Nemesis in Greek Mythology — The Goddess of Revenge, Retribution and Fortune

Nemesis in Greek Mythology — The Goddess of Revenge, Retribution and Fortune

Who is Nemesis in Greek Mythology?

Nemesis was the goddess of Revenge, Retribution and Fortune, in Greek mythology. She enacts retribution against those who succumb to hubris, i.e., arrogance before the gods. She was also called Adrasteia, meaning “the inescapable,” or the “Goddess of Rhamnous” in recognition of her famous temple in the city Rhamnous. Nemesis was said to be the daughter of the primordial god Oceanus, but according to Hesiod, she was a child of Erebus and Nyx.

We’ve somewhat already discussed the topic of divine law and the pragmatic and unbiased approach taken by Themis when creating the laws that mankind and the gods governed by. But today, we’ll be focusing on the goddess Nemesis and her drastically different view on punishment and retribution.

Parents of Nemesis

Nemesis was the goddess that would enact retribution against those who performed evil deeds or whom she perceived as heaven undeserved good fortune. Like so many of the most ancient deities within Greek mythology, Nemesis was just one of the many children of Nyx.

Although she was mostly depicted as having no father, some believe that her father could have been anyone from Oceanus to Erebus, to perhaps, even Zeus.

Meaning of Her Name—Nemesis

Nemesis went by several names, including Rhamnousia, the goddess of Rhamnous, an ancient coastal city in Greece. And perhaps, the most fitting, Adrestia, meaning the inescapable; we can assume referring to her inescapable wrath and retribution.

The named Nemesis itself was thought to mean “she who distributes” or “deals out”. Once again, referring to her distribution of punishment, justice and retribution.

Children and Lovers of Nemesis

The children of Nemesis are a fairly debated topic. Helen of Troy is widely regarded to be the daughter of Zeus and the mortal woman Leda. But there are tales where it was instead Nemesis that was considered Helen’s mother.

In a last-ditch attempt to avoid the advances of Zeus, she turned herself into an animal—that animals a goose—but Zeus, being the ever-persistent god he was, transformed himself into a swan and mated of Nemesis.

In this bird form, she would lay an egg—an egg that will be later found by a shepherd, who will give this egg to Leda. Leda would keep this egg in a chest until it hatched, and when it did, she would raise her in Troy and assume the role of her mother.

Nemesis Role as a Goddess

Nemesis was seen as being able to measure one’s happiness. She could see whether that happiness was too frequent or too excessive. If she deemed that this happiness was undeserved in some way, she would bring loss and suffering to even up the scales.

There’s no doubt that the actions of Nemesis still appeared to be somewhat calculated but nowhere near the level of Themis. She was still known to act swiftly, with no pity or mercy.

We can see her as directing human affairs in a way that maintains the equilibrium; those exploiting others or shown excessive hubris towards the gods would be very quickly dealt with, often falling back in line.

Echo and Narcissus

The Story of Echo and Narcissus — A Tragic Story of Vanity

She was particularly known to concern herself with matters of love, and she makes an appearance in the famous story of Echo and Narcissus.

Narcissus was extremely beautiful, but he was also extremely arrogant along with his beauty, hating all those that dare to fall in love with him. This arrogance angered Nemesis, and so, she lured him into a pool, where he could see his reflection in the river. And upon doing so, he fell instantly in love with the image he saw, not knowing that it was, in fact, his own.

Unable to leave the beauty that was his reflection, he would eventually die. Nemesis saw the beauty that Narcissus was gifted as undeserved, and the way he treated those who dare to fall in love with him was enough for the goddess to intervene and, in her punishment, eventually caused his death.

Read the full story here: Narcissus: The Story of Echo and Narcissus — A Tragic Story of Vanity

Depiction of Nemesis

Nemesis, by Alfred Rethel (1837)

Nemesis would often be depicted as a winged goddess, undoubtedly because it would make an escape in her pursuit almost impossible. The ancient Greek poet, Mesomedes, wrote a hymn to Nemesis, where he addressed her as “Nemesis, winged balancer of life, dark-faced goddess, daughter of Justice.”

She was known to carry with her a sword, a lash, and a dagger, to enact punishment, but she would also carry scales, a measuring rod, and a bridle that she would sometimes use to ride her griffin (gryphon) drawn chariot.

In Conclusion

Nemesis was a deity in Greek mythology that almost had free rein to do as she pleased. The gods weren’t known to punish mortals unless it was to make an example of particular individuals. This role of punishment and enforcing the law amongst mortals thought to a handful of goddesses, who for the most part did as Themis instructed them.

Nemesis being the goddess of revenge and retribution, was, of course, the exception. She would punish anyone who was seen as disrespecting the gods, and she was even seen as delivering good and bad fortune.

Image Sources: Wikipedia


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