Hubris In Greek Mythology Essays On Love

Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.

The Dominance of Fate

Fate was of great concern to the Greeks, and its workings resonate through many of their myths and texts. We see countless characters who go to great lengths in attempts to alter fate, even if they know such an aim to be futile. The inability of any mortal or immortal to change prescribed outcomes stems from the three Fates: sisters Clotho, who spins the thread of life; Lachesis, who assigns each person’s destiny; and Atropos, who carries the scissors to snip the thread of life at its end. These three divinities pervade all the stories of Greek myth, whether they be stories of gods, goddesses, demigods, heroes, or mortals and regardless of the exploits recounted. Nothing can be done to alter or prolong the destiny of one’s life, regardless of the number of preparations or precautions taken. This inflexibility applies just as much to Zeus as to the lowliest mortal, as we see in Zeus’s hounding of Prometheus to divulge the name of the woman who will bear the offspring that one day will kill him.

Though this lesson is somewhat consoling—the way of the world cannot be bent to match the whims of those in authority—it is also very disturbing. The prospect of free will seems rather remote, and even acts of great valor and bravery seem completely useless. The myths provide an interesting counterpoint to this uselessness, however. In virtually all the stories in which a character does everything in his power to block a negative fate, and yet falls prey to it, we see that his efforts to subvert fate typically provide exactly the circumstances required for the prescribed fate to arise. In other words, the resisting characers themselves provide the path to fate’s fulfillment.

A perfect example is the king of Thebes, who has learned that his son, Oedipus, will one day kill him. The king takes steps to ensure Oedipus’s death but ends up ensuring only that he and Oedipus fail to recognize each other when they meet on the road many years later. This lack of recognition enables a dispute in which Oedipus slays his father without thinking twice. It is the king’s exercise of free will, then, that ironically binds him even more surely to the thread of destiny. This mysterious, inexplicable twinning between will and fate is visible in many the stories and philosophical treatises of the Greeks.

Bloodshed Begets Bloodshed

Aeschylus’s Oresteia, Sophocles’ Oedipus trilogy, Euripides’ plays, and Homer’s two great epics all demonstrate the irreparable persistence of bloodshed within Greek mythology that leads to death upon death. The royal house of Atreus is most marked in this regard: the house’s ancestor, Tantalus, inexplicably cooks up his child and serves him to the gods, offending the deities and cursing the entire house with the spilling of its blood from generation to generation. We see the curse manifest when Atreus himself kills his brother’s son and serves him up—an act of vengeance for wrong-doing done to him. Atreus’s son, Agamemnon, then sacrifices his own daughter, Iphigenia, as he has been told it will procure good sailing winds for the Greeks to start off to Troy. Rather, this deed leads his wife, Clytemnestra, to kill him on his first night home, with support from his cousin Aegisthus, who is in turn avenging Atreus’s crimes. Last but not least, Orestes, the son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, comes back to kill his mother and Aegisthus. Only two members remain in the House of Atreus: Orestes and his sister Electra. Everyone else has been foully murdered in this bloody chain of events.

Though these characters have brought terrible violence upon those to whom they owed bonds of love and loyalty, they are still not wholly condemnable. Orestes knows that he will incur the wrath of the Furies and the gods in committing matricide. As terrible as matricide is, Orestes would be even more in the wrong if he let his father’s death go unpunished. Clytemnestra no doubt follows a similar rationale, as she cannot allow Agamemnon’s sacrifice of their daughter to stand unavenged. Even this is not the beginning of the chain: Agamemnon felt he had no choice but to sacrifice Iphigenia, since his only other option was to break the oath he made to Menelaus years before. Indeed, the whole line of Atreus is cursed with such irresolvable dilemmas, the outcome of divine anger at Tantalus’s horrific and unprompted sacrifice of his son. In this slippery world of confusing and conflicting ethics, the only certainty is that bloodshed merely begets more bloodshed.

The Danger of Arrogance and Hubris

In many myths, mortals who display arrogance and hubris end up learning, in quite brutal ways, the folly of this overexertion of ego. The Greek concept of hubris refers to the overweening pride of humans who hold themselves up as equals to the gods. Hubris is one of the worst traits one can exhibit in the world of ancient Greece and invariably brings the worst kind of destruction.

More main ideas from Mythology

See also: Pride

For the Richard Beirach album, see Hubris (album).

