Nómos - (Gr. Νόμος, ΝΟΜΟΣ; not to be confused with νομός, spelled the same but the accent on the second syllable) Pronounced: NOH-mohs.

Nómos is Divine Law

Nómos is the personification of Divine Law and is a manifestation of Zefs (Zeus; Gr. Ζεύς). In texts about Greek philosophy, there is usually a discussion distinguishing between law (nómos with a small-case n) as a human construct versus phýsis (Gr. Φύσις), nature. Thus in general terms, it must be understood that when the philosophers speak of nómos, they are not referring to the God or divine principle, but are using the word a little differently.

Compare this view of law to that of the Orphic hymn to the deity of the same name:

The holy king of Gods and men I call,

Celestial Law, the righteous seal of all:

The seal which stamps whate'er the earth contains,

And all conceal'd within the liquid plains:

Stable, and starry, of harmonious frame,

Preserving laws eternally the same.

Thy all-composing pow'r in heaven appears,

Connects its frame, and props the starry spheres;

And shakes weak Envy with tremendous sound,

Toss'd by thy arm in giddy whirls around.

'Tis thine, the life of mortals to defend,

And crown existence with a blessed end;

For thy command alone, of all that lives

Order and rule to ev'ry dwelling gives:

Ever observant of the upright mind,

And of just actions the companion kind;

Foe to the lawless, with avenging ire,

Their steps involving in destruction dire.

Come, bless, abundant pow'r, whom all revere,

By all desir'd, with favr'ing mind draw near;

Give me thro' life, on thee to fix my fight,

And ne'er forsake the equal paths of right. [1]

The hymn is not speaking of law as a human construct, but a divine or natural law which gives order to, and protects the universe and its inhabitants. At lines seven and eight, the hymn depicts Nómos as the overarching Law which arranges and governs the Kósmos (Cosmos; Gr. Κόσμος), the Natural Law. The hymn moves on to praise the aspect of Law which is Justice, and that this Justice exacts a penalty on the lawless, ending with a prayer to be mindful of the authority of Nómos and to never forsake the pursuit of his spirit. Thus, there is a clear implication that human law must mirror divine law in justice.

Plátohn (Plato; Gr. Πλάτων) quotes a fragment of Píndaros (Pindar; Gr. Πίνδαρος) which addresses Nómos as Zefs (Zeus; Gr. Ζεύς) himself:

"Law is the king of all, of mortals as well as of immortals" [2]

The above-mentioned fragment of Píndaros reads thus:

"Law, the lord of all, mortals and immortals, carrieth everything with a high hand, justifying the extreme of violence.

This I infer from the labours of Heracles (ed Hercules or Iraklís; Ἡρακλῆς); for he drave to the Cyclopian portals of Eurystheus (ed. Evristhéfs; Gr. Εὐρυσθεύς) the kine of Geryon (ed. Yiryóhn; Gr. Γηρυών), which he had won neither by prayer nor by price." [3]

Next follows an extensive quotation from Isíodos (Hesiod; Gr. Ἡσίοδος) which demonstrates the action of Zefs in relation to Law and Justice:

"But you, Perses (ed. Pǽrsis, brother of Isíodos; Gr. Πέρσης), listen to right and do not foster violence; for violence is bad for a poor man. Even the prosperous cannot easily bear its burden, but is weighed down under it when he has fallen into delusion. The better path is to go by on the other side towards justice; for Justice beats Outrage when she comes at length to the end of the race. But only when he has suffered does the fool learn this. For Oath keeps pace with wrong judgements. There is a noise when Justice is being dragged in the way where those who devour bribes and give sentence with crooked judgements, take her. And she, wrapped in mist, follows to the city and haunts of the people, weeping, and bringing mischief to men, even to such as have driven her forth in that they did not deal straightly with her.

"But they who give straight judgements to strangers and to the men of the land, and go not aside from what is just, their city flourishes, and the people prosper in it: Peace, the nurse of children, is abroad in their land, and all-seeing Zeus never decrees cruel war against them. Neither famine nor disaster ever haunt men who do true justice; but light-heartedly they tend the fields which are all their care. The earth bears them victual in plenty, and on the mountains the oak bears acorns upon the top and bees in the midst. Their woolly sheep are laden with fleeces; their women bear children like their parents. They flourish continually with good things, and do not travel on ships, for the grain-giving earth bears them fruit.

