Web Theoi
THEMIS
 
Greek Name Transliteration Latin Spelling Translation
Θεμις Themis Themis Divine Law, Custom,
Oracle, Divine Decree
Themis, goddess of custom | Athenian red figure kylix | Antikensammlung, Berlin

Themis, Athenian red-figure kylix
C5th B.C., Antikensammlung, Berlin

Themis was the Titan goddess of divine law and order--the traditional rules of conduct first established by the gods. She was also a prophetic goddess who presided over the most ancient oracles, including Delphoi. In this role, she was the divine voice (themistes) who first instructed mankind in the primal laws of justice and morality, such as the precepts of piety, the rules of hospitality, good governance, conduct of assembly, and pious offerings to the gods. In Greek, the word themis referred to divine law, those rules of conduct long established by custom. Unlike the word nomos, the term was not usually used to describe laws of human decree.

Themis was an early bride of Zeus and his first counsellor. She was often represented seated beside his throne advising him on the precepts of divine law and the rules of fate.

Themis was closely identified with Demeter Thesmophoros ("Bringer of Law"). Indeed Themis' six children, the spring-time Horai and death-bringing Moirai, reflect the dual-functions of Demeter's own daughter Persephone. Themis was also identified with Gaia (Earth) especially in the role of the oracular voice of earth.

PARENTS
[1.1] OURANOS & GAIA (Hesiod Theogony 132, Orphic Hymn 79, Euripides Eumenides 1, Apollodorus 1.13, Diodorus Siculus 5.66.1)
[1.2] AITHER (or OURANOS) & GAIA (Hyginus Preface)
OFFSPRING
[1.1] THE MOIRAI, THE HORAI (EUNOMIA, EIRENE, DIKE) (by Zeus) (Hesiod Theogony 901, Apollodorus 1.13)
[1.2] THE HORAI (EUNOMIA, EIRENE, DIKE) (by Zeus) (Pindar Olympian 9 & 13, Pindar Frag 30, Hyginus Pref)
[1.3] THE NYMPHAI (by Zeus) (Apollodorus 2.114)
[2.1] PROMETHEUS (Aeschylus Prometheus 8 & 211 & 873)

ENCYCLOPEDIA

THEMIS (Themis). A daughter of Uranus (others say Helios, Tzetz. ad Lycoph. 129) and Ge, was married to Zeus, by whom she became the mother of the Horae, Eunomia, Dice (Astraea), Eirene, and the Moerae. (Hes. Theog. 135, 901, &c.; Apollod. i. 3. § 1.) In the Homeric poems, Themis is the personification of the order of things established by law, custom, and equity, whence she is described as reigning in the assemblies of men (Od. ii. 68, &c.), and as convening, by the command of Zeus, the assembly of the gods. (Il. xx. 4.) She dwells in Olympus, and is on friendly terms with Hera. (xv. 87, &c.) This character of Themis was recognised in the fact that at Thebes she had a sanctuary in common with the Moerae and Zeus Agoraeus (Paus. ix. 25. § 4), and at Olympia in common with the Horae. (Paus. v. 14. § 8, 17. § 1; comp. Diod. v. 67.) Besides this she is also described as an ancient prophetic divinity, and is said to have been in possession of the Delphic oracle as the successor of Ge, and previous to Apollo. (Ov. Met. i. 321, iv. 642; Apollon. Rhod. iv. 800; Serv. ad Aen. iv. 246; Apollod. i. 4. § 1 ; Paus. x. 5. § 3; Aeschyl. Eum. init.) The worship of Themis was established at Thebes, Olympia, Athens (Paus. i. 22. § 1), at Tanagra (ix. 22. § 1), and at Troezene, where an altar was dedicated to the Themides. (ii. 31. § 8.) Nymphs believed to be daughters of Zeus and Themis lived in a cave on the river Eridanus (Apollod. ii. 5. § 11 ; Schol. ad Apollon. Rhod. iv. 1396; Hesych. s. v. Themistiades), and the Hesperides also are called daughters of Zeus and Themis. (Schol. ad Eurip. Hippol. 737.) She is often represented on coins resembling the figure of Athena with a cornucopia and a pair of scales. (Gellius, xiv. 46.)

Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.


PARENTAGE OF THEMIS

Hesiod, Theogony 132 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.) :
"She [Gaia the Earth] lay with Ouranos (Sky) and bare deep-swirling Okeanos, Koios and Krios and Hyperion and Iapetos, Theia and Rhea, Themis and Mnemosyne and gold-crowned Phoibe and lovely Tethys. After them was born Kronos."

Aeschylus, Eumenides 2 ff (trans. Weir Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"The first prophet, Gaia (Earth); and after her to Themis, for she was the second to take this oracular seat of her mother."

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 2 ff (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Ouranos (Sky) . . . fathered other sons on Ge (Earth), namely the Titanes : Okeanos, Koios, Hyperion, Kreios, Iapetos, and Kronos the youngest; also daughters called Titanides : Tethys, Rhea, Themis, Mnemosyne, Phoibe, Dione, and Theia."

Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 5. 66. 1 (trans. Oldfather) (Greek historian C1st B.C.) :
"The Titanes numbered six men and five women, being born, as certain writers of myths relate, of Ouranos (Heaven) and Ge (Earth), but according to others, of one of the Kouretes and Titaia, from whom as their mother they derive the name they have. The males were Kronos, Hyperion, Koios, Iapetos, Krios and Okeanos, and their sisters were Rhea, Themis, Mnemosyne, Phoibe and Tethys. Each one of them was the discover of things of benefit to mankind, and because of the benefaction they conferred upon all men they were accorded honours and everlasting fame."

