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Nemesis, by Alfred Rethel (1837)
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In Greek mythology, Nemesis (in Greek, Νέμεσις), also called Rhamnousia/Rhamnusia ("the goddess of Rhamnous") at her sanctuary at Rhamnous, north of Marathon, was the spirit of divine retribution against those who succumb to hubris (Extreme haughtiness or arrogance). The Greeks personified vengeful fate as a remorseless goddess. The name Nemesis is related to the Greek word νέμειν, nemein, meaning "to give what is due". The Romans equated the Greek Nemesis with Invidia (Aronoff 2003).

Nemesis is now often used as a term to describe one's worst enemy, normally someone or something that is the exact opposite of oneself but is also somehow similar. For example, Professor Moriarty is frequently described as the nemesis of Sherlock Holmes.

Contents

Background

Inexorable divine retribution is a major theme in the Hellenic world view, providing the unifying theme of the tragedies of Sophocles and many other literary works. In some metaphysical mythology, Nemesis produced the egg from which hatched two sets of twins: Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra, and the Dioscuri, Castor (Kástor) and Polydeukes (Polydeúkes,Πολυδευκες). Hesiod states: "Also deadly Nyx bore Nemesis an affliction to mortals subject to death." (Theogony, 223, though perhaps an interpolated line). Nemesis appears in a still more concrete form in a fragment of the epic Cypria.

She is the implacable executrix of justice: that of Zeus in the Olympian scheme of things, but it is clear she existed prior to him, as her images look similar to several other goddesses, such as Cybele, Rhea, Demeter and Artemis.[1]

Nemesis, Roman marble from Egypt, 2nd century AD (Louvre)

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

The word Nemesis originally meant the distributor of fortune, neither good nor bad, simply in due proportion to each according to his deserts; then, nemesis came to suggest the resentment caused by any disturbance of this right proportion, the sense of justice which could not allow it to pass unpunished. O. Gruppe (1906) and others connect the name with "to feel just resentment". From the 4th century onwards, Nemesis, as the just balancer of Fortune's chance, could be associated with Tyche.

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

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

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

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

Rome

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

Invidia (sometimes called Pax-Nemesis) was also worshipped at Rome by victorious generals, and in imperial times was the patroness of gladiators and of the venatores, who fought in the arena with wild beasts, and was one of the tutelary deities of the drilling-ground (Nemesis campestris). Invidia was sometimes, but rarely, seen on imperial coinage, mainly under Claudius and Hadrian. In the 3rd century AD there is evidence of the belief in an all-powerful Nemesis-Fortuna. She was worshipped by a society called Hadrian's freedman. The poet Mesomedes wrote a hymn to Nemesis in the early 2nd century CE, where he addressed her

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

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

In early times the representations of Nemesis resembled Aphrodite, who herself sometimes bears the epithet Nemesis. Later, as the maiden goddess of proportion and the avenger of crime, she has as attributes a measuring rod (tally stick), a bridle, scales, a sword and a scourge, and rides in a chariot drawn by griffins.

References

  1. ^ The primeval concept of Nemesis is traced by Marcel Mauss (Mauss, The Gift: the form and reason for exchange in archaic societies, 2002:23: "Generosity is an obligation, because Nemesis avenges the poor... This is the ancient morality of the gift, which has become a principle of justice". Jean Coman, in discussing Nemesis in Aeschylus (Coman, L'idée de la nemesis chez Eschyle, Strasbourg, 1931:40-43) detected "traces of a less rational, and probably older, concept of deity and its relationshiop to man", as Michael B. Hornum observed in Nemesis, the Roman State and the Games, 1993:9.

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Simple English

File:Nemesis Getty Villa 96.AA.
A statue of nemesis in the Getty villa
File:Statue Nemesis Louvre
A statue of Nemesis, found in Egypt, in the 2nd century AD

Nemesis (in Greek, Νέμεσις) is the Greek Goddess of revenge. Nemesis also possesses wings and is the daughter of Chiron. Chiron is married to Nike, goddess of victory.

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