1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Nemesis

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NEMESIS, the personification of divine justice. This is the only sense in which the word is used in Homer, while Hesiod (Theog. 223) makes Nemesis a goddess, the daughter of Night (some, however, regard the passage as an interpolation); she appears in a still more concrete form in a fragment of the Cypria. The word Nemesis originally meant the distributor (Gr. νέμειν) 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 νεμεσᾶν, νεμεσίζεσθαι (“to feel just resentment”). In the tragedians Nemesis appears chiefly as the avenger of crime and the punisher of arrogance, 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 1). 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 campestris). 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, a sword and a scourge, and rides in a chariot drawn by griffins.

See C. Walz, De Nemesi Graecorum (Tübingen, 1852); E. Tournier, Némésis (1863), and H. Posnansky, “Nemesis und Adrasteia,” in Breslauer philologische Abhandlungen, v. heft 2 (1890), both exhaustive monographs; an essay, “Nemesis, or the Divine Envy,” by P. E. More, in The New World (N. Y., Dec. 1899); L. R. Farnell, Cults of the Greek States, ii.; and A. Legrand in Daremberg and Saglio's Dictionnaire des antiquités. For the Roman Nemesis, see G. Wissowa, Religion und Kultus der Römer (Munich, 1902).