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Nemesis (mythology)

Nemesis or Rhamnusia, in Greek mythology, is divine retribution personified as a goddess. Such harsh divine justice is a major theme in the Hellenic world view, providing the unifying theme of the tragedies of Sophocles and many other mythological works. In some versions of the myth, Nemesis is the mother of Helen of Troy.

The only sense in which the word is used in Homer is as an abstract personification, while Hesiod (T/reog. 223) makes Nemesis a goddess, the daughter of Nyx (some, however, regard the passage as an interpolation); she appears in a still more concrete form in a fragment of the Cypria. Other versions claim she was a daughter of Oceanus or Zeus. She was often associated with Tyche.

The word Nemesis originally meant the distributor of fortune, whether good or bad, in due proportion to each man according to his deserts; then, the resentment caused by any disturbance of this proportion, the sense of justice that could not allow it to pass unpunished. Gruppe and others prefer to connect the name with "to feel just resentment".

In the tragedians Nemesis appears chiefly as the avenger of crime and the punisher of hubris, and as such is akin to Ate and the Erinyes. She was sometimes called Adrasteia, probably meaning "one from whom there is no escape"; the epithet is specially applied to the Phrygian Cybele, with whom, as with Aphrodite and Artemis, her cult shows certain affinities.

She was specially honoured in the district of Rhamnus in Attica, where she was perhaps originally an ancient Artemis, partly confused with Aphrodite. A festival called Nemeseia (by some identified with the Genesia) was held at Athens. Its object was to avert the nemesis of the dead, who were supposed to have the power of punishing the living, if their cult had been in any way neglected (Sophocles, Electra, 792; E. Rohde, Psyche, 1907, i. 236, note I).

At Smyrna there were two divinities of the name, more akin to Aphrodite than to Artemis. The reason for this duality is hard to explain; it is suggested that they represent two aspects of the goddess, the kindly and the malignant, or the goddesses of the old and the new city.

Nemesis was also worshipped at Rome by victorious generals, and in imperial times was the patroness of gladiators and venatores (fighters with wild beasts) in the arena and one of the tutelary deities of the drilling-ground (Nemesis cam pestris). In the 3rd century A.D. there is evidence of the belief in an all-powerful Nemesis- Fortuna. She was worshipped by a society called Nemesiaci.

In early times the representations of Nemesis resembled Aphrodite, who herself sometimes bears the epithet Nemesis. Later, as the goddess of proportion and the avenger of crime, she has as attributes a measuring rod, a bridle, scales, a sword and a scourge, and rides in a chariot drawn by griffins.