Nemesis (Νέμεσις) (called Rhamnousia, the "goddess of Rhamnous", at her sanctuary at Rhamnous, north of Marathon), in Greek mythology, is the spirit of divine retribution, vengeful fate personified as a remorseless goddess.
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 mythological 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 and Polydeukes.
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; 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 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). In the 3rd century A.D. there is evidence of the belief in an all-powerful Nemesis-Fortuna. She was worshipped by a society called Nemesiaci.
In early times the representations of Nemesis resembled Aphrodite, who herself sometimes bears the epithet Nemesis. Later, as the 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.
Rhamnous Nemesis Temple, Reconstruction
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