In Greek mythology, Hesiod mentions Themis (Greek: Θέμις) among the six sons and six daughters of Gaia and Uranus, that is, of Earth with Sky. Among these Titans of primordial myth, few were venerated at specific sanctuaries in classical times, and Themis was so ancient that the followers of Zeus claimed that it was with him she produced the Three Fates themselves (Hesiod, Theogony, 904). A fragment of Pindar, however, tells that the Moerae were already present at the nuptials of Zeus and Themis, that in fact the Moerae rose with Themis from the springs of Okeanos the encircling World-Ocean and accompanied her up the bright sun-path to meet Zeus at Olympus. With Zeus she more certainly bore the Horae, those embodiments of the right moment — the rightness of Order unfolding in Time — and Astraea. Themis was there at Delos to witness the birth of Apollo. According to Ovid, it was Themis rather than Zeus who told Deucalion to throw the bones of his Mother over his shoulder to create a new race of mankind after the Deluge.
Themis (meaning “law of nature” rather than “human ordinance”), she “of good counsel,” was the embodiment of divine order, law and custom. When Themis is disregarded, Nemesis brings just and wrathful retribution, thus Themis shared the Nemesion at Rhamnous (illustration below). Themis is not wrathful: she, “of the lovely cheeks”, was the first to offer Hera a cup when she returned to Olympus distraught over threats from Zeus (Iliad xv.88). Themis presided over the proper relation between man and woman, the basis of the rightly ordered family (the family was seen as the pillar of the deme), and judges were often referred to as “themistopoloi” (the servants of Themis). Such was the basis for order upon Olympus too. Hera addressed her as “Lady Themis.” The name of Themis might be substituted for Adrasteia in telling of the birth of Zeus on Crete. She built the Oracle at Delphi and was herself oracular. According to another legend, Themis received the Oracle at Delphi from Gaia and later gave it to Phoebe.
- With Zeus
- Horae: the Hours
- Moirae: the Fates
A Roman equivalent of one aspect of Hellenic Themis, as the personification of the divine rightness of law, was Iustitia (Anglicized as Justitia). Her origins are in civic abstractions of a Roman mindset, rather than archaic mythology, so drawing comparisons is not fruitful. Portrayed as an impassive woman, blindfolded and holding scales and a cornucopia, the sculpted figure outside a county courthouse is Iustitia or Lady Justice, not Themis.
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