From LitWiki

Excessive pride. A concept introduced in Greece, Holman and Harmon state that it is the "overweening pride or insolence that results in the misfortune of the protagonist of a tragedy" (250). Humans who suffer from hubris, or hybris, often believe that they can accomplish more than the universe itself will allow. Roger Fowler defines hubris as "a man's denial of his own mortality" (198). Indeed it seems that the only way for a person to obtain such pride is to lose all sense of fear for his own wellbeing. After all, if a person has no fear at all, then he may have a perfect pride in himself, and in some ways, may even believe that he is perfect. Baldick asserts that "hubris is the Greek word for 'insolence' or 'affront'," often times making it "the pride that comes before the fall" (260). Even though an overpowering sense of pride is healthy for one's self esteem, others might consider such pride insolence, or a negative trait.

Ancient Greece

The error of judgment "through which the fortunes of the hero of a tragedy are reversed" (Holman 217). "Aristotle attributes hamartia (a tragic flaw or shortcoming) to the tragic hero" (Barnett-Berman-Burto 112). This "tragic hero ought to be a man whose misfortune comes to him, not through vice or depravity, but by some error" (Cudden 301). Most tragedies end in the downfall of the hero due to his hubris. In the most famous examples, the Greek tragedies, a man who is overly confident or ambitious offends the gods. Therefore, they torture him with unfortunate events that eventually lead to his demise. Rainer Friedrich, in his article The Hybris Of Odysseus, provides a narrative of hybris in the ancient Greek sense, using the tragic hero Odysseus as the model. Rainer insists that the "epic character" Odysseus exhibits hubris against Zeus when he suspects the God disapproves of his sacrifice.[1] Moreover, hubris in its truest definition was an indictment against an individual and considered a violent act committed against another for the sole purpose of shaming them. [2] Loukas Papadimitropopous, argues in his work Xerxes' hubris and Darius in Aeschylus' Persae, that Xerxes suffers the wrath of the Gods for his hubris in seeking not only victory over the entire Greek armies, but complete annihilation and thus a shameful defeat.[3]

In The Bible

The Bible is replete with moral lessons and allegory that warn against mans over indulgence in himself and the importance of good moral character and humility. Even some of the "chosen" favored of God, i.e., Moses, Solomon and David, were not immune from having at one time or another, engaged in behaviors frowned upon by God and thus put through trials,tribulations, and punishments comparable to characters in a Greek tragedy. The story of the Tower of Babel is a perfect example of the fallible human being, so wont to exalt himself to the level of omnipotent deity, only to be punished by God and made to atone for his hubris. [4]

In More Modern Times

According to Holman, hubris is what "leads the protagonist to break a moral law or ignore a divine warning with calamitous results" (226). For example, in Shakespeare's Macbeth, Macbeth takes matters into his own hands after the first of the witches' three prophecies comes true. With the strong urging of his wife, he breaks a moral law when he decides to murder King Duncan in his quest to attain the crown. Little does he know, he is starting the chain of events, revealing his transition from good to evil, that ultimately leads to his downfall. In the case of "To Build a Fire" by Jack London, the man, believed to be a chechaquo, ignores the advice of others, including the "old-timer at Sulfur Creek," and relies on himself to reach a Yukon camp following a less-traveled path in temperatures significantly below freezing. At the story's end, the man dies as a result of his ignorance and his hubris.

Napoleon,is often cited as a perfect example of how power and over confidence can cloud judgement as his ill fated attempted Russian conquest of 1812 suffered him not only a humiliating defeat, but cost him his empire and entire army as well.[5] In his work Napoleon's Tragic March From Moscow: Lessons In Hubris, Mark J. Kroll draws on the example of Napoleon and correlates his Imperial hubris with business executives that make unwise, risky, decisions fueled by hubris which eventually lead to their own corporate demise along with the company.[5].


  1. Friedrich, Rainer. "The Hybris Of Odysseus." Journal Of Hellenic Studiespg. 111.(1991): 16. Publisher Provided Full Text Searching File. Web. 16 Apr. 2014
  2. Encyclopedia Britannica, research starters, Ebscohost, viewed 13 April 2014
  3. Papadimitropoulos L. "Xerxes' hubris and Darius in Aeschylus' Persae". Mnemosyne [serial on the Internet]. (2008, July), [cited April 18, 2014]; 61(3): 451-458. Available from: Academic Search Complete.
  4. "The Sin Of Shinar (Genesis 11:4)." European Journal Of Theology 20.1 (2011): 29-39. Academic Search Complete. Web. 18 Apr. 2014
  5. 5.0 5.1 Kroll, Mark J., Leslie A. Toombs, and Peter Wright. "Napoleon's Tragic March Home From Moscow: Lessons In Hubris." Academy Of Management Executive 14.1 (2000): 117-128. Business Source Complete. Web. 16 Apr. 2014

Works Cited

  • Baldick, Chris. from The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1990. 260 p. [1]
  • Barnett,Sylvan, Morton Berman, and William Burto. A Dictionairy of Literary, Dramatic, and Cinematic Terms. 2nd ed. Little, Brown and Company(Inc.) 1971.
  • Cuddon, J. A. A Dictionary of Literary Terms. Revised ed. Penguin Books, 1979.
  • Fowler,Roger ed.A Dictionary of Modern Critical Terms. Rouletage & Kegan Paul Ltd. 1973.
  • Harmon, William and C. Hugh Holman. A Handbook to Literature. 9th ed. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2003.
  • Holman, C. Hugh. A Handbook to Literature. Ed. Addison Hibbard and William F. Thrall. Revised ed. New York: The Odyssey Press, 1960.

External Reading