Orphic Hymn 79 to Themis (trans. Taylor) (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.) :
"Illustrious Themis, of celestial birth (Ouranopaide), thee I invoke, young blossom of Gaia (the Earth)."

Pseudo-Hyginus, Preface (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"From Aether and Terra [were born various abstractions] . . .
[From Caelum (Ouranos) and Terra (Gaia) were born ?] Oceanus, Themis, Tartarus, Pontus; the Titanes : Briareus, Gyes, Steropes, Atlas, Hyperion, and Polus [Koios], Saturnus [Kronos], Ops [Rhea], Moneta [Mnemosyne], Dione." [N.B. Hyginus' Preface survives only in summary. The Titanes should be listed as children of Ouranos (Caelum) and Gaia (Terra) not Aither and Gaia, but the notation to this effect seems to have been lost in the transcription.]


THEMIS NURSE OF ZEUS

Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 13 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"But Musaeus says Jove [Zeus] was nursed by Themis and the Nymphe Amalthea, to whom he was given by Ops [Rhea], his mother. Now Amalthea had as a pet a certain goat which is said to have nursed Jove."


THEMIS BRIDE OF ZEUS, MOTHER OF HORAI & MOIRAI

Themis was one of the first brides of Zeus, second only to Metis the mother of Athene. She bore him six daughters, the three Horai (Seasons) and three Moirai (Fates). Together they represented the establishment of natural law and order.

Hesiod, Theogony 901 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.) :
"Next [after Metis] he [Zeus] led away (married?) bright Themis (Divine Law) who bare the Horai (Seasons), and Eunomia (Order), Dike (Justice), and blooming (thallô) Eirene (Peace), who mind the works of mortal men, and the Moirai (Fates) to whom wise Zeus gave the greatest honour, Klotho, and Lakhesis, and Atropos who give mortal men evil and good to have."

Pindar, Olympian Ode 9. 15 ff (trans. Conway) (Greek lyric C5th B.C.) :
"Themis (Divine Law) and her noble daughter, Eunomia (Good Order) the preserver."

Pindar, Olympian Ode 13. 6 ff (trans. Conway) (Greek lyric C5th B.C.) :
"Eunomia (Good Order) and that unsullied fountain Dike (Justice), her sister, sure support of cities; and Eirene (Peace) of the same kin, who are the stewards of wealth for mankind--three glorious daughters of wise-counselled (euboulos) Themis."

Pindar, Fragment 30 (trans. Sandys) (Greek lyric C5th B.C.) :
"First did the Moirai (Fates) in their golden chariot bring heavenly Themis, wise in counsel, by a gleaming pathway from the springs of Okeanos to the sacred stair of Olympos, there to be the primal bride of Zeus Soter (Saviour). And she bare him the Horai (Seasons) with golden fillet and gleaming fruit, the Horai that are ever true."

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 13 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"With Themis, the daughter of Ouranos (Sky), he [Zeus] fathered his daughters the Horai (Seasons), by name Eirene (Peace), Eunomia (Good Order), and Dike (Justice); also the Moirai (Fates), called Klotho, Lakhesis, and Atropos."

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2. 114 :
"Herakles continued by foot through the Illyrians’ land and hurried on to the Eridanos river where he found the Nymphai who were daughters of Zeus and Themis. They showed him [where to find the prophetic sea-god] Nereus."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 5. 17. 1 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"[Amongst the statues dedicated in the temple of Zeus and Hera at Olympia :] The figures of Horai (Seasons) next to them [Zeus and Hera], seated upon thrones, were made by the Aiginetan Smilis. Beside them stands an image of Themis, as being mother of the Horai."

Pseudo-Hyginus, Preface (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"From Jove [Zeus] and Themis [were born] : Horae."

Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 183 :
"The names of the Horae, daughters of Jove [Zeus], son of Saturn [Kronos], and Themis, daughter Titanidis, are these: Auxo, Eunomia (Order), Pherusa, Carpo (Fruit), Dice (Justice), Euporia, Irene (Peace), Orthosie, Thallo. Other writers give ten by these names: Auge (When light first appears), Anatole (Dawn), Musica, Gymnastica, Nymphe (Hour of Bath), Mesembria (Noon), Sponde (Libations poured before dinner), Elete, Acte, Hesperis, and Dysis (Setting)."


THEMIS MOTHER OF PROMETHEUS

Themis was sometimes described as the mother of the Titan Prometheus. Usually however this Titan was a son of the Titanis Asie or Klymene.

Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 18 ff (trans. Weir Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"[Prometheus] lofty-minded son of Themis who counsels straight (orthoboulos)."

Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 211 ff :
"My [Prometheus'] mother Themis, or Gaia (Earth)--though one form, she had many names."

Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 1091 ff :
"Prometheus : `O holy mother (mêtêr sebas) mine [Themis], O you firmament (aithêr) that revolves the common light of all (phaos pantôn), you see the wrongs I suffer!'"


Themis & the Oracle of Delphi | Greek vase painting
T8.1 THEMIS
ORACLE OF DELPHI
Themis & the Nymphs | Greek vase painting
T8.3 THEMIS,
NYMPHS
Themis & Eris | Greek vase painting
N15.2 THEMIS,
ERIS
 

THEMIS GODDESS OF DIVINE LAW

Themis was the goddess of divine law--the primal, unwritten laws governing human conduct which were first established by the gods of heaven. She was believe to have issued these edicts to mankind through the great oracle of Delphoi over which she presided alongside the god Apollon.

