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Illustration for John Milton's Paradise Lost by Gustave Dore (1866). The spiritual descent of Lucifer into Satan - one of the most famous examples of hubris. Paradise Lost 12.jpg
Illustration for John Milton's Paradise Lost by Gustave Doré (1866). The spiritual descent of Lucifer into Satan - one of the most famous examples of hubris.

Hubris ( /ˈhjuːbrɪs/ , from ancient Greek ὕβρις ) describes a personality quality of extreme or foolish pride or dangerous overconfidence, [1] often in combination with (or synonymous with) arrogance. [2] "Arrogance" comes from the Latin adrogare and it means feeling a right to demand certain attitudes and behaviors from other people; "pretension," which is also associated with it, is not synonymous with hubris. [3] [ need quotation to verify ] According to studies, hubris, arrogance and pretension are related to the need for victory (even if it doesn't always mean winning) instead of reconciliation, such as "friendly" groups might promote. [4] Hubris is usually perceived[ by whom? ] as a characteristic of an individual rather than a group, although the group the offender belongs to may suffer collateral consequences from wrongful acts. Hubris often indicates a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one's own competence, accomplishments or capabilities. The adjectival form of the noun hubris is "hubristic".


The term hubris originated in ancient Greek, [5] where it had several different meanings depending on the context: in legal usage it meant assault or sexual crimes and theft of public property, [6] and in religious usage it meant transgression against a god. [7]

Ancient Greek origin

Common use

In ancient Greek, hubris referred to “outrage”: actions that violated natural order, or which shamed and humiliated the victim, sometimes for the pleasure or gratification of the abuser. In some contexts, the term had a sexual connotation. [5] Shame was frequently reflected upon the perpetrator, as well. [8]

In legal terms, hubristic violations of the law included what might today be termed assault-and-battery, sexual crimes, or the theft of public or sacred property. Two well-known cases are found in the speeches of Demosthenes, a prominent statesman and orator in ancient Greece. These two examples occurred when first Midias punched Demosthenes in the face in the theatre ( Against Midias ), and second when (in Against Conon) a defendant allegedly assaulted a man and crowed over the victim. Yet another example of hubris appears in Aeschines' Against Timarchus , where the defendant, Timarchus, is accused of breaking the law of hubris by submitting himself to prostitution and anal intercourse. Aeschines brought this suit against Timarchus to bar him from the rights of political office and his case succeeded. [6]

In ancient Athens, hubris was defined as the use of violence to shame the victim (this sense of hubris could also characterize rape). [9] Aristotle defined hubris as shaming the victim, not because of anything that happened to the committer or might happen to the committer, but merely for that committer's own gratification:

to cause shame to the victim, not in order that anything may happen to you, nor because anything has happened to you, but merely for your own gratification. Hubris is not the requital of past injuries; this is revenge. As for the pleasure in hubris, its cause is this: naive men think that by ill-treating others they make their own superiority the greater. [10] [ failed verification ] [11] [12]

Crucial to this definition are the ancient Greek concepts of honour (τιμή, timē) and shame (αἰδώς, aidōs ). The concept of honour included not only the exaltation of the one receiving honour, but also the shaming of the one overcome by the act of hubris. This concept of honour is akin to a zero-sum game. Rush Rehm simplifies this definition of hubris to the contemporary concept of "insolence, contempt, and excessive violence". [13]

Modern usage

In its modern usage, hubris denotes overconfident pride combined with arrogance. [2] Hubris is often[ quantify ] associated with a lack of humility. Sometimes a person's hubris is also associated[ by whom? ] with ignorance. The accusation of hubris often implies that suffering or punishment will follow, similar to the occasional pairing of hubris and nemesis in Greek mythology.[ citation needed ] The proverb "pride goeth (goes) before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall" (from the biblical Book of Proverbs, 16:18) is thought[ by whom? ] to sum up the modern use of hubris. Hubris is also referred to as "pride that blinds" because it often causes a committer of hubris to act in foolish ways that belie common sense. [14] In other words, the modern definition may be thought of as, "that pride that goes just before the fall."

