The Homeric Hymns are a collection of 33 poems that were sung to the Greek Gods. Some, like the one to Apollo, are relatively long; however, poem 23, which is indirectly dedicated to Zeus, is quite short:
To the Son of Cronos, Most High
I will sing of Zeus, chiefest among the gods and greatest, all-seeing, the lord of all, the fulfiller who whispers words of wisdom to Themis as she sits leaning towards him.
Be gracious, all-seeing Son of Cronos, most excellent and great!
Now, this is interesting on multiple levels:
First, the other Gods are called out by name; here we have a reference to Cronus, or Saturn.
Cronus who castrated his own father, resulting in the birth of Aphrodite.
Cronus, who swallowed his own children, resulting in the Titanomachy, the War in Heaven, that ultimately lead to Zeus ascent to power.
Perhaps this is a sign of deference to Zeus, to not mention Him directly by name, a pattern also found in the Old Testament.
But this begs the next question:
Who is Themis, and why She is singled out over all of the other Greek deities?
Why does He whisper words of wisdom?
Whisper. Zeus bellows, or is silent. But not to Themis…
No mention of Zeus’ chief consort Hera; his multiple mistresses, his Olympian and semi-mortal children…nothing.
Why is Themis so important to Zeus?
Let’s follow the trail set by the reciters of the Homeric Hymns, the path to Themis…
To quote scholar Moses Finley (who was ironically forced to flee America during the Communist Red Scare)
“Themis is untranslatable. A gift of the gods and a mark of civilized existence, sometimes it means right custom, proper procedure, social order, and sometimes merely the will of the gods (as revealed by an omen, for example) with little of the idea of right.
…There was themis—custom, tradition, folk-ways, mores, whatever we may call it, the enormous power of ‘it is (or is not) done’. The world of Odysseus had a highly developed sense of what was fitting and proper.”
Themis could see the future; she built the temple at Delphi, which she presided over as Oracle.
She is often depicted holding a sword, to cut truth from falsehood.
While Themis is not wrathful, to disregard or disrespect or is to invoke her shadow, the Goddess Nemesis. Thus, they shared a temple, the Nemesion, at Rhamnous.
It should also be noted the idea of justice being blindfolded is modern. Even in the Renaissance, Justice could see:
This motif was carried over into the modern Tarot:
Back to Zeus:
We know He can’t resist women…where does that lead us?
After all, not only does He whisper to Themis, but She leans in…
Children of Themis:
Going with Hesiod, we can say that Zeus and Themis had the following children:
Horae: the Hours
- Auxo (the grower)
- Carpo (the fruit-bringer)
- Thallo (the plant-raiser)
- Dike (justice)
- Eirene (peace)
- Eunomia (order of law)
Now, from here things get tricky. Hesiod denies the following, as does the mythographer Pindar, but there are allegations that the Fates, the Morai, were also children of the two:
- Clotho (the weaver)
- Lachesis (the lot-caster)
- Atropos (the inevitable)
However, we’ll leave that one to the paternity courts.
So what’s the take away?
Zeus always has Themis’ ear…
But when Zeus doesn’t respect Themis, Nemesis appears.
Or in plain English:
To Rule Without Justice is to Invite Retribution…
And that’s why we should still need these stories, as a reminder,
and a warning…
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