Homeric Hymn 8 to Ares 4 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th - 4th B.C.) :
"[Ares God of War] father of warlike Nike (Victory), ally of Themis (Divine Law)."

Pindar, Olympian Ode 8. 20 ff (trans. Conway) (Greek lyric C5th B.C.) :
"Aigina, land of long-oared galleons, where Themis Soteira (Saviour), throned beside great Zeus Xenios (god of the host and guest), is given abundant worship. For in matters of many a purport, veering on every wind that flows, fitly to make due disposition with an upright mind is hard indeed. Yet have the immortals ruled this sea-girt land shall be for strangers of all race a god-sent pillar of true justice; and may the rolling years uphold them in this task."

Pindar, Olympian Ode 9. 15 ff :
"For Themis (Right Law) and her noble daughter, Eunomia (Good Order) the preserver, hold this city [Opous] a bright jewel in their crown."

Pindar, Olympian Ode 13. 5 ff :
"Here [in the city] dwells Eunomia (Good Order) and that unsullied fountain Dike (Justice), her sister, sure support of cities; and Eirene (Peace) of the same kin, who are the stewards of wealth for mankind--three glorious daughters of wise-counselled (euboulos) Themis (Divine Law)."

Bacchylides, Fragment 15 (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric IV) (C5th B.C.) :
"It is open to all men to reach unswerving Dike (Justice), the attendant of holy Eunomia (Good Order) and wise Themis (Divine Law); blessed are they whose sons choose her to share their home."

Aeschylus, Suppliant Women 359 ff (trans. Weir Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"Chorus [of Suppliant Maidens] : Indeed, may Themis (Justice) [here equated with Dike], daughter of Zeus the Apportioner, Themis (Justice) who protects the suppliant, look upon our flight that it bring no mischief in its wake . . .
King : It is not my own house at whose hearth you sit. If the state is stained by pollution in its commonalty, in common let the people strive to work out the cure. For myself, I will pledge no promise before I have communicated these events to all the citizens.
Chorus : You are the state, you are the people. Being subject to no judge, you rule the altar, your country's hearth by your will's sole ordinance; and, enthroned in sole sovereignty, you determine every issue. Beware pollution! . . . Look to him who looks down from above, to him, the guardian of mortals sore-distressed, who appeal to their neighbors, yet do not obtain the justice that is their right. The wrath of Zeus, the suppliant's god (hikesios), remains, and will not be softened by a sufferer's complaints.
Chorus : Never, oh never, may I fall subject to the power and authority of these men. I am determined to flee to escape this marriage that offends my soul, piloting my course by the stars.Take Justice (dikê) as your ally, and render judgment for the cause deemed righteous by the gods . . .
Chorus: Kindred to both in blood, Zeus surveys both sides alike in this dispute with an impartial scale, apportioning, as is due, to the wicked their wrongdoing and to the godly their works of righteousness. When these things are thus equally balanced, why do you fear to act justly?"

Aeschylus, Fragment 9 Bacchae (from Stobaeus, Anthology 1. 3. 26) (trans. Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"Truly upon mortals cometh swift of foot their evil and his offence upon him that trespasseth against Right (themis)."

Lycophron, Alexandra 128 ff (trans. Mair) (Greek poet C3rd B.C.) :
"A doer of justice and arbiter of Helios’ (the Sun's) daughter Ikhnaie . . . [but the injust] kicking the table and overturning Themis (Divine Law)."

Euphorion of Chalcis, Fragments (trans. Page, Vol. Select Papyri III, No. 121 (2b)) (Greek Epic C3rd B.C.) :
"Send Eirene (Peace) with her prosperity to men! And in the market let him set Themis up, requiter of good deeds : and, beside her, Dike (Justice), who leaps up like a tiger at once in anger at the deeds of men upon whom she looks--even them who provoke the gods and turn their commandments aside [i.e. the themistai or divine laws], and such as treat their feeble parents with arrogance, scorning the counsel of the living and the dead; or sin against the hospitable feast and the table of Zeus."

Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 5. 67. 3 (trans. Oldfather) (Greek historian C1st B.C.) :
"Of the female Titanes . . . Themis, the myths tell us, was the first to introduce divinations and sacrifices and ordinances which concern the gods [piety], and to instruct men in the ways of obedience to laws and of peace [lawfulness]. Consequently men who preserve what is holy with respect to the gods and the laws of men are called ‘law-guardians’ (thesmophulakes) and ‘law-givers’ (thesmothetai)."

Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 1. 752 ff (trans. Way) (Greek epic C4th A.D.) :
"Not good it is for baser men to rail on kings, or secretly or openly; for wrathful retribution swiftly comes. Themis (Divine Law) sits on high; and she who heapeth woe on woe on humankind, even Ate (Delusion), punisheth the shameless tongue."

Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 13. 298 ff :
"Ay, wicked men never elude pure Themis (Divine Law) : night and day her eyes are on them, and the wide world through above the tribes of men she floats in air, holpen of Zeus, for punishment of sin."

Orphic Hymn 79 to Themis (trans. Taylor) (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.) :
"To Themis, Fumigation from Frankincense. Illustrious Themis, of celestial birth (Ouranopaide), thee I invoke, young blossom of Gaia (the Earth). All-beauteous virgin; first from thee alone prophetic oracles to men were known, given from the deep recesses of the fane in sacred Pythian Delphoi, where renowned you reign. From thee Phoibos’ [Apollon’s] oracles arose, and from thy power his inspiration flows. Honoured by all, of form divinely bright, majestic virgin, wandering in the night. Mankind from thee first learnt perfective rites, and Bakkhos’ nightly choirs thy soul delights; for the God’s honours to disclose is thine, and holy mysteries and rites divine. Be present, Goddess, to my prayer inclined, and bless thy consecration with favouring mind."

