I would love to believe in the truth of this quote by Lord (George Gordon) Byron 1788-1824, that most notorious and flamboyant Anglo-Scottish poet. :
“Time and Nemesis will do that which I would not, were it in my power remote or immediate. You will smile at this piece of prophecy - do so, but recollect it: it is justified by all human experience. No one was ever even the involuntary cause of great evils to others, without a requital: I have paid and am paying for mine - so will you.”
Were he living now he might vulgarly call it Payback Time.
In ancient Greek religion, Nemesis was the goddess who enacted retribution against those who succumb to hubris (arrogance before the gods). Another name was Adrasteia, meaning "the inescapable”. The Romans knew her as Invidia.
|Alfred Rethel “Nemesis"|
The ancient Greeks knew a thing or two about retribution, in the shape of the Goddess Nemesis it was a recurrent theme of many Greek tragedies. Nemesis was to be feared and a sure and inevitable reward for arrogance and conceit, self-importance and egotism.
I came across Nemesis in a very much more modern setting, in one of the short stories by Saki (HH Munro). Clovis complains that there are remembrance days throughout the year which persistently harp on one aspect of human nature and entirely ignore the other: we have Christmas and New Year, Easter, Birthdays and Anniversaries, when we are encouraged by convention to send gushing messages to all and sundry; to pretend optimistic goodwill and servile affection to people whom we can scarcely abide in reality.
Clovis continues:” There is no outlet for demonstrating your feelings towards people whom you simply loathe.”
Does he perhaps have a point?
Would a recognised Nemesis Day be such a terrible idea? Would we all wait for it impatiently and look forward to taking much pleasure in the settling of old scores and grudges being “gracefully vindictive to a carefully treasured list of people who must not be let off” ?
Or do we turn the other cheek by responding to injury without taking revenge?
Questions questions, problems, problems. I am not one for turning the other cheek, but neither am I a great one for openly seeking revenge, openly being the operative word. Besides, nurturing grudges is such a waste of precious time. I only learned that lesson in the second half of my life and have thereby saved myself a lot of heartache.
There may be a third way of coping with a world we find hard to understand and that is to take to heart the words of Wendell Berry, a poet whom I love and admire more and more:
When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.