Themis & Nemesis
“Nemesis is the Goddess of retribution and indignation. She is inescapable, seeking justice and revenge. Her name means to give what is due, and unlike Themis, Nemesis has sight.”
When I chose to portray Themis, I chose someone that was decidedly not Oshun from last month’s Cosplay. She is not a goddess that represents the traditionally ultra feminine attributes like fertility, love, and beauty. Instead I wanted to explore a different set of qualities that would showcase the diversity of feminine archetypes.
Themis is the personification of divine law. As one of the original Titan Goddesses in Greek mythology she is the daughter of Gaia, the Goddess of the Earth, and her father is the Sky God, Uranus. As one of the first Goddesses and as the Goddess of justice it was Themis that laid the foundation of morality and provided a code of conduct for the Gods to follow. Themis was well respected and was one of the first to provide counsel for her husband, Zeus, the king of all Gods. She had the sight of prophecy, and she spoke reason into the world. With her she carried a scale and a sword. The sword symbolizes her ability to cut fact from fiction and her authority in doing so. The scales represent the weighting of evidence in a way that shows fairness.
In the western world, Themis has been merged with her daugher, the Goddess Dike and her Roman counterpart, the Goddess Justitia. Today we summarize the symbolism of these Goddesses to form Lady Justice. The Greek name Themis translates to “divine law,” and the name of her daughter, Dike, translates to mean “justice” as does the Roman name Justitia. These Goddess share many qualities and symbols. However, Justitia represented the virtue of justice for the Roman empire and it was the duty of the Roman, Justitia and the Greek, Dike to enforce the will of Themis and the will of the Moirai- representing fate and destiny. They also were tasked with enforcing the law and giving order to mankind. In addition to the scale and the sword a blindfold was introduced to the concept of Lady Justice. The blindfold means to represent the impartiality of Lady Justice. No matter who you are- God or man, rich or poor- the law holds firm. Justice is blind and holds no prejudice. Lady Justice is also depicted wearing a toga, to represent the formality, philosophy and ceremonial aspects of the judicial system.
According to the Iliad, Themis “was of the lovely cheeks.” Meaning, in my plain words, that she was a sensible, even tempered, apathetic being. But as I’m sure you’re aware, people tend to test laws, rules, and regulations. Some of us venture to find out where the law bends and where it is that it breaks. In circumstances like this, where we become too arrogant towards the law and towards the Gods, the winged Goddess, Nemesis, swiftly appears.
Nemesis is the Goddess of retribution and indignation. She is inescapable, seeking justice and revenge. Her name means to give what is due, and unlike Themis, Nemesis has sight. She sees the world around her and aims to distribute fortune in proportion to what is just. My modern take on Nemesis is that she is the Goddess of Social Justice.
When Themis is ignored, it is Nemesis that punishes the insolence of mortals. The Greek poet, Mesomedes, described her as, “Nemesis, winged balancer of life, dark-faced goddess, daughter of Justice.” Although Nemesis is wrathful, like Themis, she seeks justice. Also like Themis she carries a scale, but instead of using it to weigh evidence and truth, she measures fortune and happiness. The name Nemesis means to give what is due and her sword represents that right.
“The hand of Nemesis balances the scales of justice.
She untangles the threads spun by the Fates.
Lift the burden of this problem, great Nemesis.
Guide me to the solution.”
Nemesis sees what Themis’ blindfold of impartiality cannot allow her to see and Nemesis does the work that Themis cannot allow herself to do. Our Goddess of divine justice must maintain and represent order and civility. The law must be clear and unwavering. The sword of Themis allows her to cut fact from fiction, but we know that the would is full of areas of grey. Nemesis is not bound by this. “The hand of Nemesis balances the scales of justice.”
She is a reactionary. She is able to understand that although the law does it’s best to treat everyone as equals- society is full of unequal outcomes. So there is Nemesis to redistribute and if needed- to seek revenge. But, because she is a reactionary, we cannot always trust her judgement. She is my Lady Social Justice. Ready to right every wrong, but reactions can be messy, biased and unclear.. Reactions don’t always take the time to think about a narrative, a lesson, or a truth other than their own. And the revenge is quick as Nemesis has wings to quickly respond to every injustice.
Of the two Goddesses, who do you prefer? One is impartial with her scales of justice, and the other seeks out imbalances in the outcomes of justice, to bring relief and at times stronger more appropriate punishment. On this topic, the world seems to always struggle with what is just. Eyes opened or closed we all carry some bias. It is in our nature. In this I see a need for balance. Not for someone to simply be right or wrong. Through someone else’s eyes we can always be made out to be on the right or wrong side of justice, but in our Goddess Nemesis we have balance…
That Justice is a blind goddess
Is a thing to which we black are wise:
Her bandage hides two festering sores.
That once perhaps were eyes.
Justice, by Langston Hughes