Names

The name ‘Nemesis’ was derived from the Greek words ‘nemesis’ and ‘nemo’, meaning dispenser of dues, and can be variously translated from the Greek as ‘she who distributes or deals out’, ‘due enactment’ or ‘divine vengeance’.

The word was derived from the root ‘nem/nom’, which means distribution or apportionment. The verb ‘nemein’ means to apportion, distribute or graze.  The related words ‘nomos’ (with accents on first and second o’s respectively) means pasture or law.  The verb ‘nemeson’ means to begrudge.  While the original meaning of Nemesis was ‘allotment’ or ‘apportionment’, it came to mean the feeling provoked by the violation of the rules of fairness.

Nemesis was also known as Adrasteia, which in Greek means ‘inescapable’. It is said that this name was taken from the king, Adrastos.   An alternative mythology has it that this name came from the ancient Adrastos who suffered divine wrath for his boasts against the Thebans  He had established a shrine to Goddess Nemesis, who in certain parts of Greece then acquired the name Adrasteia.

She was also sometimes called Rhamnusia or Rhamnusis, in honour of her sanctuary at Rhamnos.

Later, the Romans often used the Greek name for her, but sometimes called her Invidia (Jealousy) or Rivalitas (Jealous Rivalry).

Lineage

In Greek mythology Goddess Nemesis is most commonly described as the daughter of Nyx and Erebus.  Her mother, Nyx, was goddess of the night.  Nyx was spawned from the primordial chaos, along with Erebus, Her brother.  Phanus, a sun god, is suggested to also be her father in some myths.  With Erebus, Nyx is said to have mothered Aether (the upper air) and Hemera (day).  It is also said that on her own she gave birth to Moros (doom), Hesperides, Thanatos (death), Themis (morals), Hypnos (sleep), Apate (deceit), the fates and Nemesis.  Because of the nature of her mother, Nemesis also developed the name, ‘daughter of night’.

Nyx resided in ‘Tartarus’, the hell of the underworld, which is buried both deep below it and also forms part of it.  Nyx left ‘Tartarus’ and went out into the world each day and went back as Hemera (day) returned.  Erebus represented the gloomy darkness of ‘Tartarus’.

The Greek epic poem ‘Theogony’ by Hesiod (8th or 7th century B.C.) refers to Nemesis being the daughter of Nyx as follows:

And Night bore hateful Doom and black Fate and Death, and she bore Sleep and the tribe of Dreams.  And again the goddess murky Night, though she lay with none, bare Blame and painful Woe, and the Hesperides who guard the rich, golden apples and the trees bearing fruit beyond glorious Ocean.  Also she bore the Destinies and the ruthless avenging Fates, Clotho and Lachesis and Atropos, who give men at their birth both evil and good to have, and they pursue the transgressions of men and gods: and these goddesses never cease from their dread anger until they punish the sinner with a sore penalty.  Also deadly Night bore Nemesis (indignation) to afflict mortal men, and after her, Deceit and Friendship and hateful Age and hard-hearted Strife.

This is re-enforced by other sources; Pausanias’s ‘Description of Greece’ a Greek travelogue written in the 2nd century, by Pseudo-Hyginus, a Roman mythographer of the 2nd century and also by Cicero, the Roman rhetorician in ‘De Natura Deorum’ written in the 1st century, who refers to Invidentia [Nemesis] as being one of the children of Erebus (Darkness) and Nyx (Night).

There are other mythologies surrounding the parentage of Nemesis.  Pausanias in his ‘Description of Greece’ cites that some people believed that Nemesis’s father was Okeanos, the primeval river-ocean that encircled the world, and that in Smyrna they

…believe in two Nemeses instead of one, saying their mother is Nyx, while the Athenians say that the father of the goddess in Rhamnos is Okeanos.

A further description of Nemesis’s parentage from a fragment of a Greek epic of the 7th or 6th century  B.C. by Stasinus of Cyprus or Hegesias of Aegina states that Nemesis was the daughter of Zeus, stating the following,

Nemesis tried to escaped him [Zeus] and liked not to lie in love with her father Zeus the son of Kronos.

However, the most common depiction of Goddess Nemesis’s parentage is as the daughter of Nyx, the goddess of the night.

In some early myths, Goddess Nemesis was attributed to having mothered Helen of Troy.  From the fifth century, this attribution passed onto Leda and then returned again to Nemesis.  In the myth’s earliest forms it was Goddess Nemesis who pursued the sacred king Zeus at various seasonal times, each time changing forms into those of various animals, until she caught him as a mouse with a grain of wheat at the summer solstice and devoured him.

With the coming of the Hellenic patriarchal mythology, Nemesis became the one fleeing from a lustful Zeus, changing shapes in an effort to escape him.  He finally captured her, she in the form of a goose, he as a swan and he raped her at Rhamnous inAttica.  She laid an egg that was suckled by Leda, who raised the child Helen.  This story was one that prevailed throughout the Attica region ofGreece.

The Greek epic by Stasinus or Hegesias of the 7th or 6th century B.C. described the myth as follows,

Rich-haired Nemesis gave birth to her [Helene] when she had been joined in love with Zeus the king of the gods by harsh violence. For Nemesis tried to escape him and liked not to lie in love with her father Zeus, the son of Kronos; for shame and indignation vexed her heart: therefore she fled him over the land and fruitless dark sea.  But Zeus ever pursued and longed in his heart to catch her.  Now she took the form of a fish and sped over the waves of the loud-roaring sea, and now over Okeanos’ stream and the further bounds of Earth, and now she sped over the furrowed land, always turning into such dread creatures as the dry land nurtures, that she might escape him.

The Greek mythographer, Pseudo-Appollodorus in his ‘Biblotheca’ of the 2nd century described the conception of Helen as follows,

But some say that Helen was a daughter of Nemesis and Zeus; for that she, flying from the arms of Zeus, changed herself into a goose, but Zeus in his turn took the likeness of a swan and so enjoyed her; and as the fruit of their loves she laid an egg, and a certain shepherd found it in the groves and brought and gave it to Leda; and she put it in a chest and kept it; and when Helen was hatched in due time, Leda brought her up as her own daughter.

Variant forms of this tale are repeated by Pausanias in his ‘Description of Greece’ of the 2nd century and also by Pseudo-Hyginus in ‘Astronomica’ also from the 2nd century.

An alternative myth about the offspring of Nemesis comes from Bacchylides, a Greek Lyric poet from the 5th century B.C., who relates that Telkhines, Aktaios, Megalesios, Ormenos and Lykos were the children of Nemesis and Tartaros.

Share