Dispenser of Dues
NEMESIS was the goddess of indignation against, and retribution for, evil deeds and undeserved good fortune. She was a personification of the resentment aroused in men by those who commited crimes with apparent impunity, or who had inordinate good fortune.
Nemesis directed human affairs in such a way as to maintain equilibrium. Her name means she who distributes or deals out. Happiness and unhappiness were measured out by her, care being taken that happiness was not too frequent or too excessive. If this happened, Nemesis could bring about losses and suffering. As one who checked extravagant favours by Tykhe (Tyche) (Fortune), Nemesis was regarded as an avenging or punishing divinity.
In myth Nemesis was particularly concerned with matters of love. She appears as an avenging agent in the stories of Narkissos and Nikaia, whose callous actions brought about the death of their wooers. In some versions of the Trojan War, she was the mother of Helene, and is shown in scenes of her seduction by Paris pointing an accusing finger at the girl.
Nemesis was often sometimes depicted as a winged goddess. Her attributes were apple-branch, rein, lash, sword, or balance. Her name was derived from the Greek words nemêsis and nemô, meaning "dispenser of dues." The Romans usually used the Greek name of the goddess but sometimes also named her Invidia (Jealousy) and Rivalitas (Jealous Rivalry).
FAMILY OF NEMESIS
[1.1] NYX (no father) (Hesiod Theogony 223, Pausanias 7.5.3)
[1.2] EREBOS & NYX (Hyginus Preface, Cicero De Natura Deorum 3.17)
[2.1] OKEANOS (Pausanias 7.5.3, Nonnus Dionysiaca 48.375, Tzetzes on Lycophron 88)
[3.1] ZEUS (Homerica Cypria Frag 8)
NE′MESIS (Nemesis), is most commonly described as a daughter of Night, though some call her a daughter of Erebus (Hygin. Fab. Praef.) or of Oceanus (Tzetz. ad Lyc. 88; Paus. i. 33. § 3, vii. 5. § 1). Nemesis is a personification of the moral reverence for law, of the natural fear of committing a culpable action, and hence of conscience, and for this reason she is mentioned along with Aidôs, i. e. Shame (Hes. Theog. 223, Op. et D. 183). In later writers, as Herodotus and Pindar, Nemesis is a kind of fatal divinity, for she directs human affairs in such a manner as to restore the right proportions or equilibrium wherever it has been disturbed; she measures out happiness and unhappiness, and he who is blessed with too many or too frequent gifts of fortune, is visited by her with losses and sufferings, in order that he may become humble, and feel that there are bounds beyond which human happiness cannot proceed with safety. This notion arose from a belief that the gods were envious of excessive human happiness (Herod. i. 34, iii. 40; Pind. Ol. viii. in fin., Pyth. x. 67). Nemesis was thus a check upon extravagant favours conferred upon man by Tyche or Fortune, and from this idea lastly arose that of her being an avenging and punishing power of fate, who, like Dike and the Erinyes, sooner or later overtakes the reckless sinner (Apollon. Rhod. iv. 1043; Sophocl. Philoct. 518; Eurip. Orest. 1362; Catull. 50, in fin.; Orph. Hymn. 60). The inhabitants of Smyrna worshipped two Nemeses, both of whom were daughters of Night (Paus. vii. 5. § 1). She is frequently mentioned under the surnames Adrasteia and Rhamnusia or Rhamnusis, the latter of which she derived from the town of Rhamnus in Attica, where she had a celebrated sanctuary (Paus. i. 33. § 2). Besides the places already mentioned she was worshipped at Patrae (Paus. vii. 20, in fin.) and at Cyzicus (Strab. p. 588). She was usually represented in works of art as a virgin divinity, and in the more ancient works she seems to have resembled Aphrodite, whereas in the later ones she was more grave and serious, and had numerous attributes. But there is an allegorical tradition that Zeus begot by Nemesis at Rhamnus an egg, which Leda found, and from which Helena and the Dioscuri sprang, whence Helena herself is called Rhamnusis (Callim. Hymn. in Dian. 232; Paus. i. 33. § 7). On the pedestal of the Rhamnusian Nemesis, Leda was represented leading Helena to Nemesis (Paus. l. c.) Respecting the resemblance between her statue and that of Aphrodite, see Plin. H. N. xxxvi. 4; comp. Paus. i. 33. § 2; Strab. pp. 396, 399.) The Rhamnusian statue bore in its left hand a branch of an apple tree, in its right hand a patera, and on its head a crown, adorned with stags and an image of victory. Sometimes she appears in a pensive standing attitude, holding in her left hand a bridle or a branch of an ash tree, and in her right a wheel, with a sword or a scourge.
ADRASTEIA (Adrasteia). A surname of Nemesis, which is derived by some writers from Adrastus, who is said to have built the first sanctuary of Nemesis on the river Asopus (Strab. xiii. p. 588), and by others from the verb didraskein, according to which it would signify the goddess whom none can escape. (Valcken. ad Herod. iii. 40.)
