaped death making it to shore,[13] they discovered they had landed on Malta and were cared for by the local populace.[14] While helping to fuel the fire, Paul was bitten by snake, and the locals concluded, "No doubt this man is a murderer! Although he has escaped from the sea, Justice herself has not allowed him to live" (NET)![15][16] Ben Witherington III writes of this incident,

Pliny the Elder indicates it was a common belief, even among the educated, that all snakes were poisonous and that they were often agents of divine vengeance. This comports with what follows, where they are indeed depicted as "religious" in a primitive sense and see the snake as an agent of Justice. Perhaps the Maltans were familiar with some of the stories we now find in the Greek Anthology, for example, about a shipwrecked sailor who escapes storm at sea only to be bitten by a viper and die.[17]

It was common belief of the time that the sea was a place where the gods could exact vengeance, and the snakebite was likely perceived as Dike pursuing Paul after surviving the shipwreck.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Smith, William (1880). A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: John Murray. p. 1002. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  2. ^ Gardner, Dorsey (1887). Webster's Condensed Dictionary. George Routledge and Sons. p. 719. Retrieved 10 April 2018.
  3. ^ Hurwit, Jeffrey M (March 1987), "Narrative Resonance in the East Pediment of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia", The Art Bulletin, 69 (1): 6–15, doi:10.1080/00043079.1987.10788398.
  4. ^ Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus 1377; Plutarch, Life of Alexander 52; Orphic Hymn to Dike (61), 2 (Athanassakis and Wolkow, p. 50).
  5. ^ Burkert, Walter (1985), "The special character of Greek anthropomorphism", Greek Religion, Harvard University Press, III (4): 182–89.
  6. ^ 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 c. late 7th century BCE.
  7. ^ Pindar, Thirteenth Olympian Ode, translated by Conway, 6 ff.
  8. ^ Brill's New Pauly, s.v. Dike.
  9. ^ Minutely described by Pausanias in the later second century CE. (Pausanias, 5.18.2).
  10. ^ Aratus (1921). "Phaenomena". Callimachus, Hymns and Epigrams. Lycophron. Aratus. Loeb Classical Library. Vol. 129. Mair, A. W. & G. R. (trans). London: William Heinemann. ll. 96–136.
  11. ^ E.g., David Peterson ((2009). The Acts of the Apostles. In The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans.), John Pohill ((1992). Acts In The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman.), and Ben Witherington ((1998). The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.)
  12. ^ Acts 25:11
  13. ^ Acts 27:1-44
  14. ^ Acts 28:1-2
  15. ^ Acts 28:4, NET
  16. ^ NA28, SBLGNT, and UBS5 all agree with the reading Πάντως φονεύς ἐστιν ὁ ἄνθρωπος οὗτος ὃν διασωθέντα ἐκ τῆς θαλάσσης ἡ δίκη ζῆν οὐκ εἴασεν.
  17. ^ Witherington III, Ben (1998). The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 778.
  18. ^ Ladouceur, David (1980). "Hellenistic Preconceptions of Shipwreck and Pollution as a Concept for Acts 27–28." in Harvard Theological Review 73, 435–49.