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What Was the Crime of Hubris in Greek Tragedy and Law?

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Oedipus and the Sphinx

Oedipus and the Sphinx

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Definition:

Hubris is excessive pride (or "overweening" pride), and is often called "the pride that comes before the fall." It had serious consequences in Greek tragedy and law.

The protagonist Ajax in Sophocles' Ajax tragedy exhibits hubris by thinking he does not need the help of Zeus. Sophocles' Oedipus exhibits hubris when he refuses to accept his fate. In Greek tragedy, hubris leads to conflict, if not punishment or death, although when Orestes hubristically took it upon himself to revenge his father -- by killing his mother, Athena exonerated him.

Aristotle discusses hubris in Rhetoric 1378b. Editor J. H. Freese notes about this passage:

In Attic law hubris (insulting, degrading treatment) was a more serious offence than aikia (bodily ill-treatment). It was the subject of a State criminal prosecution (graphê), aikia of a private action (dikê) for damages. The penalty was assessed in court, and might even be death. It had to be proven that the defendant struck the first blow.

Hubris is a Featured Thursday's Term to Learn.

Also Known As: Excessive pride
Examples:
Near the end of the Odyssey, Odysseus punishes the suitors for their hubris in his absence.

Go to Other Ancient / Classical History Glossary pages beginning with the letter

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