ICHNAEA (Ichnaia), that is, the tracing goddess, occurs as a surname of Themis, though in her case it may have been derived from the town of Ichnae, where she was worshipped (Hom. Hymn. in Apoll. Del. 94; Lycoph. 129; Strab. ix. p. 435 ; Steph. Byz. s. v. Ichnai), and a surname of Nemesis. (Brunck, Anal. ii. pp. 1. 86.)
RHAMNU′SIA a surname of Nemesis, who had a celebrated temple at Rhamnus in Attica. (Paus. i. 33. § 2, vii. 5. § 3; Strab. ix. p. 396, &c.; Steph. Byz. s.v.)
Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.
CLASSICAL LITERATURE QUOTES
PARENTAGE OF NEMESIS
I. DAUGHTER OF NYX
Hesiod, Theogony 21 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.) :
"And Nyx (Night) bare hateful Moros (Doom) and black Ker (Violent Death) and Thanatos (Death), and she bare Hypnos (Sleep) and the tribe of Oneiroi (Dreams). And again the goddess murky Nyx, though she lay with none, bare Momos (Blame) and painful Oizys (Misery), and the Hesperides . . . Also she bare the Moirai (Moirae, Fates) and the ruthless avenging Keres (Death-Fates) . . . Also deadly Nyx bare Nemesis (Envy) to afflict mortal men, and after her, Apate (Deceit) and Philotes (Friendship) and hateful Geras (Old Age) and hard-hearted Eris (Strife)."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 7. 5. 3 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"[The people of Smyrna in Aiolia (Aeolia) in Anatolia] believe in two Nemeses instead of one, saying their mother is Nyx."
Pseudo-Hyginus, Preface (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"From Nox (Night) and Erebus : Fatum (Fate), Senectus (Old Age), Mors (Death), Letum (Dissolution), Continentia (Moderation), Somnus (Sleep), Somnia (Dreams), Amor (Love)--that is Lysimeles--, Epiphron (Prudence), Porphyrion, Epaphus, Discordia (Discord), Miseria (Misery), Petulantia (Wantonness), Nemesis (Retribution), Euphrosyne (Good Cheer), Amicitia (Friendship), Misericordia (Compassion), Styx (Hatred); the three Parcae (Fates), namely Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos; the Hesperides Aegle, Hesperie and Aerica."
[N.B. The Greek name Nemesis is used by this Roman writer.]
Cicero, De Natura Deorum 3. 17 (trans. Rackham) (Roman rhetorician C1st B.C.) :
"Their [Aether and Hemera's] brothers and sisters, whom the ancient genealogists name Amor (Love), Dolus (Guile), Metus (Fear), Labor (Toil), Invidentia (Envy) [i.e. Nemesis], Fatum (Fate), Senectus (Old Age), Mors (Death), Tenebrae (Darkness), Miseria (Misery), Querella (Complaint), Gratia (Favour), Fraus (Fraud), Pertinacia (Obstinacy), the Parcae (Fates), the Hesperides, the Somnia (Dreams): all of these are fabled to be the children of Erebus (Darkness) and Nox (Night)."
[N.B. Cicero names Nemesis Invidentia in this Latin text.]
II. DAUGHTER OF OCEANUS (OKEANOS)
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 33. 4 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"Okeanos (Oceanus) is the father of Nemesis [of Rhamnos]."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 7. 5. 3 :
"The Athenians say that the father of the goddess in Rhamnos [Nemesis] is Okeanos (Oceanus)."
III. DAUGHTER OF ZEUS
Stasinus of Cyprus or Hegesias of Aegina, Cypria Fragment 8 (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th or C6th B.C.) :
"Nemesis tried to escape him [Zeus] and liked not to lie in love with her father Zeus the son of Kronos (Cronus)."
NEMESIS MOTHER OF HELEN OF TROY
Stasinus of Cyprus or Hegesias of Aegina, Cypria Fragment 8 (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th or C6th B.C.) :
"Rich-haired Nemesis gave birth to her [Helene (Helen)] when she had been joined in love with Zeus the king of the gods by harsh violence. For Nemesis tried to escape him and liked not to lie in love with her father Zeus the son of Kronos (Cronus); for shame and indignation vexed her heart: therefore she fled him over the land and fruitless dark sea. But Zeus ever pursued and longed in his heart to catch her. Now she took the form of a fish and sped over the waves of the loud-roaring sea, and now over Okeanos' (Oceanus') stream and the furthest bounds of Earth, and now she sped over the furrowed land, always turning into such dread creatures as the dry land nurtures, that she might escape him."
Lycophron, Alexandra 86 ff (trans. Mair) (Greek poet C3rd B.C.) :
"I see the winged firebrand [Paris] rushing to seize the dove [Helene], the hound of Pephnos, whom the water-roaming vulture [i.e. Nemesis in the form of a goose] brought to birth, husked in a rounded shell."