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 41. 155 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"[Hermes] came to help [Aphrodite with] the labour of Beroe [goddess of the city famous for its law-courts], and Themis (Divine-Law) was her Eileithyia (Birth-Goddess)--she made a way through the narrow opening of the swollen womb for the child, and unfolded the wrapping, and lightened the sharp pang of the ripening birth, with Solon’s laws in hand. Kypris [Aphrodite] under the oppression of her travail leaned back heavily against the ministering goddess, and in her throes brought forth the wise child upon the Attic book."

For MORE descriptions of Themis as the goddess of divine law see:
(1) Themis Counsellor of Zeus (below)
(2) Themis Goddess of Assemblies (below)

THEMIS COUNSELLOR OF ZEUS

Themis (Divine Law) was the counsellor of Zeus who sat enthroned beside him, advising him on the conduct of men, reporting on those who breached the primal laws laid down by the gods. She was assisted by her daughter Dike (Justice).

I) ZEUS, THEMIS & THE PLANNING OF THE TROJAN WAR

Stasinus of Cyprus or Hegesias of Aegina, Cypria Fragment 1 (from Proclus, Chretomathy 1) (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th or C6th B.C.) :
"The epic called Cypria is current is eleven books. Its contents are as follows. Zeus plans with Themis (Divine Law) to bring about the Trojan war. Eris (Strife) arrives while the gods are feasting at the marriage of Peleus and starts a dispute between Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite as to which of them is fairest."
[N.B. In Athenian vase painting Themis is depicted alongside Eris as she casts the Golden Apple of Discord amongst the goddesses at the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, and also beside Eris watching the subsequent Judgment of Paris.]

Plato, Republic 379e - 380a (trans. Shorey) (Greek philosopher C4th B.C.) :
"We will not approve, nor that the strife and contention of the gods was the doing of Themis and Zeus." [N.B. Plato is referring to the casting of the golden apple at the wedding of Thetis which led to the Trojan War. In the story Eris (Strife) was prompted by Themis.]

III) THEMIS COUNSELLOR OF ZEUS MISCELLANY

Homeric Hymn 23 to Cronion 2 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th - 4th B.C.) :
"I will sing of Zeus, chiefest among the gods and greatest, all-seeing, the lord of all, the fulfiller who whispers words of wisdom to Themis (Divine Law) as she sits leaning towards him."

Pindar, Olympian Ode 8. 21 ff (trans. Conway) (Greek lyric C5th B.C.) :
"Themis Soteira (Saviour), throned beside great Zeus Xenios (god of the host and guest)."

Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses 19 (trans. Celoria) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"[When thieves attempted to steal honey sacred Diktaion cave where Zeus was born :] Zeus thundered and brandished his thunderbolt, but the Moirai (Fates) and Themis (Divine Law) stopped him. It was impious for anyone to die there. So Zeus turned them all into birds."

Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 13. 298 ff (trans. Way) (Greek epic C4th A.D.) :
"Ay, wicked men never elude pure Themis (Divine Law) : night and day her eyes are on them, and the wide world through above the tribes of men she floats in air, holpen of Zeus, for punishment of sin."

Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 12. 202 ff :
"[The two factions of gods broke into conflict over the Trojan Horse in defiance of the command of Zeus :] His [Zeus'] wrath shook all the firmament, as crashed from east to west his thunders; lightnings gleamed, as thick and fast his thunderbolts poured to earth, and flamed the limitless welkin. Terror fell upon the hearts of those Immortals : quaked the limbs of all--ay, deathless though they were! Then Themis (Divine Law), trembling for them, swift as thought leapt down through clouds, and came with speed to them--for in the strife she only had no part and stood between the fighters, and she cried : `Forbear the conflict! O, when Zeus is wroth, it ill beseems that everlasting Gods should fight for men's sake, creatures of a day: else shall ye be all suddenly destroyed; for Zeus will tear up all the hills, and hurl upon you: sons nor daughters will he spare, but bury 'neath one ruin of shattered earth all. No escape shall ye find thence to light, in horror of darkness prisoned evermore.' Dreading Zeus' menace gave they heed to her, from strife refrained, and cast away their wrath, and were made one in peace and amity."

For MYTHS of Themis as the assembler of the gods see :
Themis Goddess of Assemblies (below)

THEMIS GODDESS OF ASSEMBLIES

Themis was the goddess of assemblies, an extension of her role as the goddess of divine law. A king would hear petitions and rule on matters of law and justice at the assembly. She also presided over the division of the sacrificial feast, and by extension over the Olympian feasts of the gods.

I) THE ASSEMBLIES & FEASTS OF THE GODS

Homer, Iliad 20. 5 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"Zeus, from the many-folded peak of Olympos, told Themis to summon all the gods into assembly [to hear his kingly decrees]. She went everywhere, and told them to make their way to Zeus’ house. There was no Potamos (River) who was not there, except only Okeanos, there was not any one of the Nymphai who live in the lovely groves, and the springs of rivers and grass of the meadows, who came not. These all assembling in the house of Zeus cloud gathering took places among the smooth-stone cloister walks which Hephaistos had built for Zeus the father by his craftsmanship and contrivance."