"But for those who practise violence and cruel deeds far-seeing Zeus, the son of Cronos (ed. Krónos; Gr. Κρόνος. Zefs is the son of Krónos), ordains a punishment. Often even a whole city suffers for a bad man who sins and devises presumptuous deeds, and the son of Cronos lays great trouble upon the people, famine and plague together, so that the men perish away, and their women do not bear children, and their houses become few, through the contriving of Olympian Zeus. And again, at another time, the son of Cronos either destroys their wide army, or their walls, or else makes an end of their ships on the sea.

"You princes, mark well this punishment you also; for the deathless Gods are near among men and mark all those who oppress their fellows with crooked judgements, and reck not the anger of the Gods. For upon the bounteous earth Zeus has thrice ten thousand spirits, watchers of mortal men, and these keep watch on judgements and deeds of wrong as they roam, clothed in mist, all over the earth. And there is virgin Justice, the daughter of Zeus, who is honoured and reverenced among the gods who dwell on Olympus, and whenever anyone hurts her with lying slander, she sits beside her father, Zeus the son of Cronos, and tells him of men's wicked heart, until the people pay for the mad folly of their princes who, evilly minded, pervert judgement and give sentence crookedly. Keep watch against this, you princes, and make straight your judgements, you who devour bribes; put crooked judgements altogether from your thoughts.

"He does mischief to himself who does mischief to another, and evil planned harms the plotter most.

"The eye of Zeus, seeing all and understanding all, beholds these things too, if so he will, and fails not to mark what sort of justice is this that the city keeps within it. Now, therefore, may neither I myself be righteous among men, nor my son -- for then it is a bad thing to be righteous -- if indeed the unrighteous shall have the greater right. But I think that all-wise Zeus will not yet bring that to pass.

"But you, Perses, lay up these things within you heart and listen now to right, ceasing altogether to think of violence. For the son of Cronos has ordained this law for men, that fishes and beasts and winged fowls should devour one another, for right is not in them; but to mankind he gave right which proves far the best. For whoever knows the right and is ready to speak it, far-seeing Zeus gives him prosperity; but whoever deliberately lies in his witness and forswears himself, and so hurts Justice and sins beyond repair, that man's generation is left obscure thereafter. But the generation of the man who swears truly is better thenceforward.

"To you, foolish Perses, I will speak good sense. Badness can be got easily and in shoals: the road to her is smooth, and she lives very near us. But between us and Goodness the gods have placed the sweat of our brows: long and steep is the path that leads to her, and it is rough at the first; but when a man has reached the top, then is she easy to reach, though before that she was hard.

"That man is altogether best who considers all things himself and marks what will be better afterwards and at the end; and he, again, is good who listens to a good adviser; but whoever neither thinks for himself nor keeps in mind what another tells him, he is an unprofitable man. But do you at any rate, always remembering my charge, work, high-born Perses, that Hunger may hate you, and venerable Demeter richly crowned may love you and fill your barn with food; for Hunger is altogether a meet comrade for the sluggard. Both gods and men are angry with a man who lives idle, for in nature he is like the stingless drones who waste the labour of the bees, eating without working; but let it be your care to order your work properly, that in the right season your barns may be full of victual. Through work men grow rich in flocks and substance, and working they are much better loved by the immortals. Work is no disgrace: it is idleness which is a disgrace. But if you work, the idle will soon envy you as you grow rich, for fame and renown attend on wealth. And whatever be your lot, work is best for you, if you turn your misguided mind away from other men's property to your work and attend to your livelihood as I bid you. An evil shame is the needy man's companion, shame which both greatly harms and prospers men: shame is with poverty, but confidence with wealth.

"Wealth should not be seized: God-given wealth is much better; for it a man take great wealth violently and perforce, or if he steal it through his tongue, as often happens when gain deceives men's sense and dishonour tramples down honour, the gods soon blot him out and make that man's house low, and wealth attends him only for a little time. Alike with him who does wrong to a suppliant or a guest, or who goes up to his brother's bed and commits unnatural sin in lying with his wife, or who infatuately offends against fatherless children, or who abuses his old father at the cheerless threshold of old age and attacks him with harsh words, truly Zeus himself is angry, and at the last lays on him a heavy requittal for his evil doing. But do you turn your foolish heart altogether away from these things, and, as far as you are able, sacrifice to the deathless Gods purely and cleanly, and burn rich meats also, and at other times propitiate them with libations and incense, both when you go to bed and when the holy light has come back, that they may be gracious to you in heart and spirit, and so you may buy another's holding and not another yours.