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 127 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Nemesis, as she fled from Zeus' embrace, took the form of a goose; whereupon Zeus as a swan had intercourse with her. From this union she laid an egg, which some herdsman found among the trees and handed over to Lede (Leda). She kept it in a box, and when Helene was hatched after the proper length of time, she reared her as her own."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 33. 4 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"I will now go on to describe what is figures on the pedestal of the statue [of Nemesis at Rhamnos], having made this preface for the sake of clearness. The Greeks say that Nemesis was the mother of Helene (Helen), while Leda suckled and nursed her. The father of Helene the Greeks like everybody else hold to be not Tyndareos (Tyndareus) but Zeus. Having heard this legend [the sculptor] Pheidias has represented Helene as being led to Nemesis by Leda, and he has represented Tyndareos and his children."
Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 8 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Constellation Swan (Cygnus). When Jupiter [Zeus], moved by desire, had begun to love Nemesis, and couldn't persuade her to lie with him, he relieved his passion by the following plan. He bade Venus [Aphrodite], in the form of an eagle, pursue him; he, changed to a swan, as if in flight from the eagle, took refuge with Nemesis and lighted in her lap. Nemesis did not thrust him away, but holding him in her arms, fell into a deep sleep. While she slept, Jupiter [Zeus] embraced her, and then flew away. Because he was seen by men flying high in the sky, they said he was put in the stars. To make this really true, Jupiter put the swan flying and the eagle pursuing in the sky. But Nemesis, as if wedded to the tribe of birds, when her months were ended, bore an egg. Mercurius (Mercury) [Hermes] took it away and carried it to Sparta and threw it in Leda's lap. From it sprang Helen, who excelled all other girls in beauty."
OTHER CHILDREN OF NEMESIS
Bacchylides, Fragment 52 (from Tzetzes on Theogony) (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric IV) (Greek lyric C5th B.C.) :
"The four famous Telkhines (Telchines), Aktaios (Actaeus), Megalesios (Megalesius), Ormenos (Ormenus) and Lykos (Lycus), whom Bakkhylides (Bacchylides) calls the children of Nemesis and Tartaros."
[N.B. Tartaros is the spirit of the great pit beneath the earth.]
NEMESIS GODDESS OF INDIGNATION & PUNISHER OF HUBRIS
Nemesis was the goddess of righteous indignation and the punisher of hubristic boasts.
Hesiod, Works and Days 175 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.) :
"Would that I were not among the men of the fifth age, but either had died before or been born afterwards. For now truly is a race of iron, and men never rest from labour (kamatos) and sorrow (oizys) by day, and from perishing by night; and the gods shall lay sore trouble upon them. But, notwithstanding, even these shall have some good mingled with their evils. And Zeus will destroy this race of mortal men also when they come to have grey hair on the temples at their birth. The father will not agree with his children, nor the children with their father, nor guest with his host, nor comrade with comrade; nor will brother be dear to brother as aforetime. Men will dishonour their parents as they grow quickly old, and will carp at them, chiding them with bitter words, hard-hearted they, not knowing the fear of the gods. They will not repay their aged parents the cost their nurture, for might shall be their right: and one man will sack another's city. There will be no favour (kharis) for the man who keeps his oath or for the just (dikaios) or for the good (agathos); but rather men will praise the evil-doer (kakos) and his violent dealing (hybris). Strength will be right (dike) and reverence (aidos) will cease to be; and the wicked will hurt the worthy man, speaking false words against him, and will swear an oath upon them. Envy (zelos), foul-mouthed, delighting in evil, with scowling face, will go along with wretched men one and all.
And then Aidos (Aedos, Shame) and Nemesis (Indignation), with their sweet forms wrapped in white robes, will go from the wide-pathed earth and forsake mankind to join the company of the deathless gods: and bitter sorrows (lugra algea) will be left for mortal men, and there will be no help against evil."
Pindar, Olympian Ode 8. 86 ff (trans. Conway) (Greek lyric C5th B.C.) :
"I pray that to their share of noble fortunes he [Zeus] send no Nemesis of jealous will, but in prosperity and free from ills, exalt them and their city."
Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 932 ff (trans. Weir Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"Chorus : How is it that you are not afraid to utter such taunts [against Zeus]?
Prometheus : Why should I fear since I am fated not to die?
Chorus : But he might inflict on you an ordeal even more bitter than this.
Prometheus : Let him, for all I care! I am prepared for anything.
Choru s: Wise are they who do homage to Adrasteia (the Inescapable)."
[N.B. Adrasteia is Nemesis. To bow down before Adrasteia means seeking to avert, by some gesture of humility, the evil consequences of boastful speech.]
Aeschylus, Fragment 79 Niobe (from Strabo, Geography 12. 7. 18) :
"[Tantalos (Tantalus), the father of Niobe, speaks :] ‘I sow a field twelve days' journey wide, even the Berekynthian (Berecynthian) land, where Adrasteia's seat and Ida resound with lowing oxen and bleating sheep, and the whole plain roars.’"
[N.B. "Adrasteia's seat" refers to the Trojan town of that name where the goddess Adrasteia-Nemesis was worshipped. In the story of Niobe, Nemesis represents the indignation of the gods aroused by her impious boasts.]