Homer, Iliad 15. 84 ff :
"She [Hera] came to sheer Olympos and entered among the assembled immortal gods in the house of Zeus [after she had fled Troy following the threats which followed her defiance of Zeus' edicts], and they seeing her rose all to swarm about her and lifted their cups in greeting. But Hera passed by the others and accepted a cup from Themis (Divine Law) of the fair cheeks, since she had first come running to greet her and had spoken to her and addressed her in winged words: ‘Hera, why have you come? You seem like one who has been terrified. I know, it was the son of Kronos, your husband, frightened you.’
In turn the goddess Hera of the white arms answered her : `Ask me nothing of this, divine (thea) Themis. You yourself know what his spirit is, how it is stubborn and arrogant. Preside still over the gods in their house, the feast’s fair division. Yet so much may you hear, and with you all the immortals, how Zeus discloses evil actions, and I do not think the heart of all will be pleasured alike.'"

Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 4. 128 ff (trans. Way) (Greek epic C4th A.D.) :
"[Nestor tells the wedding-feast of Peleus and Thetis, attended by the gods :] how the silver tables were set forth in haste by Themis blithely laughing."

II) THE ASSEMBLIES & SACRIFICIAL FEASTS OF MEN

Homer, Iliad 15. 84 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"Divine Themis . . . preside still over the gods in their house, the feast’s fair division."

Homer, Odyssey 1. 68 ff (trans. Shewring) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"[Telamakhos, son of Odysseus, addresses the suitors at an assembly of the people :] I appeal to you by Zeus Olympios himself, I appeal by Themis, who convenes men’s councils and dissolves them, cease from these ways, you men of Ithaka, and leave me unmolested."


THEMIS & THE BIRTH OF APOLLON

Themis was present at the birth of Apollon, nursing him on nektar and ambrosia. She was there in her role as the prophetic goddess of the oracle of Delphoi, which Apollon was destined to receive.

Homeric Hymn 3 to Delian Apollo 89 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th - 4th B.C.) :
"Leto [during her labour with Apollon] was racked nine days and nine nights with pangs beyond wont. And there were with her all the chiefest of the goddesses Dione and Rheia and Ikhnaie and Themis and loud-moaning Amphitrite and the other deathless goddesses . . . Then the child leaped forth to the light, and all the goddesses raised a cry. Straightway, great Phoibos [Apollon], the goddesses washed you purely and cleanly with sweet water, and swathed you in a white garment of fine texture, new-woven, and fastened a golden band about you. Now Leto did not give Apollon, bearer of the golden blade, her breast; but Themis duly poured nektar and ambrosia with her divine hands."


Themis & Zeus | Greek vase painting
T8.2 THEMIS,
ZEUS
Themis & Bendis | Greek vase painting
K45.1 THEMIS,
BENDIS
   

THEMIS GODDESS OF ORACLES

Themis presided over several earthly oracles--such as those of Delphoi, Dodona, and Olympia.

Pindar, Pythian Ode 11. 5 ff (trans. Conway) (Greek lyric C5th B.C.) :
"The temple that above alll others Apollon held in honour, and he named it the Ismenion, the seat of prophecy that knows no lie. Daughters of Harmonia, the god now summons to assemble here that band of heroine women who dwelt within this land, that you may sing in praise of holy (hiera) Themis (Divine Law) and Pytho, and the centre-stone of earth, whose word is justice--here as evening’s shadows fall."

Aeschylus, Eumenides 1 ff (trans. Weir Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"[The Pythia, prophetic priestess of the oracle at Delphoi, speaks ] : First, in this prayer of mine, I give the place of highest honor among the gods to the first prophet, Gaia (Earth); and after her to Themis, for she was the second to take this oracular seat of her mother, as legend tells. And in the third allotment, with Themis' consent and not by force, another Titanis, child of Khthon (Earth), Phoibe, took her seat here. She gave it as a birthday gift to Phoibos [Apollon]."

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 22 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Apollon . . . made his way to Delphoi, where Themis (Divine Law) gave the oracles at that time. When the serpent Python, which guarded the oracle, moved to prevent Apollon from approaching the oracular opening, he slew it and thus took command of the oracle."

Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 5. 67. 3 (trans. Oldfather) (Greek historian C1st B.C.) :
"Of the female Titanes . . . Themis, the myths tell us, was the first to introduce divinations and sacrifices and ordinances which concern the gods, and to instruct men in the ways of obedience to laws and of peace. Consequently men who preserve what is holy with respect to the gods and the laws of men are called ‘law-guardians’ (thesmophulakes) and ‘law-givers’ (thesmothetai), and we say that Apollon at the moment when he is to return the oracular responses, is ‘issuing laws and ordinances’ (themisteuein), in view of the fact that Themis was the discoveress of oracular responses."

Strabo, Geography 9. 3. 11 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"He [Polybius] adds forthwith that historians take it for granted that Apollon, with Themis (Divine Law), devised the oracle [of Delphoi] because he wished to help our race."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 10. 5. 5 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"Many and different are the stories told about Delphoi, and even more son about the oracle of Apollon. For they say that in earliest times the oracular seat belonged to Ge (Earth), who appointed as prophetess at it Daphnis, one of the Nymphai of the mountains. There is extant among the Greeks an hexameter poem, the name of which is Eumolpia, and it is assigned to Musaios, son of Antiophemos. In it the poet states that the oracle belonged to Poseidon and Ge (Earth) in common; that Ge gave her oracles herself, but Poseidon used Pyrkon as his mouthpiece in giving responses. The verses are these:--`Forthwith the voice of Khthonies uttered a wise word, And with her Pyrkon, servant of the renown Earthshaker.' They say that afterwards Ge (Earth) gave her share to Themis (Divine Law), who gave it to Apollon as a gift. It is said that he gave to Poseidon Kalaureia, that lies off Troizen, in exchange for his oracle."

