Mesomedes' "Hymn to Nemesis" numismatically illustrated

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Roman Collector, Feb 24, 2018.

  1. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    The Greek goddess Nemesis appears on numerous ancient coins. On Roman imperial coins, she is typically depicted as winged, holding a caduceus or olive-branch and sometimes with a snake at her feet. On Roman provincial coins, she often appears without wings, wearing a chiton, holding a bridle, scales, or cubit-rule, and with a wheel at her feet.

    Post your coins that portray her!

    In ancient Greek religion, Nemesis was the goddess who enacted retribution against those who succumb to hubris. The best description of her role and attributes, in my opinion, is a hymn to the goddess written by Mesomedes.

    Mesomedes of Crete was a Roman-era Greek kitharode and lyric poet. He was a freedman and favorite of Emperor Hadrian, who made him his chief musician; he also served under Hadrian's successor, Antoninus Pius.

    Only 15 of his poems have come down to us, but four of them have survived along with musical notation! His "Hymn to Nemesis" is one of of these. As such, modern musicologists are able to recreate what it may have sounded like:

    Here's another interpretation (instrumental):

    Here is the full Greek text[1] It's in a Doric accent, so long alpha is used where Attic would use eta. It's not hard to follow along with the singer in the first video:

    Ύμνος εις Νέμεσιν
    Μεσομήδης ὁ Κρής

    Νέμεσι πτερόεσσα βίου ῥοπά,
    κυανῶπι θεά, θύγατερ Δίκας,
    ἃ κοῦφα φρυάγματα θνατῶν,
    ἐπέχεις ἀδάμαντι χαλινῷ,
    ἔχθουσα δ’ ὕβριν ὀλοὰν βροτῶν,
    μέλανα φθόνον ἐκτὸς ἐλαύνεις.
    ὑπὸ σὸν τροχὸν ἄστατον ἀστιβῆ
    χαροπὰ[2] μερόπων στρέφεται τύχα,
    λήθουσα δὲ πὰρ πόδα βαίνεις,
    γαυρούμενον αὐχένα κλίνεις.
    ὑπὸ πῆχυν[3] ἀεὶ βίοτον μετρεῖς,
    νεύεις δ’ ὑπὸ κόλπον ὀφρῦν ἀεὶ[4]
    ζυγὸν μετὰ χεῖρα κρατοῦσα.
    ἵλαθι μάκαιρα δικασπόλε
    Νέμεσι πτερόεσσα βίου ῥοπά.

    Νέμεσιν θεὸν ᾄδομεν ἄφθιτον,
    Νίκην τανυσίπτερον ὀμβρίμαν
    νημερτέα καὶ πάρεδρον Δίκας,
    ἃ τὰν μεγαλανορίαν βροτῶν
    νεμεσῶσα φέρεις κατὰ Ταρτάρου.

    Here is my translation, illustrated with coins:

    Hymn to Nemesis
    Mesomedes of Crete

    Nemesis, winged tipper of the scale of life ...

    Domna Pautalia Nemesis.jpg
    Nemesis holding scale and short staff (cubit rule?); (torture) wheel at her feet. Julia Domna, AD 193-211, Thrace, Pautalia, Æ 22.3 mm, 5.97 g; Ruzicka 482, Moushmov 4222.

    ... dark-faced goddess, daughter of Justice
    who bridles with an adamantine bit
    the vain whinnying of mortals,
    and hating the destructive hubris of humans,
    you drive out dark resentment.

    Gordian III and Tranquillina Tomis Nemesis.JPG
    Nemesis holding arshin (cubit rule?) and bridle; (torture) wheel at feet. Gordian III and Tranquillina, A.D. 238-244, Moesia Inferior, Tomis, Æ 4.5 assaria, 28.92 mm, 15.89 g, 7 h; AMNG I 3537, Varbanov 5701, Moushmov 2279, Cf. SNG Cop 305.