Aeschylus, Fragment 148 Ransom of Hector (from Stobaeus, Anthology 4. 57. 6) :
"[Hermes commands Akhilleus (Achilles) return the body of Hektor (Hector) :] ‘And it unto the dead thou art fain to do good, or if thou wouldst work them ill--'tis all one, since they feel not or joy or grief. Nevertheless Nemesis (our righteous resentment) is mightier than they, and Dike (Justice) executeth the dead man's wrath.’"
Plato, Laws 716c (trans. Lamb) (Greek philosopher C4th B.C.) :
"Throughout all his life he must diligently observe reverence of speech towards his parents above all things, seeing that for light and winged words there is a most heavy penalty,--for over all such matters Nemesis (Rightful Indignation), messenger of Dike (Justice), is appointed to keep watch; wherefore the son must yield to his parents when they are wroth."
Callimachus, Fragment 687 (trans. Trypanis) (Greek poet C3rd B.C.) :
"Goddess [Nemesis], for whom the women spit on their bosoms."
[N.B. It was a custom to exorcize the goddess to avert jealousy.]
Callimachus, Hymn 6 to Demeter 57 ff (trans. Mair) (Greek poet C3rd B.C.) :
"[The impious king Erysikhthon (Erysichthon) felled trees in the sacred grove of the goddess Demeter to build himself a banquet hall :]
Demeter marked that her holy tree was in pain, and she as angered and said : ‘Who cuts down my fir tree?’
Straightway she likened her to [the priestess] Nikippe (Nicippe) . . . And she spake to soothe the wicked and shameless man and said : ‘My child, who cutest down the trees which are dedicated to the gods, stay, my child, child of thy parents' many prayers, cease and turn back thine attendants, lest the lady Demeter be angered, whose holy place thou makest desolate.’
But with a look more fierce than that wherewith a lioness looks on the hunter on the hills of Tmaros--a lioness with new-born cubs, whose eye they say is of all most terrible--he said : ‘Vie back, lest I fix my great axe in thy flesh! These trees shall make my tight dwelling wherein evermore I shall hold pleasing banquets enough for my companions.’
So spake the youth and Nemesis (Righteous Indignation) recorded his evil speech. [Demeter then cursed the king with insatiable hunger.]"
Orphic Hymn 61 to Nemesis (trans. Taylor) (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.) :
"Hymn to Nemesis. Thee, Nemesis, I call, almighty queen, by whom the deeds of mortal life are seen: eternal, much revered, of boundless sight, alone rejoicing in the just and right : changing the counsels of the human breast for ever various, rolling without rest. To every mortal is thy influence known, and men beneath thy righteous bondage groan; for every thought within the mind concealed is to thy sight perspicuously revealed. The soul unwilling reason to obey, by lawless passion ruled, thine eyes survey. All to see, hear, and rule, O power divine, whose nature equity contains, is thine. Come, blessed, holy Goddess, hear my prayer, and make thy mystics' life thy constant care: give aid benignant in the needful hour, and strength abundant to the reasoning power; and far avert the dire, unfriendly race of counsels impious, arrogant, and base."
Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 1. 25 (trans. Conybeare) (Greek biography C1st to C2nd A.D.) :
"It is here [in a palace in Babylon] that the king gives judgement, and golden wrynecks are hung from the ceiling, four in number, to remind him of Adrasteia [Nemesis] and to engage him not exalt himself not to exalt himself above humanity."
Ovid, Metamorphoses 3. 402 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"[Narkissos (Narcissus) fled from the embrace of Ekho (Echo), mocking the Nymphe :]
He bolted, shouting ‘Keep your arms from me! Be off! I'll die before I yield to you.’ . . . Shamed and rejected in the woods she hides and has her dwelling in the lonely caves [her body wasted away leaving just the echo of her voice] . . . Thus had Narcissus mocked her; others too, Nymphae (Nymphs) of Hill and Water and many a man he mocked; till one scorned youth, with raised hands, prayed, ‘So may he love--and never win his love!’
And Rhamnusia [Nemesis] approved the righteous prayer . . . [She then caused Narkissos to fall in love with his own reflection and waste away.]."
Ovid, Metamorphoses 14. 693 ff :
"And you should fear the vengeance of the gods, Idalie [Aphrodite] who hates a stony heart [conceited pride], the wrath, the unforgotten wrath of Rhamnusis [Nemesis]."
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 1. 481 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"[The giant Typhoeus boasts about what he will do when he has conquered Olympos :] He spoke, and Adrasteia [Nemesis] took note of his words thus far."
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 15. 392 & 417 ff :
"[The Nymphe Nikaia (Nicaea) callously killed Hymnos (Hymnus), a young shepherd who had falled in love with her :]
Adrasteia [Nemesis] saw the murderous girl [Nikaia], Adrasteia saw the body panting under the steel, and pointed out the newly slain corpse to the Kyprian (Cyprian) [Aphrodite], and upbraided Eros himself [at the injustice] . . . Both Pan Nomios (of Shepherds) and Phoibos (Phoebus) [Apollon] cried out aloud [when they saw Nikaia's crime] : ‘A curse on the fife! Where is Nemesis? Where is Kypris (Cypris)[Aphrodite]? Eros (Love), handle not your quiver.’"
