Themis: Birth, Family, Symbols, & Powers
In Greek mythology, Themis’ name means justice, making her the embodiment of law, order and discipline. Her worship was mainly in the Greek city-state of Athens. Additionally, the ancient Greeks associated her with prophecy, wisdom and forethought. As the deity of justice and order, Themis was believed to possess vast knowledge and secrets of the universe that even rivaled that of the great Olympian god Zeus.
A member of the first generational Titans, Themis was revered for the protection she granted to the down-trodden of the Greek society. With the help of Nemesis (Greek goddess of retribution), Themis was known to punish perpetrators of hubris against the gods.
Facts about Themis
Goddess of: justice, wisdom, law and order
Parents: Uranus and Gaia
Siblings: Titans, the Cyclops, and the Hecantoncheires
Consort: Zeus, Metis
Children: the Fates – the Moirai, Parcae, Moerae; the Hours (Horae), Prometheus
Association: Gaia (Earth), Dike (Justice)
Symbols: Sword, blindfold, balance
Epithets: “Mother of Justice”, “nomoi”, “divine or natural law”, “the Lady of good counsel”,
Roman name: Iustitia, also known as Justitia or Lady Justice
Meaning and Epithets
Themis’ name, which came from the Greek word “títhēmi”, translates into “to put” or “to put in order”. Her name means “divine law”. Some common epithets of Themis are “Mother of Justice”, “the divine or natural law”, and “the Lady of good counsel”.
Family and children
The titaness Themis was born to the Earth goddess Gaia and the sky god Uranus. According to the Greek poet Hesiod, Themis was a member of the first generation of Titans that included Cronus, Tethys, Oceanus, Iapetus, Phoebe, Rhea, Hyperion, Coeus, Crius, Mnemosyn and Theia.
According to Hesiod’s Theogony, Themis is the consort of Zeus, the king of the Greek gods. Together with Zeus, she gave birth to Horae (the Hours), the Hesperides, and the Fates (the Moirai, Parcae, and Moerae).
The Horae were embodiment of the seasons (or nature) and the right moment or rightness. They include Auxo (“increaser of plants”), Carpo (“order of nature”), Thallo (“bringer of blossoms”), Dike (justice), Eirene (peace), and Eunomia (order of law).
The Moirai on the other hand were regarded as the three Fates – Clotho (the weaver), Atropos (the inevitable), and Lachesis (the lot-caster).
Themis and Prometheus
In the play Prometheus Bound, most likely written by the father of tragedy Aeschylus, Themis is described as the mother of the second generation Titan Prometheus, the god fire and trickery.
Themis and Dike
The Greek goddess Dike – Greek goddess of justice – was one of the Horai and the daughter of Themis and Zeus. Similar to Themis, Dike is usually depicted holding a balance and staff.
According to Hesiod, Themis, together with Dike, dispensed justice. They were also responsible for enforcing the decisions of the Moirai (the Fates).
Depictions and symbols
The ancient Greeks typically depicted Themis as a woman in fine robes. In her left hand was a pair of scales as she wielded a sword in the other hand. Often times, her eyes were blindfolded, symbolizing the objective and impartial way she administered justice. In some way, her blindness also represented her prophetic abilities. Themis had no need to look at the present as she could see years and decades into the future; hence her blindness.
Oracle at Delphi
Themis, along with her mother Gaia, was the one who built the Oracle at Delphi. This explains why she was revered as a deity with the ability to foresee the future.
Themis was the one who prophesied that the son of the nymph Thetis would go on to be greater than his father. Upon hearing the prophecy, Zeus and Poseidon ceased their pursuit of Thetis. Instead they betrothed Thetis, against her will, to Peleus, who later fathered the Greek hero Achilles.
As time passed on, Themis passed the stewardship of the Oracle at Delphi to the Greek god Apollo or her sister Phoebe.
