Hubris has its origin in Greek tragedy and Shakespearean drama. It refers to the character’s excessive pride that causes downfall of people around him. In modern context it indicates a person who is filled with pride and feels above all other humans around him and does not hesitate to humiliate them. The hubris or arrogance of the individual is brought about by his denial of the existing facts and over estimating his abilities.
Hubris is derived from the Greek hybris which denotes insolence and violence. In Classical Athenian the term hubris implied the use of violence to intentionally belittle others. An example would be the case where Midias punches Demosthenes on the face when he was in the midst of a ceremonial function. In the sixth century BC during Solon’s time hubris was regarded as a crime and a citizen had every right to frame charges against another responsible for treason, violence or even rape.
In classical Greek works, hubris present in the heroes of Greek tragedy was an arrogance that seemed to offend even the gods. Seen in this light, hubris is regarded as the hamartia or flaw in character which becomes the cause for the nemesis that befalls the character. The Heroes in Greek tragedy often manifested hubris which caused their downfall. The hero’s pride often increases to such a degree that fate sets in to affect the necessary punishment to curb the overweening pride. As a result the end of the tragic heroes is never good. Ajax kills himself in a secluded spot while Oedipus is reduced to a wreck. The action of Icarus who goes too near the sun in spite of being warned is seen as hubris which also leads to his retribution.
In modern usage hubris implies pride and overconfidence in an individual who lacks basic humility. In Greek culture, hubris was often associated with nemesis and this notion remains even today, of suffering that is sure to follow extreme arrogance. The idea of hubris can be summed up in the modern adage of “pride goes before a fall”. The basic premise being that a person exhibiting excessive pride is often blinded by the facts as he acts in a way that goes against common sense.
Hubris is widely used in literary writing and fiction to denote the fall of a character owing to his extreme pride and resulting foolishness of his actions. In John Milton’s Paradise Lost, the character of Lucifer epitomizes the concept of hubris. In Doctor Faustus, Marlowe’s character is a scholar but it his hubris which forces him to enter into a pact with the devil. His pride eventually leads him to his death and damnation but he wouldn’t have chosen it otherwise even if he had the choice. In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley portrays her character, Victor as victim of hubris when he attempts to create life through modern technology in a bid to achieve power and fame.