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 16. 263 ff :
"Eros (Love) espied her [Nikaia (Nicaea)] sleeping, and pointed her out to Bakkhos (Bacchus), pitying Hymnos; Nemesis laughed at the sight. And sly Dionysos with shoes that made no noise crept soundless to his bridal."
[N.B. Nikaia's punishment for killing Hymnos was to be raped by the god Dionysos.]
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 37. 423 ff :
"Such were the proud words that Akhates (Achates) shouted in mockery : but Nemesis recorded that big speech."
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 48. 375 ff :
"[Aura, a companion of Artemis, arrogantly mocked the goddess, declaring herself to be superior in her virginity :]
Artemis betook herself to Nemesis, and found her on the heights of Tauros (Taurus) in the clouds, where beside neighbouring Kydnos (Cydnus) she had ended the proudnecked boasting of Typhon's (Typhoeus') threats. A wheel turned itself round before the queen's feet, signifying that she rolls all the proud from on high to the ground with the avenging wheel of justice, she the allvanquishing deity who turns the path of life. Round her throne flew a bird of vengeance, a Gryps (Griffin) flying with wings, or balancing himself on four feet, to go unbidden before the flying goddess and show that she herself traverses the four separate quarters of the world: highcrested men she bridles with her bit which none can shake off, such is the meaning of the image, and she rolls a haughty fellow about as it were with the whip of misery, like a self-rolling wheel.
When the goddess beheld Artemis with pallid face, she knew that she was offended and full of deadly threatenings, and questioned her in friendly words: ‘Your looks, Archeress, proclaim your anger. Artemis, what impious son of Earth persecutes you? What second Typhoeus has sprung up from the ground? [Nemesis recounts some of those punished by Artemis for their arrogance :] Has Tityos (Tityus) risen again rolling a lovemad eye, and touched the robe of your untouchable mother [Leto]? Where is your bow, Artemis, where are Apollon's arrows? What Orion is using force against you once more? The wretch that touched your dress still lies in his mother's flanks, a lifeless corpse; if any man has clutched your garments with lustful hands, grow another scorpion to avenge your girdle. If bold Otos (Otus) again, or boastful Ephialtes, has desired to win your love so far beyond his reach, then slay the pretender to your unwedded virginity. If some prolific wife provokes your mother Leto, let her weep for her children, another Niobe of stone. Why should not I make another stone on Sipylos? Is your father pestering you to marry as he did with Athena? Surely Kronion (Cronion) [Zeus] has not promised you to Hermes for a wife, as he promised pure Athena to Hephaistos (Hephaestus) in wedlock? But if some woman is persecuting you as one did your mother Leto, I will be the avenger of the offended Archeress.’
She had not finished, when the puppybreeding maiden broke in and said to the goddess who saves men from evil : ‘Virgin allvanquishing, guide of creation . . . it is that sour virgin Aura, the daughter of Lelantos (Lelantus), who mocks me and offends me with rude sharp words. But how can I tell you all she said? I am ashamed to describe her calumny of my body and her abuse of my breasts. I have suffered just as my mother did: we are both alike--in Phrygia Niobe offended Leto the mother of twins, in Phrygia again impious Aura offended me. But Niobe paid for it by passing into a changeling form, that daughter of Tantalos (Tantalus) whose children were her sorrow, and she still weeps with stony eyes; I alone am insulted and bear my disgrace without vengeance, but Aura the champion of chastity has washed no stone with tears, she has seen no fountain declaring the faults of her uncontrolled tongue. I pray you, uphold the dignity of your Titan birth. Grant me a boon like my mother, that I may see Aura's body transformed into stone immovable; leave not a maiden of your own race in sorrow, that I may not see Aura mocking me again and not to be turned--or let your sickle of beaten bronze drive her to madness!’
She spoke, and the goddess replied with encouraging words : ‘Chaste daughter of Leto, huntress, sister of Phoibos (Phoebus), I will not use my sickle to chastise a Titan girl, I will not make the maiden a stone in Phrygia, for I am myself born of the ancient race of Titanes (Titans) [i.e. Nemesis was a daughter of Okeanos (Oceanus)], and her father Lelantos might blame me when he heard: but one boon I will grant you, Archeress. Aura the maid of the hunt has reproached your virginity, and she shall be a virgin no longer. You shall see her in the bed of a mountain stream weeping fountains of tears for her maiden girdle.’
So she consoled her; and Artemis the maiden entered her car with its team of four prickets, left the mountain and drove back to Phrygia. With equal speed the maiden Adrasteia [Nemesis] pursued her obstinate enemy Aura. She had harnessed racing Grypes (Griffins) under her bridle; quick through the air she coursed in the swift car, until she tightened the curving bits of her fourfooted birds, and drew up on the peak of Sipylos in front of the face of Tantalos's daughter [Niobe] with eyeballs of stone. Then she approached haughty Aura. She flicked the proud neck of the hapless girl with her snaky whip, and struck her with the round wheel of justice, and bent the foolish unbending will. Argive Adrasteia (the Unavoidable) [Nemesis] let the whip with its vipers curl round the maiden's girdle, doing pleasure to Artemis and to Dionysos while he was still indignant; and although she was herself unacquainted with love [although Nemesis was later seduced by Zeus], she prepared another love . . . Nemesis now flew back to snowbeaten Tauros until she reached Kydnos (Cydnus) again. And Eros (Love) drove Dionysos mad for the girl with the delicious wound of his arrow, then curving his wings flew lightly to Olympos."