Orphic Hymn 79 to Themis (trans. Taylor) (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.) :
"Illustrious Themis . . . first from thee alone prophetic oracles to men were known, given from the deep recesses of the fane in sacred Pythian Delphoi, where renowned you reign. From thee Phoibos’ [Apollon’s] oracles arose, and from thy power his inspiration flows."

For MYTHS of Themis and the oracle of Delphi see :
(1) Themis & the Birth of Apollon (above)
(2) Oracular Prophecies of Themis (below)

For MORE on Themis and the oracles of Dodona & Olympia see Cult of Themis


THE ORACULAR PROPHECIES OF THEMIS

Themis uttered several famous prophecies in her role as the oracular voice of earth.

I) THE PROPHECY OF THE FALL OF THE TITANES

Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 206 ff (trans. Weir Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"I [Prometheus], although advising them for the best, was unable to persuade the Titanes, children of Ouranos (Heaven) and Khthon (Earth); but they, disdaining counsels of craft, in the pride of their strength thought to gain the mastery without a struggle and by force. Often my mother Themis, or Gaia (Earth) (though one form, she had many names), had foretold to me the way in which the future was fated to come to pass. That it was not by brute strength nor through violence, but by guile that those who should gain the upper hand were destined to prevail. And though I argued all this to them, they did not pay any attention to my words."

II) THE PROPHECY THE SON OF THETIS

Pindar, Isthmian Ode 3. 28 ff (trans. Conway) (Greek lyric C5th B.C.) :
"When for marriage with Thetis there arose strife 'twixt Zeus and glorious Poseidon when each of the two gods would have her to be his lovely bride, for passion filled their hearts. But for them did the wisdom of the immortal gods not grant this union should come to pass, when to their ears came the prophetic oracle. For in their midst wise-counselled (euboulos) Themis told that it was ruled of fate that the sea-goddess should bring forth a son, of strength mightier than his father, whose hand should launch a shaft more powerful than the bolt of thunder or the fearsome trident, if she wed with Zeus or with his brothers. `Leave,' said she, `From this design, but with a mortal let her bed be blessed, and let her see her son dying in war. Like Ares shall he be in strength of arm and in fleetness of foot like to the lightning flash. In my word you would hear, grant that her marriage be for an honour given of heaven to Peleus, the son of Aiakos, who, so they tell, is of all men most righteous, dwelling upon Iolkos' plain. And to the immortal cave of Kheiron let your bidding speedily take its way, nor let the ballot-leaves of strife be set amidst as twice by Nereus' daughter. But on the full-moon's eve let her for this hero unloose the lovely girdle of her pure maidenhood.' Such words the goddess spoke to the children of Kronos; and they nodded giving their assent with immortal brows. Nor was the fruit of these words cast away. For the two gods joined in their honours given to the wedding of maid Thetis."

Melanippides Fragment 765 (from Scholiast on Homer’s Iliad) (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric V) (C5th B.C.) :
"Melanippides says that Thetis was pregnant by Zeus when she was given in marriage to Peleus because of the remarks of Prometheus or Themis [i.e. that Thetis would bear a son greater than his father]."

Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 204 ff (trans. Weir Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"[Prometheus addresses the Okeanides :] `I, offering the best of all advice, tried to convince the Titan sons of Ouranos (Heaven) and Gaia (Earth), and failed. They despised cunning; in the pride of strength they foresaw easy victory and the rule of might. I knew the appointed course of things to come. My mother, Themis (Divine Law), or Gaia (Earth), one person, through of various names, had many times foretold to me, that not brute strength, not violence, but cunning must give victory to the rulers of the future. This I explained to them, with reasons--which they found not worth one moment’s heed Then, of the courses open to me, it seemed best tot take my stand--my mother with me--at the side of Zeus, willing and welcome. It was I who gave that counsel through which ancient Kronos and his crew lie buried now in the back abyss of Tartaros."

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 168 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Nereus‘ daughter Thetis, over whom Zeus and Poseidon had been rivals. But when Themis had predicted that the son of Thetis would be stronger than his father, they bowed out."

Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 4. 798 ff (trans. Rieu) (Greek epic C3rd B.C.) :
"Yet in spite of your [Thetis’] refusal [of Zeus’ advances] he did not cease to keep his eye on you, till the day when venerable Themis made him understand that you were destined to bear a son who would be greater than his father. When he heard this, Zeus gave you up though he still desired you."

III) THE PROPHECY OF THE LIBERATION OF PROMETHEUS

Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 870 ff (trans. Weir Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"[Prometheus tells Io of his prophesied release from the chains of Mount Kaukasos :] Of her [Hypermnestra, a descendant of Io's] seed, however, shall be born a man of daring [Herakles], renowned with the bow, who shall deliver me from these toils. Such is the oracle recounted to me by my mother, Titan Themis, born long ago."

IV) THE PROPHECY OF THE THEFT OF THE GOLDEN APPLES

Ovid, Metamorphoses 4. 642 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"The giant [Atlas] recalled the oracle which Themis Parnasia (of Parnasos) had given : `Atlas, a time shall come when from your tree the gold shall be despoiled, and of that spoil a son of Jove [Zeus] shall boast.’ In fear he had walled his orchards all around with massive ramparts and for guardian set an enormous Draco; and drove off all strangers from the borders of his realm."

