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Who is Themis in Greek Mythology? - Family Tree, Symbol & Facts

Instructor: Aida Vega Felgueroso

Aida has taught Spanish at the University in Italy. Spanish is her mother tongue and she has a master's degree in Spanish Language and Literature.

In this lesson we will meet Themis, one of the Titanesses of Greek mythology, goddess of justice, wife of Zeus, and mother of the Fates. Surely, this will be interesting!

Themis, Goddess of Law

Themis, goddess of law, and personification of divine order was one of the oldest divinities of Greek mythology. Belonging to the lineage of the Titans, she was a counselor and wife of Zeus. Let's see the family tree, the symbols and some of the facts that are attributed to this fascinating and mysterious goddess.

Aegeus and Themis
aegeus

Family Tree

In Greek mythology, the primordial gods are the first divinities, those who exist from the beginning of the world. Often, these primordial gods are associated with natural elements (the Earth, the Universe, the Sea, etc.).

Two of the primordial gods were Uranus (the sky, the firmament) and his wife Gea (the earth). Uranus and Gea had many children, including the twelve Titans (six men and six women), one of whom was Themis. As a titaness, Themis is member of the second generation of gods who preceded the Olympian gods (among whom are Zeus, Aphrodite and Apollo).

The siblings of Themis are the six male Titans (Oceanus, Hyperion, Coeus, Cronus, Crius, and Iapetus) and the five females (Mnemosyne, Tethys, Theia, Phoebe and Rhea).

Themis was one of the wives of Zeus, and with him had several children. Let's meet the children of Zeus and Themis.

  • Astrea: the virgin goddess who carried the ray of Zeus.
  • Horae: goddesses representing the order of nature and seasons. They are usually divided between the first generation and second generation Horae.
  • Moirai: goddesses of destiny, the Fates. They control human life from beginning to end, so they are represented as spinners who spun the thread of life, measure it, and finally cut it.

Modern picture of Themis
picture themis

Symbols

Themis personifies natural law, an abstract concept that was difficult to represent symbolically. Originally, it seems the Greeks only used scales (balance symbol) and the cornucopia or horn of plenty (symbol of abundance and nourishment) to represent Themis.

Ancient Themis
ancient themis

Later, the Greeks began to incorporate more symbols and objects. Some of these came from other goddesses who represented concepts similar to natural law, such as justice (Dike) or revenge (Nemesis). This new, enriched representation of Themis was adopted by the Romans for their goddess Iustitia (justice). Today, we represent Themis as goddess of justice, with the following elements:

  • The scales: in her left hand, to symbolize the balance, the order.
  • A sword: in her right hand, because justice is executive, it must be respected.
  • Blindfold: we are now accustomed to representing justice as blind because she is impartial.
  • A lion: frequently, Themis is depicted leaning on a lion or with a nearby lion. This indicates that justice must be linked to force.

Look at the next image and notice how different it is from the ancient, much simpler Themis:

Themis today
themis now

Facts

The life of the Greek gods was full of adventure! Themis is one of the quieter goddesses, but there are many legends that tell us about her.

In ancient Greece, oracles were very important. An oracle is the answer given by a god to an important question about the life and destiny of a person or people. Not all gods gave oracles; only those who had the gift of divination. Among these is Themis.

Themis had the gift of divination, so many gods, including Zeus, asked her for advice. Usually, Themis resided in Olympus, but occasionally, she was in Delphi, seat of one of the most famous oracles of antiquity. There, through the priests, Themis divined the fate of the men who consulted her.

Let's learn about some of the myths in which Themis intervenes and advises the gods.

Statue of Themis in Japan
Themis japan

Zeus Fight Against the Giants

The gods of Olympus, led by Zeus, had to face the giants. The giants were very powerful and not even the gods were protected from them. Zeus asked Themis for advice, and she recommended he make a shield with the skin of Amalthea, a goat that had nursed Zeus in Crete. Thanks to this shield, Zeus was practically invulnerable in the terrible fight against the giants.

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