I. ”Nemesis, winged tilter of scales and lives,
Justice-spawned Goddess with steel-blue eyes!
Thou bridlest vain men who roil in vain
Against Thy harsh adamantine rein.
Great hater of hubris and megalomania,
Obliterator of black resentment,
By Thy trackless, churning, wracking wheel
Man’s glinting fortunes turn on earth.
Thou comest in oblivion’s cloak to bend
The grandeur-deluded rebel neck,
With forearm measuring out lifetimes
With brow frowning into the heart of man
And the yoke raised sovereign in Thy hand.
Hail in the highest, O justice-queen
Nemesis, winged tilter of scales and lives,
Immortal Judge! I sing Thy song,
Almighty Triumph on proud-spread wings,
Lieutenant of fairness, Requiter of wrongs.
Despise the lordly with all Thine art
And lay them low in the Nether-dark.”
“Hymn to Nemesis” by Mesomedes of Crete, translated by A.Z. Foreman (via http://poemsintranslation.blogspot.ch/2011/05/mesomedes-hymn-to-nemesis-from-greek.html)
II.“Thee, Nemesis I call, almighty queen, by whom the deeds of mortal life are seen:Eternal, much rever’d, of boundless sight, alone rejoicing in the just and right:Changing the counsels of the human breast for ever various, rolling without rest.
To every mortal is thy influence known, and men beneath thy righteous bondage groan;
For ev’ry thought within the mind conceal’d is to thy fight perspicuously reveal’d.
The soul unwilling reason to obey by lawless passion rul’d, thy eyes survey.
All to see, hear, and rule, O pow’r divine whose nature Equity contains, is thine.
Come, blessed, holy Goddess, hear my pray’r, and make thy mystic’s life, thy constant care:
Give aid benignant in the needful hour, and strength abundant to the reas’ning pow’r;
And far avert the dire, unfriendly race of counsels impious, arrogant, and base.”
An Orphic hymn to Nemesis
The very name Nemesis (Greek for “to give what is due”) arrests attention and commands respect. It connotes vengeance but originally Nemesis, also known as Adrasteia – the Inescapable One, was just “an abstract force of justice rather than that of retaliation,” as Demetra George puts it in Mysteries of the Dark Moon. At first, no value was attached to the fortune distributed by Nemesis: it was described as neither good nor bad, but just in due proportion according to what was deserved. With time, Nemesis came to be associated with the sense of resentment at an injustice done and a call for rightful vengeance.
The beauty of Nemesis, like of no other goddess, was compared to that of Aphrodite herself. She rode a chariot drawn by griffins, and had a wheel, a measuring rod, scales, a bridle, a scourge and a sword for her attributes. Her crown was adorned with stag horns; there was an apple bough in her hand. The wheel of life turned by griffins seems like her most striking attribute aligning her with the eastern concept of karma. Part eagle, part lion, the griffin “like certain kinds of dragon, is always to be found as the guardian of the roads to salvation, standing beside the Tree of Life or some such symbol. From the psychological point of view it symbolizes the relationship between psychic energy and cosmic force,” says Cirlot in his Dictionary of Symbols. Personally, I have always thought of royal griffins as symbols of concentrated benevolent consciousness and spiritual protection. The eagle being the king of birds and the lion the king of animals bestow on the noble griffin the gift of double royalty.
The apple is obviously associated with Venus:
“For if an apple is halved cross-wise each half shows a five-pointed star in the centre, emblem of immortality, which represents the Goddess in her five stations from birth to death and back to birth again. It also represents the planet of Venus—Venus to whom the apple was sacred—adored as Hesper the evening star on one half of the apple, and as Lucifer Son of the Morning on the other.”
Robert Graves, The White Goddess
Winged and adorned in white, Nemesis acted swiftly when an injustice was committed. As Demetra George writes:
“She was held in awe and fear as a mysterious power who shaped the behavior of individuals in their time of prosperity, punishing crime and evil deeds, taking luck away from the unworthy, tracking every wrong to its doer, and keeping society in equipoise. Nemesis also personified the resentment aroused in people when others who committed crimes were not punished, or toward those who had inordinate or undeserved good fortune.”
