Nemesis in Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology

(*Ne/mesis), is most commonly described as a daughter of Night, though some call her a daughter of Erebus (Hygin. Fab. praef.) or of Oceanus (Tzetz. ad Lyc. 88; Paus. 1.33.3, 7.5.1). Nemesis is a personification of the moral reverence for law, of the natural fear of committing a culpable action, and hence of conscience, and for this reason she is mentioned along with Αἰδώς, i. e. Shame (Hes. Th. 223, Op. et D. 183). In later writers, as Herodotus and Pindar, Nemesis is a kind of fatal divinity, for she directs human affairs in such a manner as to restore the right proportions or equilibrium wherever it has been disturbed; she measures out happiness and unhappiness, and he who is blessed with too many or too frequent gifts of fortune, is visited by her with losses and sufferings, in order that he may become humble, and feel that there are bounds beyond which human happiness cannot proceed with safety. This notion arose from a belief that the gods were envious of excessive human happiness (Hdt. 1.34, 3.40; Pind. Ol. viii. in fin., Pytth. 10.67). Nemesis was thus a check upon extravagant favours conferred upon man by Tyche or Fortune, and from this idea lastly arose that of her being an avenging and punishing power of fate, who, like Dike and the Erinyes, sooner or later overtakes the reckless sinner (Apollon. 4.1043; Sophocl. Philoct. 518; Eur. Orest. 1362; Catull. 50, in fin.; Orph. Hymn. 60). The inhabitants of Smyrna worshipped two Nemeses, both of whom were daughters of Night (Paus. 7.5.1). She is frequently mentioned under the surnames Adrasteia [ADRASTEIA, No. 2] and Rhamnusia or Rhamnusis, the latter of which she derived from the town of Rhamnus in Attica, where she had a celebrated sanctuary (Paus. 1.33.2). Besides the places already mentioned she was worshipped at Patrae (Paus. 7.20, in fin.) and at Cyzicus (Strab. p. 588). She was usually represented in works of art as a virgin divinity, and in the more ancient works she seems to have resembled Aphrodite, whereas in the later ones she was more grave and serious, and had numerous attributes. But there is an allegorical tradition that Zeus begot by Nemesis at Rhamnus an egg, which Leda found, and from which Helena and the Dioscuri sprang, whence Helena herself is called Rhamnusis (Callim. Hymnn. in Dian. 232; Paus. 1.33.7). On the pedestal of the Rhamnusian Nemesis, Leda was represented leading Helena to Nemesis (Paus. l.c.) Respecting the resemblance between her statue and that of Aphrodite, see Plin. Nat. 36.4; comp. Paus. 1.33.2; Strab. pp. 396, 399. The Rhamnusian statue bore in its left hand a branch of an apple tree, in its right hand a patera, and on its head a crown, adorned with stags and an image of victory. Sometimes she appears in a pensive standing attitude, holding in her left hand a bridle or a branch of an ash tree, and in her right a wheel, with a sword or a scourge. (Hirt, Mythol. Bilderb. p. 97, &c.) - A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology, William Smith, Ed.

Read More