Suidas s.v. Adrasteia Nemesis (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek Lexicon C10th A.D.) :
"Adrasteia Nemesis : From her, someone could not run away (apodraseien). ‘Nemesis Adrasteia follows him, avenging haughty and unrestrained words.’ So Nemesis Adrasteia [is named] from Adrastos (Adrastus). [Applied] to those first experiencing good fortune but later bad; for of the descendents of those who campaigned against the Thebans, only Aigialeus the son of Adrastos was killed."
Suidas s.v. Adrasteia :
"Adrasteia : Some say she is the same thing as Nemesis, and that she took the name from a particular king, Adrastos (Adrastus). Alternatively from the ancient Adrastos who suffered divine wrath (nemesis) for his boasts against the Thebans, who had established a shrine of Nemesis, which after these things acquired the name Adrasteia. Demetrios (Demetrius) of Skepsis says that Adrasteia is Artemis, [in a cult] established by one Adrastos. Antimakhos (Antimachus) says : ‘there is a certain great goddess Nemesis, who apportions out all these things to the blessed; Adrestos was the first to set up an altar for her by the flowing river [Asopos (Asopus)].’ Some, however, add that she is different from Nemesis herself: so Menandros (Menander) and Nikostratos (Nicostratus)."
Suidas s.v. Nemesis :
"Nemesis : Justice. Aristophanes [writes] : ‘O Nemesis, and deep-roaring thunderclaps.’"
Suidas s.v. Nemesis :
"Nemesis : Vengeance, justice, outrage, [divine] jealousy, fortune. ‘Perceiving Nemesis, the executioner of braggarts, who pursued them with justice.’ And again : ‘he did not escape the notice of Nemesis who opposes all the arrogant, but was compelled to be taught a lesson in his own misfortunes.’ ‘Nemesis was present, she who watches the things of the earth’; or in other words, she who watches unjust acts. Babrios (Babrius) says [this] in the Fables. And Aelian [says] : ‘palpable evidence of Nemesis the overseer, chastizing proud and disdainful ways.’
And a proverb : ‘At least Nemesis walks at your feet’; that is to say that the goddess swiftly pursues wrong-doers. 'Unnoticed she walks at your feet, snaps your haughty neck, and always holds sway over your sustenance with her forearm.'"
The Romans occasionally named Nemesis Invidia and described her as a goddess not only of the jealous indignation aroused by hubristic boasts but also as the goddess of jealousy in general.
Ovid, Metamorphoses 2. 760 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"[Athena was angry with the daughters of Kekrops (Cecrops) for betraying her trust by spying upon the infant Erikhthonios (Erichthonius) :]
Straightway she [Pallas Athene] sought the filthy slimy shack where Invidia (Envy) dwelt deep in a dreary dale, a gruesome sunless hovel, filled with frost, heart-numbing frost, its stagnant air unstirred by any breeze, for ever lacking warmth of cheerful fire, for ever wrapped in gloom. Reaching the place the virgin queen of war paused by the threshold, since she might not pass beneath that roof, and struck upon the door with her spear's point. The door flew wide and there she saw foul Invidia (Envy) eating viper's flesh, fit food for spite, and turned her eyes away. Slowly the creature rose, leaving the snakes half-eaten, and approached with dragging steps, and when she saw the goddess' face so fair and gleaming mail, she scowled and groaned in grief. Her cheeks are sallow, her whole body shrunk, her eyes askew and squinting; black decay befouls her teeth, her bosom's green with bile, and venom coats her tongue. She never smiles save when she relishes the sight of woe; sleep never soothes her, night by night awake with worry, as she sees against her will successes won and sickens at the sight. She wounds, is wounded, she herself her own torture. Tritonia [Athene], filled with loathing, forced a few curt words: ‘Inject your pestilence in one of Cecrops' daughters; that I need; Aglauros is the one [i.e. to be punished for disobeying the goddess].’
