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The Goddess Nemesis

Updated on April 19, 2012

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 ancient sanctuary of the goddess Nemesis at Rhamnous, in Greece
The ancient sanctuary of the goddess Nemesis at Rhamnous, in Greece | Source
This artist's rendidtion of the Goddess Nemesis is by Melanie Delon, a wonderful contemporary artist
This artist's rendidtion of the Goddess Nemesis is by Melanie Delon, a wonderful contemporary artist | Source

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!

Pheidias's statue of Nemesis, circa 490 BC, now on display at the Louvre in Paris, France
Pheidias's statue of Nemesis, circa 490 BC, now on display at the Louvre in Paris, France | Source

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.

The Goddess Themis, goddess of justice, very similar to Nemesis
The Goddess Themis, goddess of justice, very similar to Nemesis | Source

Do you have a Nemesis?

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    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      3 years ago from USA

      An informative and fascinating hub. I liked, too, the thought-provoking poll at the end. Got me thinking about who all these personal people's Nemeses might be.

    • profile image

      REVENGE 

      4 years ago

      I recently just started looking up "Nemesis" In my ... Vengeful Journey.

      What photo is actually here?

      I wanted a Tattoo

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Paradise7 

      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you for the comment!

    • htodd profile image

      htodd 

      6 years ago from United States

      Informative article about the Godess Nemesis..Thanks for it

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Paradise7 

      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      I would, too, Kitty. I certainly would too!

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Paradise7 

      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      I know the story you're referring to, the Leda and the Swan story, and it is true that sometimes Nemesis is attributed as the lover of Zeus in the form of the swan and also the mother of Helen of Troy; more often, though, Aphrodite is attributed as the lover of Zeus and the mother of Helen of Troy. In both of these instances, Leda is attributed as the goose girl who finds the egg and the adoptive mother of Helen of Troy, not the natural mother by Zeus. Lotsa different versions out there; it was so confusing I decided to omit it from this article.

    • kittythedreamer profile image

      Nicole Canfield 

      6 years ago from Summerland

      Love this hub! But of course I love everything written on goddesses. Great piece, Paradise. Keep 'em coming. Oh, and I would love to visit Nemesis' sanctuary someday.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      6 years ago from south Florida

      Isn't it interesting, Paradise, how Nemesis was first believed to be the Goddess who gave mortals what was due to them according to their actions. And later became the very personification of revenge and retribution - for the good guy as well as the bad.

      In some ancient writings, Zeus is described as seducing Nemesis when she tries to fool him by changing into a goose. He foils that by becomng a swan, and . . . well, that's another story.

      Thanks for this well-written expostion. Voted Up.

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Paradise7 

      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks for the comment, scary.

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Paradise7 

      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks for the comment, Gypsy Flower (what a beautiful avatar you have, m'dear!). The Nememsis concept, which started out as an avenger to right wrongs, has been completely transformed by time into the enemy, and is now predominantly masculine. So strange!

    • scarytaff profile image

      Derek James 

      6 years ago from South Wales

      Hi, No.7. Another great hub. Voted up and interesting.

    • Gypsy Flower profile image

      Gypsy Flower 

      6 years ago from Albuquerque, New Mexico, U.S.A

      Greek mythology started to interest me when I was about 10 years old. I recall hearing brief reference to Nemesis from time to time, but nobody ever wanted to talk about her or answer my questions. This confused me, since she clearly affects so much of human existence. Thanks to your hub I understand a bit better now, but I still feel she has been treated unfairly by history and the world at large.

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Paradise7 

      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks for the comment, Randslam, and that sounds right to me.

    • randslam profile image

      Rand Zacharias 

      6 years ago from Kelowna, British Columbia

      Thanks for the informative article about a goddess I never knew existed. Great information and story-telling about a little known deity.

      As for the transformation from goddess of revenge to antagonist, perhaps the idea that opposites attract is at the root of this role reversal from vengeful goddess to evil opponent--for many, ex-spouses become the Nemesis in life, ergo, antagonists. Of course, Antigony was a goddess, too, was she not?

      Voted useful and interesting.

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Paradise7 

      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks for the comment.

    • Green Lotus profile image

      Hillary 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      Interesting how the goddess has changed over the centuries. I never knew that your "nemesis" related to a Greek Goddess.

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Paradise7 

      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks for the comment, and I'm glad you enjoyed this article.

    • andrew savage profile image

      andrew savage 

      6 years ago from USA

      What an informative article. A Nemesis of one form or another observing and studying each of us like a specter, visible or not. Each of us can think of at least one person who fits this archetype's qualities, whether it be an employer, a parent, a childhood friend, a deity, angel, etcetera.

      I suppose it is our Nemesis that applies the final weight upon the scales of justice come the day of judgement.

      Kudos to Nemesis.

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