Examples of hubris often appear in literature, archetypically in Greek tragedy, and arguably most famously in John Milton's Paradise Lost , in which Lucifer attempts to compel the other angels to worship him, is cast into hell by God and the innocent angels, and proclaims: "Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven." Victor in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein manifests hubris in his attempt to become a great scientist; he creates life through technological means, but comes to regret his project. Marlowe's play Doctor Faustus portrays the eponymous character as a scholar whose arrogance and pride compel him to sign a deal with the Devil, and retain his haughtiness until his death and damnation, despite the fact that he could easily have repented had he chosen to do so. [15]

General George Armstrong Custer furnished an historical example of hubris in the decisions that culminated in the 1876 Battle of Little Big Horn; he apocryphally exclaimed: "Where did all those damned Indians come from?" [16]

Larry Wall famously promotes "the three great virtues of a programmer: laziness, impatience, and hubris". [17]


C. S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity that pride is the "anti-God" state, the position in which the ego and the self are directly opposed to God: "Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind." [18]


The Oxford English Dictionary defines "arrogance" in terms of "high or inflated opinion of one's own abilities, importance, etc., that gives rise to presumption or excessive self-confidence, or to a feeling or attitude of being superior to others [...]." [19] Adrian Davies sees arrogance as more generic and less severe than hubris. [20]

Religious usage

Ancient Greece

The Greek word for sin, hamartia (ἁμαρτία), originally meant "error" in the ancient dialect, and so poets like Hesiod and Aeschylus used the word "hubris" to describe transgressions against the gods. [7] A common way that hubris was committed was when a mortal claimed to be better than a god in a particular skill or attribute. Claims like these were rarely left unpunished, and so Arachne, a talented young weaver, was transformed into a spider when she said that her skills exceeded those of the goddess Athena. Additional examples include Icarus, Phaethon, Salmoneus, Niobe, Cassiopeia, Tantalus, and Tereus.

These events were not limited to myth, and certain figures in history were considered to be have been punished for committing hubris through their arrogance. One such person was king Xerxes as portrayed in Aeschylus's play The Persians , and who allegedly threw chains to bind the Hellespont sea as punishment for daring to destroy his fleet.

What is common to all these examples is the breaching of limits, as the Greeks believed that the Fates (Μοῖραι) had assigned each being with a particular area of freedom, an area that even the gods could not breach. [21]

The goddess Hybris has been described[ by whom? ] as having "insolent encroachment upon the rights of others". [22]


In the Old Testament, the "hubris is overweening pride, superciliousness or arrogance, often resulting in fatal retribution or nemesis". Proverbs 16:18 states: "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall". [23]

The word hubris as used in the New Testament parallels the Hebrew word pasha, meaning "transgression". It represents a pride that "makes a man defy God", sometimes to the degree that he considers himself an equal. [24] In contrast to this, the common word for "sin" was hamartia , which refers to an error and reflects the complexity of the human condition. Its result is guilt rather than direct punishment (as in the case of hubris).[ citation needed ]

See also

Related Research Articles

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Seven deadly sins Set of vices in Christian theology and western philosophy