Hubris ( from ancient Greekὕβρις) describes a personality quality of extreme or foolish pride or dangerous overconfidence,[1] often in combination with (or synonymous with) arrogance.[2] In its ancient Greek context, it typically describes behavior that defies the norms of behavior or challenges the gods, and which in turn brings about the downfall, or nemesis, of the perpetrator of hubris.

The adjectival form of the noun hubris is "hubristic". Hubris is usually perceived as a characteristic of an individual rather than a group, although the group the offender belongs to may suffer collateral consequences from the wrongful act. Hubris often indicates a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one's own competence, accomplishments or capabilities.

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."[3]

Ancient Greek origin[edit]

In ancient Greek, hubris referred to actions that shamed and humiliated the victim for the pleasure or gratification of the abuser.[4] The term had a strong sexual connotation, and the shame reflected upon the perpetrator as well.[5]

Violations of the law against hubris 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[7]). 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.[8][not in citation given][9][10]

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".[citation needed]

In Greek mythology, when a figure's hubris offends the gods of ancient Greece, it is usually punished; examples of such hubristic, sinful humans include Icarus, Phaethon, Arachne, Salmoneus, Niobe, Cassiopeia, and Tereus.

Modern usage[edit]

In its modern usage, hubris denotes overconfident pride combined with arrogance.[2] Hubris is often associated with a lack of humility. Sometimes a person's hubris is also associated 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. The proverb "pride goeth (goes) before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall" (from the biblical Book of Proverbs, 16:18) is thought 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.[11] In other words, the modern definition may be thought of as, "that pride that goes just before the fall."

Examples of hubris are often found in literature, 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 by creating 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.

An example in pop culture is the comic book hero Doctor Strange, wherein highly talented and arrogant neurosurgeon Dr. Stephen Strange is involved in a vehicular accident. Unlike the Greek figures Salmoneus, Icarus and Phaethon, he survives, though his hands, and thus his career as a neurosurgeon, are shattered. After western medicine fails to help him, he seeks healing in the mystic arts, and though he never fully recovers, he becomes a powerful sorcerer.

A historical example of hubris was furnished by General George Armstrong Custer in the decisions that culminated in the Battle of Little Big Horn; Custer is apocryphally quoted as having exclaimed: "Where did all those damned Indians come from?"[12]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^"Definition of HUBRIS". www.merriam-webster.com. Retrieved 2016-04-22. 
  2. ^ abPicone, 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. 
  3. ^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. 
  4. ^David Cohen, "Law, society and homosexuality or hermaphrodity in Classical Athens" in Studies in ancient Greek and Roman society By Robin Osborne; p. 64
  5. ^Cartledge; Paul Millett (2003). Nomos: Essays in Athenian Law, Politics and Society. Cambridge University Press. p. 123. ISBN 978-0-521-52209-0. Retrieved 2011-11-14. 
  6. ^Aeschines "Against Timarchus" from Thomas K. Hubbard's Homosexuality in Greece and Rome: A Sourcebook of Basic Documents
  7. ^"Hubris". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 21 April 2016. 
  8. ^Aristotle, Rhetoric 1378b.
  9. ^Cohen, David (1995). Law, Violence, and Community in Classical Athens. Cambridge University Press. p. 145. ISBN 0521388376. Retrieved March 6, 2016. 
  10. ^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. 
  11. ^"The 1920 Farrow's Bank Failure: A Case of Managerial Hubris". Durham University. Retrieved October 1, 2014. 
  12. ^Morson, Gary Saul (June 28, 2011). The Words of Others: From Quotations to Culture. 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.”

Further reading[edit]

  • Cairns, Douglas L. (1996). "Hybris, Dishonour, and Thinking Big". Journal of Hellenic Studies. 116: 1–32. doi:10.2307/631953. 
  • Fisher, Nick (1992). Hybris: a study in the values of honour and shame in Ancient Greece. Warminster, UK: Aris & Phillips.  A book-length discussion of the meaning and implications of hybristic behavior in ancient Greece.
  • MacDowell, Douglas (1976). "Hybris in Athens". Greece and Rome. 23 (1): 14–31. doi:10.1017/S0017383500018210. 
  • Michael DeWilde, The Psychological and Spiritual Roots of a Universal Affliction
  • Hubris on 2012's Encyclopædia Britannica
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "article name needed". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

External links[edit]

Look up hubris in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
  • Media related to Hubris at Wikimedia Commons
  • The dictionary definition of hubris at Wiktionary
Illustration for John Milton's Paradise Lost by Gustave Doré (1866).The spiritual descent of Lucifer into Satan is one of the most famous examples of hubris.

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