I say Nemesis, you say retribution. I say Polio, you say…

One of the augmenter’s posts have already touched upon the question of the title and how we should interpret it in the context of the novel. Just to reiterate:

In Greek mythology, Nemesis … 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)

I wonder if we could dig a little deeper and discover who is committing the hubris in Nemesis? Humankind? The US? Bucky? All of the above? In this case, why is it the children who suffer the consequences? Is Roth trying to comment on the blindness of “divine retribution”?

I would also like to call attention to the difference between retribution and vengeance. Though the ever-informative Wikipedia tells us the she is the “goddess of revenge,” that is not quite accurate; Nemesis, strictly speaking, is the goddess of divine retribution. She is ruthless and remorseless because of the absolutist nature of her judgement, she does not have to be “fair” because you are either “guilty” of hubris or not, there is no middle ground. Nemesis is not to be confused with Themis the titan goddess of the divine law, mother to the seasons who in turn was used as an inspiration for Iustitia, the Roman blinded Lady Justice (worshipped by jurisprudents all around the world), who is more preoccupied with being “fair” (though being blindfolded is definitely not helping). Nemesis has nothing to do with these divinities. She is the daughter Nyx, the Night. The nature of Nemesis’s family is also quite telling; her siblings include the Moirai, the Fates (popularised in the cartoon Hercules).

Here is the entire not-so-happy ménage; the Addams Family would be jealous:

“And Nyx (Night) bare hateful Moros (Doom) and black Ker (Violent Death) and Thanatos (Death), and she bare Hypnos (Sleep) and the tribe of Oneiroi (Dreams). And again the goddess murky Nyx, though she lay with none, bare Momos and painful Oizys (Misery), and the Hesperides . . . Also she bare the Moirai (Fates) and the ruthless avenging Keres (Death-Fates) . . . Also deadly Nyx bare Nemesis to afflict mortal men, and after her, Apate (Deceit) and Philotes (Friendship) and hateful Geras (Old Age) and hard-hearted Eris (Strife).” Source

In sum, Nemesis is anything but pink and fluffy. However, as mentioned earlier, I think the difference between retribution and revenge is quite important here. She is distributing what one deserves in order to balance out the scales eternally present in her hands, not simply seeking revenge. What does retribution – as opposed to vengeance – mean in the context of the novel?

Also, again, if we are talking about polio, I think we should be aware of what it really is, here is a four-minute video summarising the disease and its history — unfortunately, mainly focusing on the US context only. Highlight: only 5% of all people who contract polio develop paralytic polio; otherwise the symptoms are pretty light (headache, fever, vomiting). But if you do develop paralytic polio, it’s very bad news, as it becomes quite clear from the novel. The information in the video is outdated; unfortunately we see polio resurfacing in some where it has been previously eradicated (e.g. Syria).

TL;DR What is the meaning of retribution as opposed to revenge? What does it mean to die from a paralytic disease as opposed to the plague, HIV, etc. Who is on the recipient side of this retribution? Who committed the hubris in the novel? What would it mean not to die from the disease and live with the devastating consequences of it?

Finally, I would like to leave you with a photo of the iron lungs, the machine that some people had to spend the rest of their life in after becoming paralysed.

Iron lungs in a gym


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