What Does Hubris Mean
In the modern context, hubris refers to the extreme pride and arrogance of a character. These qualities usually bring about the downfall of the said character at the end of the story. In ancient Greek context, hubris refers to violent and excessive behavior which was ultimately punished by the divinity.
Hubris is often a characteristic of a person enjoys a powerful position; he loses touch with reality due to this excessive power and starts to overestimate his power, abilities, and accomplishments. Gradually, this character crosses ordinary limits and violates moral ethics. This behavior ultimately results in his downfall as well. Hubris can be found in some of the major characters in tragedies.
Examples of Hubris in Literature
The character of Macbeth in Shakespeare’s eponymous tragedy Macbeth is a fine example of hubris. Macbeth, who enjoys a considerable power in Duncan’s court, overestimates his competence and accomplishments when he believes that he can take the place of Duncan. He destroys all around him by trying to realize this ambition.
“The Prince of Cumberland! That is a step
On which I must fall down, or else o’erleap,
For in my way it lies. Stars, hide your fires;
Let not light see my black and deep desires.
The eye wink at the hand; yet let that be
Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see.”
John Milton, in his famous epic poem Paradise Lost, portrays Satan as a character that has excessive pride and arrogance. His attempt to take control of the heaven is motivated by hubris. It is this hubris that ultimately drives him out of the heaven. But this does not put an end to his hubris. His words “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n.” is a proof of his hubris.
In Christopher Marlow’s Doctor Faustus, hubris acts as the fatal flow of the protagonist. Faustus’s extreme pride and arrogance leads him to sign a pact with the devil. He sells his soul to the devil in order to be superior to all other men.
In Frankenstein written by Mary Shelly, The protagonist exhibits hubris in his attempt to become a superior and unrivaled scientist by creating a monster. Ultimately, this monster becomes the cause of the protagonist’s death.
Sophocles’s famous tragedy Oedipus is one of the first examples of hubris. It is his belief that he can defy the prophecies of the God that ultimately lead to the fulfillment of prophecies. So his pride and arrogance result in his fall.
“Sirrah, what mak’st thou here? Dost thou presume
To approach my doors, thou brazen-faced rogue,
My murderer and the filcher of my crown?
Come, answer this, didst thou detect in me
Some touch of cowardice or witlessness,
That made thee undertake this enterprise?
I seemed forsooth too simple to perceive
The serpent stealing on me in the dark,
Or else too weak to scotch it when I saw.
This _thou_ art witless seeking to possess
Without a following or friends the crown,
A prize that followers and wealth must win.”
by By Jacob Peter Gowy – (Public Domain) via