Why Nemesis?

Personally, I had no idea what the word “nemesis” meant, before I started reading the novel Nemesis by Philip Roth.

Google gives us the following definitions:

– the inescapable agent of someone’s or something’s downfall.
– a long-standing rival; an arch-enemy.
– a downfall caused by an inescapable agent.
– retributive justice.
Digging a little deeper, one can find that the term “Nemesis” is directly tied to mythology.
 In Greek mythology, Nemesis (Greek, Νέμεσις), also called Rhamnousia/Rhamnusia (“the goddess of Rhamnous“) at her sanctuary at Rhamnous, north of Marathon, was the spirit of divine retribution against those who succumb to hubris(arrogance before the deities). Another name was Adrasteia, meaning “the inescapable.” The Greeks personified vengeful fate as a remorseless goddess: the goddess of revenge. (Wikipedia)

All in all, if Nemesis is the goddess of revenge or a spirit of retribution, does P. Roth try to initially portray the events of Newark as a a direct consequence of the actions of people living there? By naming his book Nemesis, did the author mean to portray its characters as victims of the polio outbreak or people who met their retribution?


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  1. Your post reminds us that we need to think back to Oedipus here, not just back to Camus. Both texts are being summoned by Roth’s novel. Here’s a review of Nemesis that may be useful as we work these ideas out. Consider just this passage:

    And so to Nemesis, named for the very engine of Greek tragedy, the principle of cosmic retribution. Like Indignation, Nemesis takes place during the era of Roth’s youth—the former in the early 1950s, the latter in the summer of 1944. Like Indignation, it begins in Roth’s Combray, the old Jewish neighborhood of Weequahic in Newark. Like Indignation, it centers on a young protagonist—Marcus Messner in the earlier book, who journeys off to college in the heartland; Bucky Cantor in the new one, twenty-three years old during that fateful season of the war. And like Indignation, it is a kind of Attic tragedy in prose: hubris, hamartia, nemesis; spare plot, fallen hero, endless suffering.

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