Worship and cult
The goddess Themis had a number of thriving temples and cult centers across Greece. At Dodona, in the oracular shrine of Zeus, there was a temple in her honor. Similarly, there were temples of Themis in Athens and Phthiotis.
Themis and Nemesis
At the Nemesion Temple at Rhamnous (an ancient Greek city in Attica), Themis was worshiped along with Nemesis, the goddess of retribution and justice. It was believed that Themis collaborated with Nemesis to inflict punishment on those who violated the natural laws. And whenever the people disrespected the natural laws, Nemesis was the deity called upon to exact retribution upon the perpetrators.
Themis’ role in the Greek pantheon was to serve as the enforcer of the natural laws. For example, she oversaw the proper relationship between a man and a woman. She was also in charge of maintaining order in the family since the family was an important pillar of the society and subdivisions (i.e. deme/demos).
Themis’ role as the enforcer of law and order explains why the Greeks referred to judges as “themistopoloi”, meaning the servants of Themis.
The Greeks believed that Themis also enforced order in Mt. Olympus. In one account of the myth, Hera, the Queen of the Olympians, called her “Lady Themis”.
Powers and abilities
Of all the Greek gods, no other other god could rival Themis when it came to organizing communal affairs of humans and the gods. She is believed to have extensive knowledge about the right way of doing things, both at the family and community level.
According to Homer, Themis was the enforcer of order or control. She performed this role of hers by interpreting in an objective manner the will of the Greek gods. Thus, she punished people who acted in arrogant manner towards the gods.
Themis and Deucalion
According to the Metamorphoses, written by the Roman poet Ovid (Pūblius Ovidius Nāsō), Themis was the deity that helped Deucalion repopulate the world after the great deluge wiped the world’s population, but for Deucalion and his family. The story tells of how Zeus sent the massive flood in hopes of bringing an end to the Bronze Age. The king of the Olympians had grown very tired of the hubris of men (i.e. the Pelasgians).
With the help of Prometheus, Themis’s son, Deucallion and his family were spared as they built a chest and stored a lot of provision to cater for them throughout the flood which lasted nine days.
With every human being dead, Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha, the daughter of Epimetheus, had to repopulate the world. The couple then sought the advice of Themis who told them to cover their heads and throw the bones of their mother over their shoulders. By “bones of their mother”, Themis was referring to the rocks on the earth. The rocks symbolized the bones of Gaia (i.e. earth). Deucalion and Pyrrha obliged with Themis’ directives. The rocks that Deucalion threw turned into men, while Pyrrha’s rocks turned into women. And so the world was repopulated.
In the Roman pantheon, Themis’ equivalent was a deity called Iustitia or Justitia (known today as the “Lady of Justice”).
It was claimed that the goddess Iustitia lived as a virgin among the humans for some time; however, she left and became the constellation Virgo because she could no longer stand the transgressions of mortals.
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Other interesting facts about Themis
The Greek titan Atlas guarded the golden apples of the Hesperides because he was warned by Themis that Zeus would try to steal those prized fruits.
In an epic called Cypria, Themis and Zeus initiate the Trojan War as means to reduce humanity’s population.
In many judicial institutions across the world, including the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington D.C., statues of Lady Justice (Iustitia) abound. Those statues and images are often a blend of Themis and Iustitia.
Themis association with the blindfolds, scales and swords began around the 16th century AD. Scholars have often pointed out the strong resemblance between Statue of Liberty in New York City and the Greek goddess of justice.
In many accounts, Themis is not seen as a wrathful deity; rather she is portrayed as a very benevolent deity whose goal is to ensure that the human race abide by the natural laws and remain just at all times.
Hesiod is the first-known writer to make a Greek deity in charge of justice and order.
In other accounts, she was the consort of Iapetus; together, they gave birth to the trickster titan Prometheus (foresight).
It’s been said that the Greek goddess Themis was at Delos to witness the birth of Apollo to Leto, the daughter of Titans Phoebe and Coeus.