Nemesis | Greek Goddess

Nemesis Greek Mythology

Nemesis (European Portuguese) or Nemesis (Brazilian Portuguese) (Greek: Νέμεσις), in Greek mythology according to Hesiod, was one of the daughters of the goddess Nix (the night).

Pausanias cited Nemesis as the daughter of the titans Ocean and Thetis. Late authors put her as the daughter of Zeus and Themis. She is the goddess who personifies fate, balance and divine vengeance.

Although Nemesis was born into the family of most of the dark gods, she lived on Mount Olympus and figured divine vengeance. Nemesis was also called "the inevitable one", and was depicted as a beautiful winged woman.

She was sometimes merged with Themis, goddess of justice, and with Aphrodite when the latter took revenge on Narcissus for breaking the hearts of several girls.

Her appearance is also similar to that of several other goddesses such as Demeter and Artemis, which means that Nemesis, like other gods who only personify abstract concepts, did not receive individual worship.

In Ramnunte, a small town in Attica not far from Marathon located on the coast of the strait separating Attica from the island of Euboea, Nemesis had a famous shrine, which at the same time was a temple of Themis.

The statues of the two goddesses were carved together by Phidias (the most beautiful statues of Themis and Nemesis) on a block of marble from Paros brought by the Persians and intended to make a trophy.

According to the ancient Greek religion, the Persians had been too sure of victory denoting inordinacy (hubris), and never took Athens, in favor of which Nemesis took sides. Nemesis encouraged the Athenian army at Marathon.

Other places that Nemesis was patroness of were the Anatolian cities of Ephesus and Smyrna (a city that may have been her origin) as well as the island of Samos.

Etymology and meaning

The word 'nemesis' comes from the ancient Greek νέμεσις, derived from the verb νέμω (nemo: 'to distribute'), from the Indo-European root nem-. The term was used with the meaning of 'disdain', 'indignation' by Homer (in the Odyssey) and by Aristotle (in the Nicomachean Ethics), and with the sense of 'revenge', 'punishment' by Herodotus, by Claudius Eliano (in Varia historia) and by Plutarch. In the Theologumena arithmeticae of Jâmblico it designates the numeral five.

The word also has the sense of distributive justice. Originally, the Greek goddess inflicted pain or granted happiness according to what was fair. Therefore, by antonomasia, nemesis is understood as the negative situation that follows a particularly favorable period, as an act of compensatory justice.

The idea underlying the term is that the world must obey a law of harmony, according to which good must be compensated for evil in equal measure.

Current meaning of the term

In English, the word means 'someone who demands or inflicts retaliation' or, by extension of meaning, a 'fearsome and usually victorious rival or adversary.' In modern English culture, the term has taken on the meaning of 'enemy' or a person's worst enemy, usually someone who is the exact opposite of you but who is also in some way very similar to you.

For example, Professor Moriarty is often described as Sherlock Holmes' nemesis, that is, his arch-enemy, for whom he nevertheless harbors great respect and admiration.


Nemesis represents the force in charge of putting down all excesses (hubris), such as the excessive happiness of a mortal or the pride of kings, for example. This is a fundamental conception of the Hellenic spirit:

"Everything that rises above its condition, both in good and evil, exposes itself to reprisals from the gods. It tends, in effect, to subvert the order of the world, to endanger the universal balance, and must therefore be punished if the universe is to remain as it is."

In one version of the myth of Helen of Troy's origin, Zeus once felt an enormous passion for Nemesis because of her beauty and resolved by all means to possess the goddess. Nemesis tried to avoid the union with Zeus by transforming herself into a goose, but the god eventually became a swan and they united.

The goose laid an egg, the fruit of this union, and abandoned him. Some shepherds found the egg and gave it to Leda, queen of Sparta to hatch it together with her own eggs (the fruit of her union with Zeus, in the form of a swan). From the egg laid by Nemesis was born Helen of Sparta.

Nemesis was the goddess who punished King Cresus of Lydia. Cresus, who was too happy with his riches, was driven by Nemesis to undertake an expedition against Cyrus, which eventually brought him ruin and disgrace.

Another victim of punishment sent by Nemesis was Narcissus. Too content with his own beauty, Narcissus despised love. The young women scorned by Narcissus asked for revenge on Nemesis, who heard them and caused a great heat. After a hunt, Narcissus leaned over a fountain for water. In it he saw his beautiful face and, in love with his own beauty, languished to death for impossible love.

Place of worship

A festival called Nemeseia (sometimes identified as Genesia) took place in Athens. Its purpose was to neutralize the enemy of the dead, who would have the power to punish the living if their worship had been somehow neglected.

In Smyrna there were two manifestations of Nemesis, more similar to Aphrodite than Artemis. The reason for this duality is difficult to explain. It is suggested that they represent two aspects of the goddess, kind and ruthless, or the goddesses of the old city and the new city refounded in Alexandria.

The Martyrology Acts of Pionius, set in the "persecution of Decius" of 250-51 AD, mentions a Christian from Smyrra who was attending the sacrifices at the altar of the temple of these Nemesis.