Nemesis was the goddess of righteous indignation and divine retribution. She showed no mercy to the haughty and quickly reclaimed good fortune from those who did not rightfully deserve it.
Though Hesiod maintains that she was the daughter of the primordial deities Erebus and Nyx, there are some indications that she may have been one of the many daughters of the titan Oceanus.
Nemesis believed that no mortal should have too much or be too happy. It was not uncommon for her to bring a wave of chaos into the lives of those she deemed to be unduly fortunate. For this reason she has been both feared and worshiped since the beginning of time.
Like many of the other pre-Olympian gods, Nemesis is surrounded by an aura of mystery. Her infrequent appearances throughout the stories accompanied by a general lack of information will forever cast her as a bit of an enigma in the eyes of the reader.
Below is one of the few myths in which Nemesis takes on a starring role. It contains an interesting plot twist and adds some variation to the more traditionally accepted version of Leda and the Swan.
One afternoon as Zeus was busying himself with the duties of the day, he happened to notice just how beautiful Nemesis, the goddess of retribution actually was. Feeling as though he had been bewitched, the amorous god tried to woo his intended lover, but Nemesis remained indifferent to the situation.
In an effort to flee her pursuer's advances, Nemesis began changing her shape from one animal form to another until finally settling on the likeness of a goose. In an instant, Zeus appeared wearing the guise of a swan and impregnated his reluctant partner.
According to another version, Zeus utilized the help of the goddess Aphrodite and subsequently tricked Nemesis into having a romantic encounter with him.
It seems that Aphrodite transformed herself into an eagle and chased the swan clad Zeus into the arms of the unsuspecting goddess.
In order to protect the helpless creature from the great bird's talon's, Nemesis offered him refuge by kindly allowing him to fall asleep in her lap. Zeus promptly resumed his true figure and had his way with the goddess.
Regardless of which narrative you prefer, the final results were the same. Nemesis found herself to be with child, but when the time came for her to give birth a most peculiar thing happened.
For instead of producing a baby, Nemesis brought forth a magical egg. Instantly the god Hermes appeared and whisked the egg off to Sparta, where he presented it to King Tyndareus' wife Leda.
Leda faithfully tended to her mysterious gift until one day the delicate shell cracked open and revealed to all a beautiful female child. Known to all as Helen, she would grow to become one of the most coveted women in the world.
She had many titles; Helen of Greece, Helen of Sparta and Helen of Troy. All that saw her were captivated by her loveliness, but beauty can sometimes be more of a curse than a blessing.
One of my favorite literary passages comes from Christopher Marlowe's play Dr. Faustus:
Was this the face that launch'd a thousand ships,
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.
Her lips suck forth my soul: see where it flies!
Come, Helen, come, give me my soul again.
Here will I dwell, for heaven is in these lips,
And all is dross that is not Helena.
I will be Paris, and for love of thee,
Instead of Troy, shall Wittenberg be sack'd;
And I will combat with weak Menelaus,
And wear thy colors on my plumbed crest;
Yea, I will wound Achilles in the heel,
And then return to Helen for a kiss.
O, thou art fairer than the evening air
Clad in the beauty of a thousand stars:
Brighter art thou than flaming Jupiter
When he appear'd to hapless Semele;
More lovely than the monarch of the sky
In wanton Arethusa's azur'd arms;
And none but thou shall be my paramour!
Medea's Lair Of Greek Mythology © 1999-2016.