    By your unceasing torture-wheel, leaving no tracks,
    mankind's grim fortune turns
    and, unnoticed, you come in an instant,
    bending the haughty neck.
    With your cubit-rule you always measure the lifespan
    and you nod always with a furrowed brow,
    seizing the yoke with your hand.
    Be gracious, blessed dispenser of justice,
    Nemesis, winged tipper of the scale of life.

    Smyrna semi-autonomous Nemesis.jpg
    Winged Nemesis advancing right, hand bent and plucking chiton at her neck, holding bridle in left hand. Pseudo-autonomous issue, time of Septimius Severus, AD 193-211, Ionia, Smyrna, Æ 26.5 mm, 8.03 g, 6 h; SNG Cop 1304.

    Of Nemesis we sing, imperishable goddess,
    mighty Victory with long wings,
    infallable and sharing the throne with Justice,
    Who, with righteous anger at the haughtiness of humans,
    casts them down into Tartarus.



    1. E. Heitsch: Die griechischen Dichterfragmente der römischen Kaiserzeit, i (Göttingen, 1961, 2/1963), 24ff

    2. χαροπός ή όν grim?, fierce?; blue-grey, grey; the meaning of this word is uncertain.

    3. πῆχυς εος ὁ forearm; cubit. However, when used as an epithet of Nemesis it means "cubit-rule" (s.v. πῆχυς εος ὁ V. 2, Henry George Liddell. Robert Scott. A Greek-English Lexicon. revised and augmented throughout by. Sir Henry Stuart Jones. with the assistance of. Roderick McKenzie. Oxford. Clarendon Press. 1940).

    4. νεύω incline; nod, nod assent. κόλπος ὁ lap, bosom; fold of a garment. ὀφρῦς ύος ἡ eyebrow, brow; with νεύω often to nod as a sign. The text of this line makes no sense if taken literally. From context, and taking κόλπος metaphorically in the sense of "furrow" (it can mean fold of a garment or any grooved or hollowed out thing; s.v. κόλπος ὁ II and III, Henry George Liddell. Robert Scott, ibid), I have translated as "nod with a furrowed brow."
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2018
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  3. Orfew

    Orfew Supporter! Supporter

    Great post. Thanks very much for this. I only have one coin with nemesis.

    Vespasian, 69-79 A.D. AR Denarius, 3.16g. 21.41mm. Rome, 73 A.D.

    Obv: IMP CAES VESP AVG CENS. Laureate head of Vespasian to right.

    Rev: MAXIM PONTIF. Nemesis walking to right holding caduceus over snake.

    C 385, RIC 544. SRCV I (2000) 2304

    Ex: E. E. Clain-Stefanelli collection. Ex: Numismatica Ars Classica - Auction 92 Part 2, Lot 2133 May 24, 2016 275 CHF ; Ex: Ed waddell September 7, 2016

    Coin depicted in the database.

    vespasian ric 544.jpg
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  4. zumbly

    zumbly Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana Supporter

    Very cool! Thanks for the translation. Not the most easygoing of goddesses, that Nemesis. I suspect a death metal version of the Hymn might please her.
    Alegandron, Orfew and Roman Collector like this.
  5. randygeki

    randygeki Coin Collector

    Excellent post
  6. lrbguy

    lrbguy Well-Known Member

    Good job, RC. Not only tracking down those musical interpretations, but also doing the homework on the text yourself. Most impressive, and very interesting to hear what might have been.
    Roman Collector likes this.
  7. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    Thank you @Roman Collector ... you are bringing History to life! Very nice work, and a very fun read (and a fun listen while reading along!)
    Roman Collector likes this.
  8. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

    What an interesting post! I'm a bit scared of Nemesis now ("torture wheel"? :eek:) :D

    Those were some interesting and diverse musical interpretations. Although rather foreign to my ear, I preferred the second (instrumental) version.

    I have no Nemesis coins. Definitely going on the list though, thanks to the spate of Nemesis coins shown recently!
    Roman Collector likes this.

    RAGNAROK Naebody chaws me wi impunity

    Brilliant post, sir! :woot:
    Roman Collector likes this.
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