Dike (mythology)

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Goddess of justice and the spirit of moral order and fair judgement

An 1886 bas-relief figure of Dike Astraea in the Old Supreme Court Chamber at the Vermont State House
Abode Mount Olympus
Symbol Scales/ Balance
Parents Zeus and Themis
Siblings Horai, Eirene, Eunomia, Moirai,
Roman equivalent Justitia

In ancient Greek culture, Dikē (English pronunciation: /ˈdiːkeɪ/ or /ˈdɪkiː/; Greek: Δίκη, English translation: "justice") was the goddess of justice and the spirit of moral order and fair judgement based on immemorial custom, in the sense of socially enforced norms and conventional rules. According to Hesiod (Theogony, l. 901), she was fathered by Zeus upon his second consort, Themis. She and her mother were both personifications of justice. She is depicted as a young slender woman carrying a physical balance scale and wearing a laurel wreath while her Roman counterpart (Justitia) appears in a similar fashion but blind-folded. She is represented in the constellation Libra which is named for the Latin name of her symbol (Scales). She is often associated with Astraea, the goddess of innocence and purity. Astraea is also one of her epithets referring to her appearance in the nearby constellation Virgo which is said to represent Astraea . This reflects her symbolic association with Astraea, who too has a similar iconography.


The sculptures of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia have as their unifying iconographical conception the dikē of Zeus,[1] and in poetry she is often the attendant (paredros) of Zeus.[2] In the philosophical climate of late 5th century Athens, dikē could be anthropomorphised[3] as a goddess of moral justice.[lower-alpha 1] She was one of the three second-generation Horae, along with Eunomia ("order") and Eirene ("peace"):

Eunomia and that unsullied fountain Dikē, her sister, sure support of cities; and Eirene of the same kin, who are the stewards of wealth for mankind — three glorious daughters of wise-counselled Themis."[4]

She ruled over human justice, while her mother Themis ruled over divine justice. Her opposite was adikia ("injustice"): in reliefs on the archaic Chest of Cypselus preserved at Olympia,[lower-alpha 2] a comely Dikē throttled an ugly Adikia and beat her with a stick.

The later art of rhetoric treated the personification of abstract concepts as an artistic device, which devolved into the allegorizing that Late Antiquity bequeathed to patristic literature. In a further euhemerist interpretation, Dikē was born a mortal and Zeus placed her on Earth to keep mankind just. He quickly learned this was impossible and placed her next to him on Mount Olympus.

Dike Astraea

One of her epithets was Astraea, referring to her appearance as the constellation Virgo. According to Aratus' account of the constellation's origin, Dike lived upon Earth during the Golden and Silver ages, when there were no wars or diseases, men raised fine crops and did not yet know how to sail[6] They grew greedy, however, and Dike was sickened. She proclaimed:

Behold what manner of race the fathers of the Golden Age left behind them! Far meaner than themselves! but you will breed a viler progeny! Verily wars and cruel bloodshed shall be unto men and grievous woe shall be laid upon them.
Aratus, Phaenomena 123

Dike left Earth for the sky, from which, as the constellation, she watched the despicable human race. After her departure, the human race declined into the Brazen Age, when diseases arose and they learned how to sail.

See also


  1. She is already given a genealogy, as daughter of Themis, in Hesiod, Theogony 901, and approaches the throne of Zeus with lamentation at human injustices in Works and Days, 239f, both poems ca. late seventh century BCE.
  2. Minutely described by Pausanias in the later second century CE.[5]


  1. Hurwit, Jeffrey M (March 1987), "Narrative Resonance in the East Pediment of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia", The Art Bulletin, 69 (1): 6–15.
  2. SophoclesOedipus at Colonus, 1377, or Plutarch’s Life of Alexander 52, or in the Orphic hymn 61. 2.
  3. Burkert, Walter (1985), "The special character of Greek anthropomorphism", Greek Religion, Harvard University Press, III (4): 182–89.
  4. Pindar, Thirteenth Olympian Ode, Conway, tr., 6 ff.
  5. Pausanias, Description of Greece, v.18.2.
  6. Aratus (1921). "Phaenomena". Callimachus, Hymns and Epigrams. Lycophron. Aratus. Loeb Classical Library. 129. Mair, A. W. & G. R. (trans). London: William Heinemann. ll. 96–136.

External links

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