Nemesis (Νέμεσις, also called Rhamnousia, the "goddess of Rhamnous", at her sanctuary at Rhamnous, north of Marathon), in Greek mythology, is the spirit of divine retribution against those who succumb to hubris, vengeful fate personified as a remorseless goddess. The name Nemesis is related to the Greek word νείμειν, meaning "to give what is due". The Romans equated one aspect of Greek Nemesis, which might be translated "indignation at unmerited advantage", as Invidia (Aronoff 2003).
Such harsh divine justice 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).
The Only sense in which nemesis is used in Homer is as an abstract personification. Hesiod states: "Also deadly Nyx bore Nemesis to afflict mortal men." (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 executrix of justice — that of Zeus in the Olympian scheme of things, but it was clear she had preexisted him, for her images associate her with several goddesses who are manifestations of the former Great Goddess: Cybele-Rhea, Demeter and Artemis.
Nemesis, as the just balancer of Fortune's chance, could be associated with Tyche. 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 prefer to connect the name with "to feel just resentment".
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.
As the "Goddess of Rhamnous", Nemesis was honoured 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 with a crown of stags and little Nikes, made by Pheidias after the Battle of Marathon (490 BC) using a block of Parian marble that the over-confident Persians had brought with them, to make a memorial stele after their expected victory.
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, but may have to do with the same reasons why the virginal Artemis was worshipped more like a fertility goddess at her temple at Ephesus; 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 presecution" 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.
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, a bridle, scales, a sword and a scourge, and rides in a chariot drawn by griffins.
- Myth Man's Nemesis page
- Joshua Burns, "Perception and persecution in the Roman Empire: The Edict of Decius", discusses the Acts of Pionius
- Peter Aronoff, 2003. Review of David Konstan and Keith Rutter, Envy, Spite and Jealousy: The Rivalrous Emotions in Ancient Greece. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press 2003; ISBN 0-7486-1603-9 ) in particular the chapter "Invidia, nemesis, phthonos and the Roman emotional economy"
- Theoi.com: Nemesis Anthology of quotes from Classical sources