Nemesis was the ancient Greek goddess of divine retribution. As such, she meted out punishment for evil deeds, undeserved good fortune, and hubris (arrogance before the gods). She was also called Adrasteia, meaning “the inescapable,” or the “Goddess of Rhamnous” in recognition of her famous temple in the city Rhamnous. Her Roman counterpart was Invidia, the goddess of jealousy as well as vengeance.
Sources consistently named Nyx, the goddess of the night, as the mother of Nemesis, but were inconsistent on her father. Zeus, Oceanus, and Erebus have all been described as Nemesis’s father, while yet other sources claimed she had no father at all.
Sources were also inconsistent on Nemesis’s children. Some sources claimed Leda was the mother of Helen of Troy and her twin sister Clytemnestra, while other sources named Nemesis as their mother. The twins Castor and Pollux were likewise sometimes described as Leda’s sons and sometimes as Nemesis’s sons. In myths where Nemesis was named as the mother of the two sets of twins, Nemesis was pursued by Zeus. In an attempt to escape Zeus’s unwanted attentions, Nemesis transformed herself into a goose. Undeterred, Zeus transformed himself into a swan, caught Nemesis, and impregnated her. Nemesis then laid two eggs, each of which contained a set of twins. Some sources then elaborated that one or both of the eggs were passed on to Leda, who hatched and then raised the children as her own.
Sources were less inconsistent regarding Nemesis’s role in the Greek pantheon, which was often concerned with matters of the heart. Seeing the handsome hunter Narcissus treat his admirers with contempt, Nemesis lured him to a pool where he saw and fell in love with his own reflection, eventually withering away and dying from being unable to look away from his own beauty.
As a purveyor of justice, Nemesis was often depicted with a sword and scales, although she was also alternatively shown with a whip, measuring rod, dagger, bridle, scourge, wings, or sometimes a griffin-drawn chariot.
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