Winged Retribution

Posted by on Sep 22, 2011 in General Chaos, Word of the Day | 4 comments

My dog has a nemesis. I think most dogs have an imposing nemesis, but mine has a squirrel. She’s had a hate-on for squirrels as long as we’ve lived in this new house, but I thought they mostly just ignored her. Yesterday morning though, I caught one of them staring at her from our neighbor’s yard through a hole in the fence.

I never ascribed much will or emotion to squirrels before, but I swear this one was giving my dog a dirty look. I mean a really dirty look, the kind that befits the cliché if looks could kill.

The squirrel watched her for several seconds as she did her business and then scampered off to climb a nearby tree. Once it had climbed above the level of the fence it continued to stare down at her. If it could have thoughts, I imagine it was thinking something along the lines of “Damned dog, why do you always have to interrupt my foraging.”

Yes, I made up an entire fictitious conversation for this dog-hating squirrel for no reason at all. And of course, because I’m a mythology fan, all of this made me start thinking about where the word nemesis comes from. Nemesis was a Greek goddess, the personification of retribution. She was an avenger, said to mete out justice to those guilty of crimes. Hubris was considered the highest of sins in the Roman world, and Nemesis would mercilessly punish those who succumbed to pride. In addition, she was seen as the foil of Tyche, the goddess of fortune, and above all sought balance.

Often portrayed as winged, the words inescapable, remorseless and implacable were used to describe her. She was associated with the apple branch, scales, and the lash. In some versions of the myths, she was the mother of Helen of Troy.

I am constantly fascinated about how much of ancient mythology has made its way to us so many centuries later through language in ways most people don’t register. These days, we usually use the word nemesis to mean a rival. So tell me, what’s your favorite myth or folktale that made its way into modern culture in an interesting way?


Ryan’s Word of the Day is trenchant. This is a great word, it just sounds cool. Try saying it out loud a couple of times. Isn’t it neat? It just has an awesome fricative quality that I love. Anyway, it’s an adjective that means keen or perceptive.

4 Comments

  1. So it isn’t just my dog! My mother used to put peanuts out under a tree in the front yard for the squirrels. Then we’d find the shells in the backyard. One day my mother walked into the backyard just in time to see a squirrel throw a peanut shell at the dog.

    • That’s hilarious Margo!

  2. My favorite isn’t from mythology, but is from ancient Rome: decimation.

    People use it to mean total destruction, but it originally meant to remove a tenth, and was a punishment for military losses.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decimation_(Roman_army)

    • Oh, that’s a good one, Alan! I love to find out about these. Words are so interesting. 🙂

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