"Call your friend to a feast; but leave your enemy alone; and especially call him who lives near you: for if any mischief happen in the place, neighbours come ungirt, but kinsmen stay to gird themselves. A bad neighbour is as great a plague as a good one is a great blessing; he who enjoys a good neighbour has a precious possession. Not even an ox would die but for a bad neighbour. Take fair measure from your neighbour and pay him back fairly with the same measure, or better, if you can; so that if you are in need afterwards, you may find him sure.

"Do not get base gain: base gain is as bad as ruin. Be friends with the friendly, and visit him who visits you. Give to one who gives, but do not give to one who does not give. A man gives to the free-handed, but no one gives to the close-fisted. Give is a good girl, but Take is bad and she brings death. For the man who gives willingly, even though he gives a great thing, rejoices in his gift and is glad in heart; but whoever gives way to shamelessness and takes something himself, even though it be a small thing, it freezes his heart. He who adds to what he has, will keep off bright-eyed hunger; for it you add only a little to a little and do this often, soon that little will become great. What a man has by him at home does not trouble him: it is better to have your stuff at home, for whatever is abroad may mean loss. It is a good thing to draw on what you have; but it grieves your heart to need something and not to have it, and I bid you mark this. Take your fill when the cask is first opened and when it is nearly spent, but midways be sparing: it is poor saving when you come to the lees." [4]

Nómos and Thǽmis

So, if Nómos is divine Law, who is Thǽmis (Themis; Gr. Θέμις) and why is this Goddess included in a discussion of Law? Thǽmis is the daughter of Ouranós (Ouranós being a pre-form of Zefs; Gr. Οὐρανός) and Yi (Ge = Earth; Gr. Γῆ). Thǽmis is the face and voice of divine Law, and with her oracular power reveals it to mortals. The Orphic hymn to Thǽmis does not speak of her dominion over Law and Justice, but, rather, speaks of her oracular ability. But this oracular ability is intimately connected with Law and Justice:

"Themis, the myths tell us, was the first to introduce divinations and sacrifices and ordinances which concern the Gods, and to instruct men in the ways of obedience to laws and of peace. Consequently men who preserve what is holy with respect to the Gods and the laws of men are called ‘law-guardians’ (thesmophulakes [ed. θεσμοϕύλακας]) and ‘law-givers’ (thesmothetai [ed. θεσμοθέτας]), and we say that Apollon at the moment when he is to return the oracular responses, is ‘issuing laws and ordinances’ (themisteuein [ed. θεμιστεύειν]), in view of the fact that Themis was the discoveress of oracular responses." [5]

And Zefs:

"whispers words of wisdom to Themis as she sits leaning towards him." [6]

Thǽmis, Apóllohn, and Nómos

Thǽmis received the oracle from her mother Yi. Thǽmis then gave the oracle to Apóllohn (Gr. Ἀπόλλων). Some sources say that she first gave it to Phívi (Phoebe: Gr. Φοίβη) who then gave it to Apóllohn, the important point being that Thǽmis had the oracle and it was at last given to Apóllohn.

"...Apollo learned the art of prophecy from Pan (ed. Gr. Πᾶν), the son of Zeus (ed. Zefs; Gr. Ζεύς) and Hybris, and came to Delphi (ed. Dælphí; Gr. Δελφοί), where Themis at that time used to deliver oracles; and when the snake Python, which guarded the oracle, would have hindered him from approaching the chasm, he killed it and took over the oracle."


Thus Thǽmis is a pre-form of Apóllohn, and Apóllohn, like Thǽmis, speaks the will of his father:

"for Apollo hath power, for that he sitteth on the right hand of Zeus." [8]

This image of Apóllohn sitting on the right hand of Zefs (Zeus; Gr. Ζεύς), symparædros (Gr. Συμπαρεδρος = joint-throne-holder) to Zefs, can be likened to that of Thǽmis receiving Zefs' whispered words, making Apóllohn the chief minister of Nómos, the manifestation of the Law and Justice of Zefs.

