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Hubris

Hubris is excessive pride; and it generally leads to tragedy, due to the fact that the person who has hubris generally either overestimates his own powers or underestimates the power of things outside of his control. Within the context of tragic drama, hubris is a common fatal flaw: the hero may been talented in many ways, but he overestimates himself and is thus overcome by fate. The ancient story of Oedipus would be a good example of this. 

Hubris explained

Would you like to know more about the key literary term hubris? At the most basic level, hubris just means pride. 

However, hubris has the connotation that the pride is excessive. The implication is usually that hubris will lead to the eventual downfall of the person who has it. 

Hubris in action

In order to help you better understand the concept of hubris, here are some sample sentences where the term is used in a correct way. 

  • "When the economic collapse occurred, all the people of the nation wondered at their own monumental hubris in really believing that such a precarious economic system could meet with success forever." Click here to read about the hubris during the 2008 financial crisis.
  • "Oedipus, with characteristic hubris, believed that he could defy the prophecy that was made about him through the use of his own will; and he thereby ended up actually fulfilling it to the letter."
  • "According to the Biblical legend, Satan fell from heaven because of the sin of hubris, which led him to believe that he was better than God and that it would thus be a good idea to lead a rebellion against God."

Just in case you could use further clarification, here are a couple rules you can follow to make sure you are using the term hubris correctly. 

1. Hubris always has a negative connotation. If a person is proud in a good or justifiable way, then this cannot be called hubris. Rather, hubris is when a person thinks too highly of himself. Hubris is pride that cannot be justified, and that thus causes a person to ultimately behave in a self-destructive way. 

2. When one uses the term hubris, one generally means to say that a person has seriously overestimated himself and/or underestimated the powers he is confronting. When a person has hubris, he mistakenly thinks of himself as more or less a god. Insofar as he is not actually a god, reality will usually intervene in a rather traumatic way. 

Historical context

The term hubris is closely connected with the tradition of Greek tragic drama. In fact, hubris could be understood as almost the paradigmatic fatal flaw of the tragic heroes of those ancient plays. Essentially, a man refuses to recognize the limitations of his own powers, or the power that "fate" has over him. Therefore, out of hubris, he acts as if those limitations did not exist; and fate eventually ends up having its revenge on him. Often, the tragic hero is in fact a great man, and his pride is to a large extent justified; but it goes over the top (so to speak), and thus turns into hubris. 

 To an extent, the Christian tradition (which shares quite a few features with Greek tragic drama) seems to have also adopted the concept of hubris. For example, hubris is clearly what is meant when it is suggested that pride is the most dangerous deadly sin, or that Satan's fundamental sin was pride. With Christianity, hubris becomes not just an ignorance of the power of fate but rather open defiance against the power of God. A man thus has hubris when he thinks of himself as somehow autonomous, with no reference to the power that made him. 

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