V) THE PROPHECY OF DEUKALION'S STONE-BORN MEN

Ovid, Metamorphoses 1. 318 & 375 (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"There a great mountain aims towards the stars its double peak, Parnasos, soaring high above the clouds; and there [during the Great Deluge that destroyed mankind] Deucalion, borne on a raft, with his dear wife [Pyrrha] beside, had grounded; all elsewhere the deluge whelmed. Praise and thanksgiving to the Mountain gods (Numina Montis) and the Nymphae Corycidae they gave, and to the prophetess, Themis, then guardian of the oracle . . . They wept together [for the destruction of mankind]; then resolved to pray to Powers above and heavenly guidance seek in oracles; and quickly, hand in hand, went to Cephisus’ stream, whose current ran not limpid yet but in his wonted course, and there, in ritual due with holy water sprinkling their heads and clothes, they turned their steps towards the holy shrine (a pale scum fouled its roofs; the altars stood without flame). They reached the temple steps and then, prostrate, with timid lips both kissed the cold wet stone and said : `If righteous prayers may move and soften the Powers divine, may turn their wrath away, tell, holy Themis, by what art our race, now lost, may be restored: in they great mercy hear and grant succour to a world submerged.’
The goddess, pitying, gave her answer : `Leave my temple, veil your heads, loosen your robes, and cast behind you your great mother’s bones.’
Long did they wait bewildered, until Pyrrha, breaking the silence first, refused assent and asked the goddess’ pardon, not daring to offend her mother’s ghost by violence to her bones. In vain they sought the hidden meaning, searching to and for the baffling words’ blind coverts. Then at last Promethides [Deukalion] calmed Epimethis [Pyrrha] with words of cheer : `Either my reasoning misleads me or in truth (since oracles are holy and will never counsel crime) the earth is our great mother and the stones within earth’s body surely are the bones the oracle intends. These we must throw over our shoulders as Themis directs.'
So he interpreted, and Titania’s [Pyrrha’s] heart was warmed, but still hope wavered, such distrust oppressed them both; and yet what harm to try? They leave the temple, veil their heads, ungird their robes and, as the oracle commanded, behind them, past their footprints, throw the stones. Those stones (who would believe did ancient lore not testify the truth?) gave up their hardness; their rigidness grew slowly soft and, softened, assumed a shape, and as they grew and felt a gentler nature’s touch, a semblance seemed to appear, still indistinct, of human form, like the first rough-hewn marble of a statue, scarce modelled, or old uncouth images. The earthy part, damp with some trace of moisture was turned to flesh; what was inflexible and solid changed to bone; what in the stones had been the veins retained the name of veins. In a brief while, by Heaven’s mysterious power, the stones the man had thrown were formed as men, those from the woman’s hand reshaped as women. Hence we are hard, we children of the earth, and in our lives of toil we prove our birth."

Suidas s.v. Boukheta (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek lexicon C10th A.D.) :
"Boukheta : It is a city of Epeiros; the word is neuter plural. Philokhoros says that it got its name because Themis went there, mounted on an ox (epi boos okhoumenen), during the flood of Deukalion."

VI) THE PROPHECY OF THE SONS OF KALLIRHOE

Ovid, Metamorphoses 9. 402 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"She [the goddess Hebe] meant to swear not to bestow such gifts [the restoration of youth] on any man thereafter, but was stopped by Themis (Divine Law). `Civil war’, she said, `embroils Thebae now and save by Jove’s [Zeus’] might Capaneus shall not be conquered . . . the prophet [Amphiaraus] yet alive shall see his ghost as earth gapes open; and his son [Alkmaion] parent on parent shall avenge, a deed of loving duty and a deed of crime. Distraught with troubles, driven from his mind and home, the Eumenides [Erinyes] and his mother’s [Eriphyle’s] ghost (umbrae) shall hound him till his consort shall demand the fatal golden necklace, and the sword of Phegeus drain the blood of kith and kin. And then at last Callirhoe Acheloia [daughter of Akhelous], for her infant sons shall beg those years [removed from Iolaos] from Jove [Zeus] on bended knee, to speed their vengeance for the victor’s death. And, at her suit, Jove shall foreclaim that gift of his stepdaughter [Hebe], and her sons shall be transformed from their infancy.’ As Themis, who foreknew the future, spoke these prophecies, a rumbling argument arose in heaven, the gods all grumbling why others should not be allowed to grant such gifts [rejuvenated youth]."

VII) THE PROPHECY DEATH OF THE GIGANTES

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 2. 699 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"Zeus Kronides [after defeating the monster Typhon returned to Olympos] . . . and Themis (Divine Law) displayed to dumbfounded Gaia (Earth), mother of the Gigantes, the spoils of the Gigante [Typhon] destroyed, an awful warning for the future [which saw the death of these Gigantes], and hung them up high in the vestibule of Olympos."


THEMIS MISCELLANY

Hesiod, Theogony 5 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.) :
"They [the nine Mousai] arise and go abroad by night, veiled in thick mist, and utter their song with lovely voice, praising Zeus the aigis-holder and queenly Hera of Argos who walks on golden sandals and the daughter of Zeus the aigis-holder bright-eyed Athene, and Phoebos Apollon, and Artemis who delights in arrows, and Poseidon the earth-holder who shakes the earth, and reverend (aidoios) Themis and quick-glancing Aphrodite, and Hebe with the crown of gold, and fair Dione, Leto, Iapetos, and Kronos the crafty counsellor, Eos (Dawn) and great Helios (Sun) and bright Selene (Moon), Gaia (Earth) too, and great Okeanos (River Ocean), and dark Nyx (Night), and the holy race of all the other deathless ones that are for ever."

