Nemesis – Directrix and Retributress

by Anthony Peter.

01 jan 2018
Dr Emma Stafford and Ernie Rogan

On Thursday, 18th January, U3A Todmorden’s monthly meeting’s guest speaker was Dr Emma Stafford, a Senior Lecturer in Classics at Leeds University and author of the guidebook to Todmorden Town Hall. Her subject was the Greek goddess, Nemesis.

But what did – and does – Nemesis stand for?

Nemesis certainly still inhabits our imaginations: in Germany, their national football team is regarded as England’s ‘alten Nemesis’, and in France, Sir Alex Ferguson has been described as Arsène Wenger’s ‘éternel Némésis mancunien’.

Alton Towers has a ride called Nemesis, and one of the favourite characters in the video game, Resident Evil, is the Nemesis, an undead, bio-manipulated Tyrant – something ‘coming to get you.’

But why should someone come to get you? The ancient Greeks associated Nemesis with ‘hubris’ or the excessive pride that leads mortals to get above themselves, and the goddess was there to keep you in your place.

At first, she was envisaged wearing white because she was pure and justifiably indignant at mortal behaviour. And, being pure and blameless, she was considered qualified to represent justice, so her images came to show her with a set of scales.

As an agent of retribution, she is seen in vase paintings pointing to what will happen to you if behave outrageously. Statues and coins show her with a measuring rod and a horse’s bit, directing us to ‘do nothing beyond measure, nor be unbridled in speech.’

In her developing role as the goddess who urges us to think before we act, she comes also to be given a rudder and a wheel, symbols telling us to ‘keep on track’.

And if we fail to heed her, then, as one statue shows, she will trample on our heads and set her bird of vengeance, a griffin, on us.

Christian Europe developed the concept of a corrective Nemesis in ‘emblem books’. Thus an image of Nemesis with rod, bridle and wheel carries the motto ‘Harm no one in word nor deed’; and an engraving of Hope and Nemesis together declares ‘Do not hope for what is not allowed.’

This was a learned and enlightening talk, giving us an insight not only into Nemesis, but also into the world of academic research and its relevance to our own lives.

Our January showcase speaker was Myrna Beet, convenor of the Quiz Group. Meeting on the 4th Thursday of the month, they work in random teams to do a 60 question quiz set by a member. Members also take it in turns to provide the refreshments. It must be fun, as several members have been going for years!

U3A Todmorden’s next meeting will be on Thursday, February 15th 2018, and our speakers will be Peter Thornton and Ray Riches with their talk ‘The Pathways Story’. Our contact details are (website), (email), or 01706 812015 (phone).