She was especially adamant to punish the sin of hubris, which in modern understanding means excessive pride and self-confidence but for ancient Greeks meant insolence before the gods as well as all kinds of actions that shamed or humiliated the victim. In today’s terms we would speak of physical assault, rape, harassment, battery, but that was all collected under the umbrella term hubris for ancient Greeks. In the well-known myth of Echo and Narcissus, Nemesis punished Narcissus for the sin of excessive self-involvement. Shamelessness accompanied by arrogance, a sense of entitlement and exploitation of others, are listed among the traits of the narcissistic personality disorder. Nemesis strikes these with a single move of her sword.
However, the scales held by Nemesis denote that not only can humans be excessively arrogant but they can also be excessively humble. Hubris has its shadow – a feeling of inadequacy and inferiority, the shadow of excessive humility is the deeply-seated illusion of grandeur. In an excellent book The Complex: Path of Transformation from Archetype to Ego, a Jungian analyst Erel Shalit, relates Nemesis to both the inferiority and the superiority complex:
“We find an image of the core of the inferiority complex in Nemesis, goddess of measurement and retribution for good fortune, who reminds the ego of its minuteness and its boundaries. The person who suffers from an inferiority complex … feels defeated before setting out. In fact, the inferiority complex may withhold from the ego even the necessary minimum of adequate (primary) narcissistic energy, thus preventing the person from even departing on his or her journey.”
This goddess does not approve of wishy-washiness and hesitation. Her element is decisive action in the light of conscious discrimination.
In a lost epic entitled Cypria we find a fascinating myth with Nemesis as one of its chief protagonists, which shows her special significance in the Greek pantheon. In The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony, Roberto Calasso devotes a lot of place to pondering this myth. The forever amorous Zeus seemed to have been at one time obsessed with Nemesis, going to great lengths to get her:
“Something tremendous must have been at stake in that erotic conquest. Never, for a woman, had Zeus traveled so far, crossing country after country, sea after sea, ‘beneath the earth, beneath the black, unfished waters,’ and on and on to ‘the ends of the earth, to the watery snake, Oceanus.’ Stubborn and desperate, Nemesis transformed herself into all kinds of animals, while Zeus never let up following her. And when all the feather flapping was finally done, when atlas and zoology were exhausted, what was left? A wild goose and a swan. The swan settled on the goose and forced her to yield. Zeus ‘passionately united himself with her, out of powerful necessity.’ … Nemesis was still sleeping when the swan raped her. Then from Nemesis’ womb a white egg appeared. Hermes took it, carried it to Sparta, and placed it in Leda’s womb. When the big egg hatched, from inside the shell emerged a tiny, perfect female figure: Helen.
But what was the relationship between mother and daughter? We know a great deal about Helen, whereas only a few details have come down to us about the divine figure of Nemesis, and even these are often enigmatic. This goddess of the offense that boomerangs back on its perpetrator must have been very beautiful if people could mistake her for Aphrodite. Herself the great enemy of hubris, she gave birth to a daughter whose very body was an offense and in doing so provoked the most magnificent unfolding of hubris in all of Greek history: the Trojan War.”
Called Queen of Motives and Arbitress of all Things, Nemesis’ cult originated in Smyrna, where she was worshiped as two identical goddesses both called Nemesis. Duplication seems to be a curious leitmotif in her myth: Narcissus looking at his reflection, Helen having two mothers and being born together with her twin brothers – Castor and Pollux and Clytemnestra, a twin sister. Castor was mortal, Pollux was an immortal son of Zeus. Nemesis embodies the duality of human versus natural/celestial law of the gods; she serves as a soul guide to the right action in the light of good conscience and good judgment. For me, she personifies faith in the balance of the universe. I take comfort in this archetype believing that inherent to our universe is a natural, archetypal defense against evil and injustice. I think this short poem by D.H. Lawrence captures the essence of Nemesis’ justice:
“The profoundest of all sensualities
is the sense of truth
and the next deepest sensual experience
is the sense of justice.”