Homeric Hymn 5 to Aphrodite 94 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th - 4th B.C.) :
"[Ankhises addresses Aphrodite, recognising her as a goddess in disguise :] `Hail, lady, whoever of the blessed ones you are that are come to this house, whether Artemis, or Leto, or golden Aphrodite, or high-born (eugene) Themis, or bright-eyed Athene.'"


TITLES & EPITHETS OF THEMIS

Themis had a number of cult titles and poetic epithets.

Greek Name Transliteration Latin Spelling Translation
Ευβουλος Euboulos Eubolus Well-Counselled
(euboulos)
Ορθοβουλος Orthoboulos Orthobolus Straight Counselled
(orthos, boulos)
Σωτειρα Sôteira Sotira Saviour
(sôteiros)
Ἱερα Hiera Hiera Holy, Reverend
(hieros)
Αιδοιος Aidoios Aedoeus Reverend, August,
Venerable (aidos)
Ευγενης Eugenês Eugenes High-Born
(eugenês)
Τιτανις Titanis Titanis Female Titan
(titan, titanis)

CULT OF THEMIS

I) ATHENS Chief City of Attika (Southern Greece)

Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 22. 1 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"Towards the Akropolis [at Athens], there is a temple of Themis."

II) EPIDAUROS Town in Argolis (Southern Greece)

Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 27. 6 :
"Within the grove [of the sanctuary of Asklepios at Epidauros] are a temple of Artemis, an image of Epione, a sanctuary of Aphrodite and Themis, a race-course."

III) OLYMPIA Sanctuary in Elis (Southern Greece)

Pausanias, Description of Greece 5. 14. 10 :
"On what is called the Gaion (sanctuary of Earth) [at Olympia] is an altar of Gaia; it too is of ashes. In more ancient days they say that there was an oracle also of Gaia (Earth) in this place. On what is called the Stomion (Mouth) the altar to Themis has been built."

IV) TANAGRA Town in Boiotia (Central Greece)

Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 22. 1 :
"[At Tanagra, Boiotia] are three temples, one of Themis, another of Aphrodite, and the third of Apollon; with Apollon are joined Artemis and Leto."

V) THEBES Chief City of Boiotia (Central Greece)

Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 25. 4 :
"Along the road from the Neistan gate [at Thebes, Boiotia] are three sanctuaries. There is a sanctuary of Themis, with an image of white marble; adjoining it is a sanctuary of the Moirai [her daughters], while the third is of Zeus Agoraios (of the Market)."

VI) DELPHOI Sanctuary in Phokis (Central Greece)

For INFORMATION on Themis and the oracle of Delphoi see:
Themis and the Oracle of Delphoi (above)

VII) IKHNAI Town in Phthiotis, Thessalia (Northern Greece)

Strabo, Geography 3. 2. 11 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Ikhnai [in Phthiotis, Thessalia], where Themis Ikhnaia is held in honor."
[N.B. Ikhnaie was variously identified with Themis, Theia, Nemesis and a daughter of Helios.]

VIII) DODONA Sanctuary in Thesprotia (Northern Greece)

Archaeologists have also unearthed a temple of Themis at the oracular shrine of Zeus at Dodona, beside those of Zeus, Dione and Aphrodite.

IX) BOUKHETA Town in Epeiros (Northern Greece)

Suidas s.v. Boukheta (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek lexicon C10th A.D.) :
"Boukheta : It is a city of Epeiros; the word is neuter plural. Philokhoros says that it got its name because Themis went there, mounted on an ox (epi boos okhoumenen), during the flood of Deukalion."
[N.B. Presumably Boukheta contained some sort of oracular shrine dedicated to the goddess Themis.]


Sources:

  • Homer, The Iliad - Greek Epic C8th B.C.
  • Homer, The Odyssey - Greek Epic C8th B.C.
  • Hesiod, Theogony - Greek Epic C8th-7th B.C.
  • The Homeric Hymns - Greek Epic C8th-4th B.C.
  • Stasinsus or Hegesias, Cypria Fragments - Greek Epic C7th-6th B.C.
  • Pindar, Odes - Greek Lyric C5th B.C.
  • Pindar, Fragments - Greek Lyric C5th B.C.
  • Greek Lyric IV Bacchylides, Fragments - Greek Lyric C5th B.C.
  • Greek Lyric V Melanippides, Fragments - Greek Lyric C5th B.C.
  • Aeschylus, Eumenides - Greek Tragedy C5th B.C.
  • Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound - Greek Tragedy C5th B.C.
  • Aeschylus, Suppliant Women - Greek Tragedy C5th B.C.
  • Apollodorus, The Library - Greek Mythography C2nd A.D.
  • Apollonius Rhodius, The Argonautica - Greek Epic C3rd B.C.
  • Lycophron, Alexandra - Greek Poetry C3rd B.C.
  • Greek Papyri III Euphorion, Fragments - Greek Poetry C3rd B.C.
  • Diodorus Siculus, The Library of History - Greek History C1st B.C.
  • Strabo, Geography - Greek Geography C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
  • Pausanias, Guide to Greece - Greek Travelogue C2nd A.D.
  • Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy - Greek Epic C4th A.D.
  • Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses - Greek Mythography C2nd A.D.
  • The Orphic Hymns - Greek Hymns C3rd B.C. - C2nd 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.
  • Nonnos, Dionysiaca - Greek Epic C5th A.D.
  • Suidas - Byzantine Greek Lexicon C10th A.D.

Other references not currently quoted here: Servius on Virgil's Aeneid 4.246; Gellius 14.4