The story of Narcissus

A famous example of the retribution of Nemesis is the story of Narcissus.  This man was the beautiful son of the River Cephissus and the nymph Liriope.  He was so handsome that all women who beheld him at once fell in love with him but he rejected them.  The vain Narcissus, however, only had eyes for himself and rebuffed all admirers.  One such admirer was the nymph Echo, who saw Narcissus and at once fell in love with him.  But the beautiful youth couldn’t be bothered with the smitten one, who was so distraught over his rejection that she withdrew into a lonely spot and faded until all that was left was the plaintive echo of her voice.

Nemesis saw this and heard the rejected girl’s prayers for vengeance.  Goddess Nemesis punished Narcissus by making him fall in love with his own reflection.  The vain Narcissus was condemned to spend the rest of his days admiring his own reflection in the waters of a pool.  He was unable to satisfy his own desires and wasted away.  Eventually Narcissus died and was transformed into the flower that bears his name.

Story of Artemis and Aura

Nonnus’s ‘Dionysiaca’ recounts another story about the Goddess Nemesis.  This tale related to Aura, the virgin companion of the Goddess Artemis who mocked her, declaring her virgin form to be far superior to Artemis’s.  In her anger Artemis sought retribution from Goddess Nemesis.

Artemis took herself to Nemesis, and found her on the heights of Tauros in the clouds.  A wheel turned itself round before the queen’s feet, signifying that she rolls all the proud from on high to the ground with her avenging wheel of justice, she the all vanquishing deity who turns the path of life.  Round her throne flew a bird of vengeance, aGriffinflying with wings, or balancing himself on four feet, to go before the flying goddess and show that she traverses the four separate quarters of the world.  High-crested men she bridles with her bit which none can shake off and she punishes the haughty with the whip of misery, like a self-rolling wheel.

When the goddess saw Artemis’s pallid face, she knew that she was offended and questioned her in friendly words: ‘Your looks, Archeress proclaim your anger.  Artemis, what impious son of Earth persecutes you?  …..If some woman is persecuting you as one did your mother Leto, I will be the avenger of the offended Archeress.’

The maiden interrupted and said to the goddess who saves men from evil ‘….it is that sour virgin Aura, the daughter of Lelantos, who mocks me and offends me with rude sharp words.  But how can I tell you all she said?  I am ashamed to describe her insults to my body and her abuse of my breasts.  I am insulted by Aura, the champion of chastity.  I pray you, let me see Aura’s body transformed into immoveable stone.’

The goddess replied ‘Chaste daughter of Leto, I will not use my sickle to make the maid stone for I am myself born of the same ancient race of the Titanes, but I will grant you this, Archeress.  Aura, the maid of the hunt has reproached your virginity, and she shall be a virgin no longer.  You shall see her in the bed of a mountain stream weeping fountains of tears for her maiden girdle.’

In this way Nemesis consoled her and Artemis entered her cart with its team of four prickets and left the mountain.  With equal speed Nemesis pursued her enemy, Aura.  She harnessed racing Griffins under her bridle, flying swiftly through the air in her chariot, until she brought the four footed birds to thepeakofSipylos.  Then she approached haughty Aura.  She flicked the proud neck of the hapless girl with her snaky whip, and struck her with the round wheel of justice.  She let the whip with its vipers curl round the maiden’s girdle and prepared another love for her before returning to snow-beaten Tauros.  And Eros drove Dionysos mad for the girl with the delicious wound of his arrow, and in this way her virginity was taken.