That said, she soared, launched from her downthrust spear, and sped to heaven. With sidelong glance the creature saw her fly and muttered briefly, grieving to foresee Minerva's triumph; then she took her staff, entwined with thorns, and, wrapped in a black cloud, went forth and in her progress trampled down the flowery meads, withered the grass, and slashed the tree-tops, and with filthy breath defiled peoples and towns and homes, until at last, brilliant and blessed with arts and wealth and peace, Athens in happy festival appears--and tears she sheds to see no cause for tears. Into the room of Cecrops' child she went and did as she was bid. On the girl's breast she laid her withering hand and filled her heart with thorny briars and breathed a baleful blight of poison, black as pitch inside her lungs. And lest the choice of owe should stray too wide, she set before her eyes her sister's face, her fortune-favoured marriage [to Hermes] and the god so glorious; and painted everything larger than life. Such thoughts were agony: Aglauros pined in private grief, distraught all night, all day, in utter misery, wasting away in slow decline, like ice marred by a fitful sun. The happiness of lucky Herse smouldered in her heart like green thorns on a fire that never flame nor give good heat but wanly burn away. Often she'd rather die than see such sights; often she meant, as if some crime, to tell the tale to her strict father. In the end she sat herself outside her sister's door to bar the god's access. With honeyed words he pressed his prayers and pleas. [She refused to budge and Hermes transformed her into stone.]"
Statius, Silvae 2. 4. 69 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman poetry C1st A.D.) :
"Ill-omened Invidia (Envy), skilled to hurt, saw the vital spot and the path of harm. Just at the gate of full-grown life that the most beauteous of youths was striving to link three years to three Elean lustres [he was fifteen, three five-year Olympian cycles]. With grim frown the stern Rhamnusian [Nemesis] gave heed, and first she filled out his muscles and set a brilliance in his eyes and raised his head higher than of wont; deadly alas! to the poor lad were her favours : she tortured herself with envy at the sight, and clasping the sufferer struck death into him by her embrace, and with hooked, relentless fingers tore that pure countenance."
Statius, Silvae 2. 1. 120 ff :
"Truly did Lachesis [one of the Fates] touch his cradle with ill-omened hand [for he died young], and Invidia (Envy) clasped the babe and held him in her bosom: the one fondled his cheeks and luxuriant curls, the other taught him his skill and inspired those words over which we now make moan."
Statius, Silvae 4. 8. 16 :
"Avaunt, black Invidia (Envy), turn elsewhere thy livid breasts!"
Statius, Silvae 5. 1. 13 ff :
"What god joined Fortuna (Fortune) [Tykhe (Tyche)] and Invidia (Envy) [Nemesis] in truceless kinship? Who bade the cruel goddesses engage in unending war? Will the one set her mark upon no house, but the other must straightway fix it with her grim glance, and with savage hand make havoc of its gladness? Happy and prosperous was this abode, no shock assailed it, no thought of sorrow; what cause was there to have fear of Fortuna, treacherous and fickle though she be, while Caesar was favourable? Yet the jealous Fata (Fate) [Moira] found a way, and barbarous violence entered that blameless home."
Apuleius, The Golden Ass 10. 24 ff (trans. Walsh) (Roman novel C2nd A.D.) :
"The fatal nod of Fortuna (Fortune) [Tykhe (Tyche)], at whose instigation cruel Rivalitas (Jealous Rivalry) [Nemesis] steered her course straight for the young man's house."
CULT OF NEMESIS
I. RHAMNUS (RHAMNOS) Town in Attica (Attica) (Southern Greece)
Strabo, Geography 9. 1. 17 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Rhamnos (Rhamnus) [in Attika] has the statue of Nemesis, which by some is called the work of Diodotos (DIodotus) and by others of Agorakritos (Agoracritus) the Parian, a work which both in grandeur and in beauty is a great success and rivals the works of Pheidias (Phidias)."
Strabo, Geography 9. 1. 22 :
"Rhamnos [in Attika] is the location of the sanctuary of Nemesis."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 33. 4 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"A little way inland [from Rhamnos in Attika] is a sanctuary of Nemesis, the most implacable deity to men of violence. It is thought that the wrath of this goddess fell also upon the foreigners [the Persian army] who landed at Marathon. For thinking in their pride that nothing stood in the way of their taking Athens, they were bringing a piece of Parian marble to make a trophy, convinced that their task was already finished. Of this marble Pheidias (Phidias) made a statue of Nemesis, and on the head of the goddess is a crown with deer and small images of Nike (Victory). In her left hand she holds an apple branch, in her right hand a cup on which are wrought Aithiopes (Ethiopians). As to the Aithiopes (Ethiopians), I could hazard no guess myself, nor could I accept the statement of those who are convinced that the Aithiopians have been carved upon the cup because of the river Okeanos (Oceanus). For the Aithiopians, they say, dwell near it, and Okeanos is the father of Nemesis . . .
Neither this nor any other ancient statue of Nemesis has wings, for not even the holiest wooden images of the Smyraneans have them, but later artists, convinced that the goddess manifests herself most as a consequence of love, give wings to Nemesis as they do to Eros (Love). I will now go on to describe what is figures on the pedestal of the statue, having made this preface for the sake of clearness. The Greeks say that Nemesis was the mother of Helene (Helen), while Leda suckled and nursed her. The father of Helene the Greeks like everybody else hold to be not Tyndareos (Tyndareus) but Zeus. Having heard this legend Pheidias has represented Helene as being led to Nemesis by Leda, and he has represented Tyndareos and his children."
