Nemesis (from nemein, ‘given what’s due’) was the Greek goddess of divine retribution. That is, of maintaining balance, keeping people in their place. In one sense she is an echo and instrument of fortune’s wheel, a dark and perhaps more vengeful version of Karma. An eye for an eye. This idea of retribution (‘back-assign’) used to mean the dealing out of rewards as well as punishments, raising as well as cutting down, to keep the order of things, to keep things even (like death). But recently we’ve focussed on her threat to our climb to success, her name becoming synonymous with ‘enemy’ (‘not friend’). An enemy, however, that is unavoidable, fated, forever.
Another night-born daughter of Nyx, Nemesis’ levelling down is something we can’t help fearing, in the context of our own lives. Equal opportunity is one thing. Equal limitations, it feels, quite another. To have is to fear to lose. (To have nothing is fine as long as others have less.) And there must be someone to blame, a face on which to focus our frustration. In most of our day-to-days now there is no immovable divinity seen at the top of things, keeping us down. That mountain is anyone’s to scale, anyone with enough of what we all want. Now, in the general absence of personified deities, we’ve still looked amongst ourselves for individuals to call by the name of Nemesis. Scapegoats usually start out as rivals (from rivalus: ‘person who uses the same stream as another’).
Nemesis proverbially pivots around pride: countering (human) hubris, driven by that of another (above or parallel). Like the other ancient gods, she has largely dissolved back into how we relate to ourselves, to others who are like us, at least at root. (A life for a life.) All the same, when something changes and everything feels out of control and we’re thrown from our usual confidence, her sword-of-Damocles presence might be felt and touted again as a threat of punishment from a power bigger than and beyond ourselves. And in the face of shared chaos, we look for a reason, a cause, a criminal to take the hit. Making things measure up makes us feel safe. But sometimes – out of place, grasped at for security, misapplied – mathematics comes closer to madness.
Abridged 0 – 69: Nemesis invites submissions of poetry and visual art exploring fate, fortune, fear, pride, revenge, rivalry, ambition, power and other people. You can send to email@example.com up to 3 poems, preferably in Word format or similar and 4 pieces of art in Jpeg or similar format. Deadline is 30th June 2021. Please put your name on all submissions otherwise we might thinks it is spam (and also it’s polite!).
Image by Stefanie Glinski: https://www.stefanieglinski.com/
Abridged is Supported by The Arts Council of Northern Ireland.