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<i>On the Crown</i> speech

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  2. 1 2 Picone, P. M., Dagnino, G. B., & Minà, A. (2014). ". The origin of failure: A multidisciplinary appraisal of the hubris hypothesis and proposed research agenda". The Academy of Management Perspectives. 28 (4): 447–68. doi:10.5465/amp.2012.0177.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  3. yasmin (2019-06-07). "O que é uma pessoa arrogante? Por que evitar a arrogância?". Definiçã (in Portuguese). Retrieved 2020-04-16.
  4. "What Makes the Arrogant Person So Arrogant?". Psychology Today. Retrieved 2020-04-16.
  5. 1 2 David Cohen, "Law, society and homosexuality or hermaphrodity in Classical Athens" in Studies in ancient Greek and Roman society By Robin Osborne; p. 64
  6. 1 2 Aeschines "Against Timarchus" from Thomas K. Hubbard's Homosexuality in Greece and Rome: A Sourcebook of Basic Documents
  7. 1 2 The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, "Hubris", Encyclopaedia Britannica
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  9. "Hubris". Encyclopædia Britannica . Retrieved 21 April 2016.
  10. Aristotle, Rhetoric 1378b.
  11. Cohen, David (1995). Law, Violence, and Community in Classical Athens. Cambridge University Press. p. 145. ISBN   0521388376 . Retrieved March 6, 2016.
  12. Ludwig, Paul W. (2002). Eros and Polis: Desire and Community in Greek Political Theory. Cambridge University Press. p. 178. ISBN   1139434179 . Retrieved March 6, 2016.
  13. Rehm, Rush (2014). Radical Theatre: Greek Tragedy in the Modern World. Google Books: A&C Black. p. 75. ISBN   9781472502339 . Retrieved 2 October 2018.
  14. "The 1920 Farrow's Bank Failure: A Case of Managerial Hubris". Durham University. Retrieved October 1, 2014.
  15. "Hubris - Examples of Hubris in Literature". Literary Devices.
  16. Morson, Gary Saul (June 28, 2011). by om#v=onepage&q=Where%20did%20all%20those%20damned%20indians%20come%20from&f=false The Words of Others: From Quotations to Culture Check |url= value (help). New Haven. Connecticut: Yale University Press. p. 176. ISBN   9780300167474 . Retrieved March 5, 2016. “Proving that it is better to be mustered out of the militia than it is to be custered out of the cavalry.”
  17. Wall, Larry; Schwartz, Randal L.; Christiansen, Tom; Potter, Stephen (1996) [1991]. Wall, Larry; Talbot, Steve (eds.). Programming Perl. Unix Programming (2 ed.). O'Reilly & Associates. p. xiii. ISBN   9781565921498 . Retrieved 22 August 2020. We will encourage you to develop the three great virtues of a programmer: laziness, impatience, and hubris.
  18. Lewis, C.S. (2001). Mere Christianity : a revised and amplified edition, with a new introduction, of the three books, Broadcast talks, Christian behaviour, and Beyond personality . San Francisco: Harper. ISBN   978-0-06-065292-0.
  19. "arrogance". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  20. Davies, Adrian (2016) [2011]. "How Can Human Nature and Corporate Governance Be Reconciled?". The Globalisation of Corporate Governance: The Challenge of Clashing Cultures (reprint ed.). London: Routledge. p. 68. ISBN   9781317030102 . Retrieved 22 August 2020. [...] hubris – a form of overweening pride and arrogance. [...] In modern usage hubris is an extreme form of arrogance, often in the face of facts [...].
  21. Cornelius Castoriadis. Ce qui fait la Grèce, tome 1: D'Homère à Héraclite, chapitre V. Editeur: Seuil (9 mars 2004).
  22. Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Themis"  . Encyclopædia Britannica . 26 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 758.
  23. Andrew Fellows, 2019, Gaia, Psyche and Deep Ecology: Navigating Climate Change in the Anthropocene.
  24. Stanley J. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God, Pub: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000 - "The Greek word hubris, which occurs occasionally in the New Testament (e.g., Acts 27:10, 21; 2 Cor.12:10). parallels the Hebrew pasha. William Barclay offers a helpful definition of the term. Hubris, he writes, 'is mingled pride and cruelty. Hubris is the pride which makes a man defy God, and the arrogant contempt which makes him trample on the hearts of his fellow men.' [...] Hence, it is the forgetting of personal creatureliness and the attempt to be equal with God."

Further reading