Suidas s.v. Rhamnousia Nemesis (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek Lexicon C10th A.D.) :
"Rhamnousia Nemesis (Nemesis of Rhamnous) : She was first modelled on the appearance of Aphrodite; that is why she held a sprig from an appletree. Erekhtheus (Erechtheus) set her up, since she was his mother, but she was named Nemesis and reigned in the place. But Pheidias (Phidias) made the statue."
II. PATRAE (PATRAI) Town in Achaea (Akhaia) (Southern Greece)
Pausanias, Description of Greece 7. 20. 9 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"Not far from the theatre [at Patrai (Patrae) in Akhaia (Achaea)] is a temple of Nemesis . . . The images are colossal and of white marble."
III. ADRASTEIA Town in the Troad (Anatolia)
Aeschylus, Fragment 79 Niobe (from Strabo, Geography 12. 7. 18) (trans. Weir Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"Adrasteia's seat and Ida resound with lowing oxen and bleating sheep, and the whole plain roars."
[N.B. "Adrasteia's seat" is the town of Adrasteia where Adrasteia-Nemesis was worshipped.]
Strabo, Geography 13. 1. 13 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"This country [in the Troad] was called Adrasteia and Plain of Adrasteia . . . According to Kallisthenes (Callisthenes), among others, Adrasteia was named after King Adrastos (Adrastus), who was the first to found a temple of Nemesis. Now the city is situated between Priapos (Priapus) and Parion . . . Here, however, there is [now] no temple of Adrasteia, nor yet of Nemesis, to be seen, although there is a temple of Adrasteia near Kyzikos (Cyzicus). Antimakhos (Antimachus) [Greek poet C5th-4th B.C.] says as follows : ‘There is a great goddess Nemesis, who has obtained as her portion all these things from the Blessed. Adrestos (Adrastus) was the first to build an altar to her beside the stream of the Aisepos (Aesepus) River, where she is worshipped under the name of Adresteia.’"
Suidas s.v. Adrasteia (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek Lexicon C10th A.D.) :
"Adrasteia : Some say she is the same thing as Nemesis, and that she took the name from a particular king, Adrastos (Adrastus) . . . Demetrios of Skepsis says that Adrasteia is Artemis, [in a cult] established by one Adrastos. Antimakhos (Antimachus) says : ‘there is a certain great goddess Nemesis, who apportions out all these things to the blessed; Adrestos was the first to set up an altar for her by the flowing river.’"
IV. SMYRNA City in Aiolia-Lydia (Anatolia)
Pausanias, Description of Greece 7. 5. 1 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"Alexandros [Alexander the Great] was hunting on Mount Pagos [near Smyrna], and that after the hunt was over he came to a sanctuary of the Nemeseis, and found there a spring and a plane-tree in front of the sanctuary, growing over the water. While he slept under the plane-tree it is said that the Nemeses appeared and bade him found a city there and remove into it the Smyrnaians from the old city . . . So they migrated of their own free will, and believe in two Nemeses instead of one, saying their mother is Nyx, while the Athenians say that the father of the goddess in Rhamnos is Okeanos (Oceanus)."
TITLES & EPITHETS
Nemesis had several titles and epithets.
id. (Ionian spelling)
*The name Adrasteia was derived from the Greek word adrastos, "inescapable." Some Greek commentators however re-interpret it as meaning "Of Adrastos," after a hero reputed to have founded her cult, or "Of Adrasteia" a town where she was worshipped.
ANCIENT GREEK ART
- Hesiod, Theogony - Greek Epic C8th - 7th B.C.
- Epic Cycle, The Cypria Fragments - Greek Epic C7th - 6th B.C.
- Pindar, Odes - Greek Lyric C5th B.C.
- Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound - Greek Tragedy C5th B.C.
- Aeschylus, Fragments - Greek Tragedy C5th B.C.
- Plato, Laws - Greek Philosophy C4th B.C.
- Apollodorus, The Library - Greek Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Callimachus, Hymns - Greek Poetry C3rd B.C.
- Callimachus, Fragments - Greek Poetry C3rd B.C.
- Lycophron, Alexandra - Greek Poetry C3rd B.C.
- Strabo, Geography - Greek Geography C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
- Pausanias, Description of Greece - Greek Travelogue C2nd A.D.
- The Orphic Hymns - Greek Hymns C3rd B.C. - C2nd A.D.
- Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana - Greek Biography C2nd A.D.
- Nonnus, Dionysiaca - Greek Epic C5th A.D.
- Hyginus, Fabulae - Latin Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Hyginus, Astronomica - Latin Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Ovid, Metamorphoses - Latin Epic C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
- Cicero, De Natura Deorum - Latin Rhetoric C1st B.C.
- Valerius Flaccus, The Argonautica - Latin Epic C1st A.D.
- Statius, Silvae - Latin Poetry C1st A.D.
- Apuleius, The Golden Ass - Latin Novel C2nd A.D.
- Suidas, The Suda - Byzantine Greek Lexicon C10th A.D.
Other references not currently quoted here: Tzetzes on Lycophron, Herodotus 1.33 & 3.40, Apollonius Rhodius 4.1043, Sophocles Philoctetes 518, Euripides Orestes 1362, Cattulus 50, Pliny Natural History 36.4.