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The Goddess Nemesis
The goddess Nemesis in Greek mythology predates Zeus. She is the goddess of revenge; more than that--she is the goddess of divine retribution against those who protest their just fate.
In the beginning, Nemesis was the goddess who dealt out fairly--she gave to each what was due to him or her, based on their actions in life. At first, the goddess Nemesis was the goddess who balanced each person's fate against their natures and actions, and distributed both good and bad fortune in a fair and even-handed way. Her wrathful revenge was reserved for those who could not accept their just fate, and had the hubris, the arrogance, to protest against the dealings of the gods.
The Greek sanctuary of this ancient goddess at Rhamnous, north of Marathon, in Greece, is a beautiful and peaceful spot. Surprise, surprise! The Greeks later became obsessed with the remorselessness of fate; eventually the goddess Nemesis became the personification of remorseless revenge. Your "nemesis" will follow you, haunt you, wherever you go; your "nemesis" is inescapable, implacable and merciless.
The beautiful but deadly Goddess Nemesis has been a fascinating figure in the arts and literature for centuries; for millenia! There is something so haunting, and so true, and satisfying, about the idea of revenge.
I think the ancient Greeks had it right--revenge is a woman.
Retribution, and revenge, are inherent parts of the Hellenic ideal of justice. There is no justice without revenge, and revenge is the theme of many ancient myths and legends. The revenge stories of Sophocles' tragedies are with us to this day, and have the same power to move us and to satisfy our innate longings for the balance of fate to be restored, when revengeful justice is meted out to the perpetrator of evil deeds.
The Goddess Nemesis is the daughter of Oceanus. Oceanus is the ocean; the waters that encompass the world. The ocean was perceived as a goddess, and her daughter Nemesis is the daughter of the powerful waters that surround the all land. The images of Nemesis in the fragments of ancient statuary in her sanctuary at Rhamnous show the goddess as very beautiful, but hard and cold. One iconic statue remains there: it was sculpted by Pheidias after the battle of Marathon in 490 BC, approximately. The Battle of Marathon was a battle between the ancient Greeks and the ancient Persians. The Persians fully expected to win: they brought a block of marble to carve a victory stele after winning the battle. Well, the Greeks, who were defending their homeland against invaders, won the battle against all odds (they appeared to be hopelessly outnumbered) and carved instead, using that same block of Persian marble, the lovely statue of Nemesis. What an appropriate thing to do!
In the above statue, the goddess Nemesis has wings, like an angel. That was a standard convention of the ancient sculptures of gods and goddesses, to denote their divinity. There is a striking resemblance in the statue of Nemesis to our contemporary depictions of angels at gravesites.
The goddess Nemesis, who initially was the distributor of a person's just fate, both good and bad in proportion to their actions and intentions here on earth, became over time the goddess of justice or retribution; she rights the scales and adjusts the balance of fate when there is an imbalance of fate and the bad guys appear to be winning...
In contemporary times, Nemesis is the archenemy of the protagonist. For example, in the Batman series, the Joker is Batman's Nemesis. I had a terrible boss in one job; that boss was my personal Nemesis!
I'm not sure how the transformation was achieved over time. "Nemesis" went from being the avenger of wrongdoers everywhere to "Nemesis" being the archenemy of the good guy, the protagonist, and going against all that was good and right and true. Totally the opposite from the ancient Greek mythology version. Maybe is it the remorseless and implacable aspect of the Goddess Nemesis that turned her into the epitome of evil; an inescapable enemy that haunts you down the days and years.
The ancient Roman version of Nemesis is called Invidia. She was worshipped by the victors in battle; it was assumed that she gave victory to the just winners in war. She was also the goddess of the gladiator and the venatores, the ones who fought in the arena against wild beasts--bears and lions and tigers. The Goddess Invidia was cast on a coin in Hadrian's realm; about 150 years after the birth of Christ. She was worshipped by a society called Hadrian's freedman.
In the confusing pantheon of Roman goddesses, the artists' renderings of Nemesis are similar to Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and sometimes Aphrodite is called "Nemesis". Why, I do not know and cannot fathom...
One artist gave Nemesis a measuring rod and a pair of scales, as the goddess represents justice and the measuring out of the true proportions of fate to each....
Those scales of justice, held by a goddess, are reproduced in just about every courtroom in the land.
The goddess holding the scales is Themis, the goddess of divine justice, of law and order. Themis, according to mythology, gave us civilization; she gave us law and order, a social organization for humanity, somewhat like the Jewish religious convention of Moses giving the world the Ten Commandments. When divine justice, law and order are traduced, then the goddess Nemesis steps in to right the balance of the scales.
Those themes, of law and order, of wrongdoing, of justice and revenge, of Themis and Nemesis, repeat themselves over and over throughout ancient and modern history in myths, legends, religions, and now, in the present day, in movies and video games.