Nemesis, the Greek goddess of retribution, with wings and standing on a ball, glides majestically over an alpine landscape, which - depicted in tiny detail - lies far underneath. In her hands she holds a bridle and a cup, her instruments to punish and restrain the proud and reward the just. As Panofsky's iconological studies have demonstrated, these attributes can only have been derived from the poem Manto by the Tuscan poet Angelo Poliziano (1454-1494), and it may have been through Willibald Pirckheimer that Dürer, who did not read Latin himself, knew this particular literary source.
The engraving of Nemesis has been described as a humanist, secular version of the Apocalypse. Indeed, in true Renaissance spirit, Dürer found similar images for two seemingly opposing concepts, for Christian revelation and Greek mythology. In both instances, in the Apocalypse as well as in the present engraving, the image is divided into two spheres: an earthly realm, and a celestial one, where angels and demons fight and goddesses rule.
That to Dürer the goddess of fate was not just a literary figure can be seen from his own writings. In the journal he kept in the Netherlands in 1520-21, Dürer referred to unforeseeable events as the workings of 'Fortuna'. It is a remarkably secular, modern notion to think of the course of events being determined not by God, but by such an unaccountable agent.
The mountain landscape has been identified as a view of the village of Klausen in the Eisack valley, one of the few unambiguously identifiable locations in Dürer's printed oeuvre.