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Wednesday, November 21, 2012


  Hubris (Greek ὕβρις) refers to excessive pride or self-confidence, originally as an act of violence to intentionally humiliate the gods. In its adjectival form, when one is hubristic, he acts in an insolent or contemptuous way. Hubris is often attributed as the hamartia, also known as the tragic flaw or fatal error, of many of the heroes in Greek tragedy. A prominent example of this is in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, depicting the tale of a man resisting the fate given to him by the gods. Prophesied by the Oracle at Delphi to kill his father and marry his mother, Oedipus sets out to defy the gods and in this act, ends up fulfilling the prophecy. His hubris in believing that he could go against the will of the gods became his ultimate undoing and suffering. Hubris was used in this sense as a warning that uncontrolled power corrupted and encouraged citizens to become more responsible and useful in society.
Outside of tragedy, in ancient Greek, hubris was used to describe an act that shamed or humiliated the victim for the pleasure or gratification of the abuser. Hubris was akin to modern-day assault and battery and covered many areas such as the mutilation of a corpse, humiliating a foe who’s already been defeated, sexual crimes of rape and consensual but otherwise deemed “improper” activity like anal sex with a man, and theft of public or sacred property. Aristotle discussed hubris in Rhetoric as “doing and saying things that cause shame to the victim…simply for the pleasure of it. Retaliation is not hubris, but revenge.…Young men and the rich are hubristic because they think they are better than other people.” Aristotle separates the act of hubris from that of revenge in that hubris is used only for your own enjoyment and not the requital of past injuries. In this way, hubris was also an act of arrogance towards the gods as it overstepped one’s bounds and assumed power over others that only the gods should hold.
  Those who commit the crime of hubris were often subject to fatal punishment or Nemesis (from νέμειν meaning “to give what is due”) the goddess of vengeance. It was the sole charge of Nemesis to be the spirit of divine retribution for those who succumb to hubris.
It is important to note that hubris in modern connotation does not include the sadistic nature of the word, but rather its Greek tragedy roots.

Honeycutt, Lee. "Aristotle's Rhetoric Online." Rhetoric and Composition – Rhetoric            . http://rhetoric.eserver.org/aristotle/index.html (accessed November 17, 2012).
Roche, Paul. The Oedipus plays of Sophocles; Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone.. New York: New American Library, 1958.
"hubris." Oxford English Dictionary. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/89081 (accessed November 17, 2012).
"hubris." Britannica Online Encyclopedia. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/274625/hubris (accessed November 17, 2012).
"hubristic." Oxford English Dictionary. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/89082 (accessed November 17, 2012).

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