GLOSSARY ENTRIES: (under construction)

νόμος, ὁ, (νέμω) that which is in habitual practice, use or possession. I. usage, custom, law, ordinance. b. in VT, of the law of God. c. with Preps., κατὰ νόμον according to custom or law; οἱ κατὰ ν. ὄντες θεοί the established deities. d. statute, ordinance made by authority, of general laws. e. to come to blows, into action, die in action, under martial law. 2. Νόμος personified, οἱ θεοὶ σθένουσι χὡ κείνων κρατῶν N. E.Hec.800, cf. Orph.Fr.105, 160. II. melody, strain. 2. esp. a type of early melody created by Terpander for the lyre as an accompaniment to Epic texts; also for the flute; without sung text; later, composition including both words and melody. III. = νοῦμμος. IV. Archit., course of masonry. [9]

Osía (Gr. Ὁσία, ΟΣΙΑ. [fem. of ὅσιος]) Osía is divine law. II. the service or worship owed by man to God, rites,offerings, etc. 2. funeral rites, last honours paid to the dead. [10]

The story of the birth of the Gods: Orphic Rhapsodic Theogony.

We know the various qualities and characteristics of the Gods based on metaphorical stories: Mythology.

Dictionary of terms related to ancient Greek mythology: Glossary of Hellenic Mythology.

Introduction to the Thæí (the Gods): The Nature of the Gods.

How do we know there are Gods? Experiencing Gods.

NOTES: (abbreviations can be found on this page: GLOSSARY)

[1] Orphéfs (Orpheus) Hymn LXIV (LXIII in earlier editions of Taylor's translation) To Law, trans. Thomas Taylor, 1792; found here in Hymns and Initiations: The Mystical Hymns of Orpheus, The Prometheus Trust [England by Antony Rowe, Chippenham, Wiltshire], Vol. V of the TTS; p. 129.

[2] Plátohn (Plato; Gr. Πλάτων) Gorgias 484b, trans. Benjamin Jowett, 1892, Vol. 1 of the 1937 Random House edition of The Dialogues of Plato [New York] p. 544.

[3] Píndaros (Pindar; Gr. Πίνδαρος) frag. 169 (151) Law, the lord of all; trans. Sir John Sandys, 1915; found in the 1968 Heinemann [London]/Harvard [Cambridge, Mass.] edition, Loeb Vol. 56 The Odes of Pindar including the Principal Fragments, p. 605.

[4] Isíodos (Hesiod; Gr. Ἡσίοδος) Ǽrga kai Imǽra (Works and Days; Gr. Ἔργα καὶ Ἡμέρα) 212-369, trans. Hugh G. Evelyn-White, 1914. We are using the 1936 edition published by Harvard Univ. Press (Cambridge, MA USA) and William Heinemann (London, England UK), Loeb Classical Library, where this quotation may be found on pp. 19-31.

[5] Diódohros Sikælióhtis (Diodorus Siculus; Διόδωρος Σικελιώτης) Library of History Book V. 67. 4; trans. C. H. Oldfather, 1939; found here in the 2000 Harvard [Cambridge, MA and London, England] edition of Diodorus Siculus Library of History, Loeb LCL 340, p. 279.

[6] Homeric hymn to Zefs (Zeus; Gr. Ζεύς, ΖΕΎΣ) To the Son of Kronos Most High, trans. Hugh Evelyn-White, 1914; found here in the 1936 Heinemann [London]/Harvard [Cambridge, Mass.] edition, Loeb Vol. 57, Hesiod, The Homeric Hymns, and Homerica, p. 449.

[7] Apollódohros (Apollodorus; Gr. Ἀπολλόδωρος) The Library I.IV.I, trans. James George Frazer, 1921; found here in the 1990 Harvard [Cambridge, Mass./London] edition, Loeb Vol. 121, Apollodorus The Library Vol.1, p. 27.

[8] Kallímakhos (Callimachus; Gr. Καλλίμαχος) hymn To Apollo 27-29, trans. A. W. Mair and G. R. Mair,1921; found here in the 1989 Harvard [Cambridge, Mass./London] edition, Loeb Vol.129, Callimachus Hymns and Epigrams, p. 51.

[9] L&S p. 1180, left column, edited for simplicity.

[10] L&S p. 1260, right column, edited for simplicity.

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The story of the birth of the Gods: Orphic Rhapsodic Theogony.

We know the various qualities and characteristics of the Gods based on metaphorical stories: Mythology.

Dictionary of terms related to ancient Greek mythology: Glossary of Hellenic Mythology.

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