Greek artists portrayed Nemesis as a winged goddess who wore a diadem in her thick hair and carried a whip or a dagger. While she was a relatively minor goddess in the Greek pantheon, Nemesis, goddess of righteous indignation and divine retribution, nevertheless became a cult figure in both the Greek and Roman empires. Gods and humans alike would call upon her to exact revenge on the vain, the guilty and the overly-fortunate.

Properties of Nemesis

Nemesis typically expressed sympathy for and righteous indignation on behalf of a person seeking her help or council. Stories surrounding the goddess often focus on individual boasts or crimes, yet the Greeks believed the goddess was capable of doling out punishment to entire civilizations. In the fifth century B.C., the Greeks even credited her with their victory over the Persian army. Owing to the sympathy she showed toward wronged parties and the role she played in correcting political ills, Nemesis represented righteous victory and the perseverance of justice.

The Mother of Helen

Some Greeks believed she was the daughter of Nyx and others believed she was the daughter of Oceanus, still others that Nemesis was the daughter of Zeus. According to a fragment of the epic "The Cypria," Nemesis transformed into a number of animals to escape her father's advances. Eventually, Zeus overtook her, and she bore Helen of Sparta as a result of the rape. In this instance, the wrongs committed against her inspired feelings of righteous indignation, though in this rare case, she was unable to seek vengeance.

The Vanity of Narcissus

The beauty of Narcissus inspired love in many, but he was unwilling to love in return. One of his spurned admirers called upon Nemesis to afflict Narcissus with the pain of unrequited love. Nemesis, wishing to punish Narcissus for his vanity, complied. When Narcissus saw his reflection in a pool of water, he, like his admirers, fell in love instantly. Though he knew at some level he had fallen in love with himself, he stared at the pool and conversed with it until his beauty withered and he starved to death. The gods turned his body into a narcissus blossom.

The Debasement of Aura

Aura bragged that her body was more maidenly than that of Artemis. Humiliated, Artemis consulted Nemesis, who noted that the best way to punish Aura would be to destroy her virginity. Nemesis asked Eros, god of love, to infect Poseidon, the sea god, with lust. Poseidon created an enchanted water spring along Aura's path. When Aura drank, she fell asleep, and Poseidon raped her in a cruel mockery of marriage. Aura went mad upon waking, killing countless villagers and devouring one of her twin sons.