Hubris is a term that we equate with excessive pride. Not just being boastful. It isn’t regular pride in something you accomplished (I got out of bed today! You bet your butt I’m proud of that). It’s a kind of pathological pride in which you elevate yourself above the common man, when you challenge the heavens themselves with your self-declared awesomesauce. There’s a connotation here of leaving one’s sense behind and being so impressed with one’s own accomplishments that it enters into the realm of the fantastic – the fictional.
There’s an element of small-arr romance involved with hubris. When we make ourselves larger than life, when we elevate our own selves at the expense of others, when we throw our opponents’ losses or downfall in their faces and disgracefully preen and strut while belittling our opponents, that’s hubris. In sports terminology, hubris is “unsportsmanlike conduct”, and can get you ejected from the game.
In ancient Greek myth and culture, there was often a relationship between hubris and abuse. An hubristic person might not only assault someone, but might then ridicule their victim for having been ‘able to be assaulted’. We see this today with a lot of silly Mens’ Rights Association arguments and other, similar ridiculous groups. We call it part of ‘rape culture’ – we say if someone is sexually assaulted, they must have “done something” to precipitate it. That someone “asked for it” or, more insidiously, “did nothing to stop it”. It’s a common argument. In fact, I’d say it’s probably the prevailing argument used to try to exonerate or explain despicable behaviour, including rape and sexual abuse.
There are primarily two elements involved in hubris: honour, and shame or contempt. To act honourably, one accepts one’s accomplishments with grace, and can take pride in them. One uses one’s accomplishments and gifts to build up others. An honourable act does not include shame. Once an individual shows contempt toward others, that starts the ol’ hubris ball rolling. [Shame is a really interesting thing on its own, actually. It’s all about comparing yourself to something else and finding yourself wanting, whether the comparison is to other people, to some societal norm, to a faith-based tenet – we feel *shame* when we don’t measure up to someone’s (or something’s) expectations. It’s a purely internal-looking emotion.]
One of my favourite examples of hubris is Our Boy Achilles. You remember him from the Trojan war. Dude who farted around on a rock for a couple of years playing his lyre because he got all pissy over some girl trouble? Yeah. That guy. Achilles was a hero. His accomplishments in battle were unrivalled. He was *so good*, in fact, that everyone knew if Achilles joined the fight (the Achaeans were engaged in the siege of Troy, on the face of it because the Prince of Troy had made off with a hot babe, but really because they were power hungry and loved the spoils of war), there would be no possible way the Achaeans could not be victorious. Troy would be theirs.
But Achilles was all, “dude, whatever. I don’t need your tripods. I have LOTS of tripods. Like. The last city I sacked? I took literally ALL of the tripods. Unrelated, I’m having a tripod sale next week. Tell your buddies.”
And Agamemnon was all, “Odysseus, can you please go talk some SENSE into that twat?”
And Odysseus was all, “Sure. I mean. I’ll do my best.” So Odysseus heads on
out to Achilles’ tent with the girl Agamemnon had taken from Achilles, and a bunch of other spoils, and he’s all, “Achilles. My man. Bro. Duuuuude. So Agamemnon says he’s sorry, and here’s your girlfriend back, and some swords and shit and say have you thought about maybe coming back to the war? Because, like, you the MAN, man. But seriously, things are shite out there and we need you.”
Now, you’d think an *honourable* man would let bygones be bygones and maybe even turn down some of the stuff, but is that what Achilles does? Nooooohoooo. Achilles puts down his tea and snaps open the newspaper in front of his face and says, “go tell Agamemnon to fuck himself.”
Achilles: “Did I stutter? I’m going home tomorrow.”
So Agamemnon and the Greeks have to fight this battle against a superior army, and things start going real bad – they get pushed back all the way to their ships and the Trojans start attacking *those* (remember, the Greeks had one of the best navies on the face of the planet). Soon, Patroclus (who just *happens* to be Achilles’ lover and/or BFF) is all, “this is bullshit. The point isn’t whether Achilles is ACTUALLY fighting for us. The point is that the Trojans THINK he’s fighting for us. His fame alone will make them pee their skirts.”
Patroclus puts on Achilles’ sweaty, disgusting armour and heads off with a few of his besties and starts cutting a swath through some Trojans who are, admittedly, cowed. Until one of them murderizes Patroclus. Because, you know, war.
Predictably, Achilles loses his shit, and starts riding around the walls of Troy telling the Trojans he’s going to burn the whole thing down if they don’t send out the murderer.
Now it’s important to note here that the “murderer” is Hector. He’s basically a statesman and a war hero and he’s hands-down the best guy in the whole story. Achilles is a hero because he’s basically immortal and the Gods had taken a keen interest in him as a kid (partly because a couple of them were hot for his mom), but (if you can’t tell from his attitude here) he’s a bit of a dick. Hector is a hero because he does the right things and treats people well. Hector has worked hard his whole life.
When the Trojans realise what’s happened, they freak out and tell Hector to stay inside the walls of the city; that he’ll be safe there from Achilles’ rage (remember, the opening lines to the Iliad are “Sing to me, O Muse, of the rage of Achilles”. Story’s not about the Trojan war so much as it is about Achilles’ Big Snit). But Hector knows he can’t just endanger the lives of everyone in the city and decides to go out and face the music.
Predictably, Achilles goes full LAPD on Hector, chases him around the city walls, kills him, then drags his naked, lifeless corpse around the walls another few times because why the fuck not, right? This is hubris. Achilles didn’t have to desecrate Hector’s corpse. He showed contempt for the Trojans and for the Gods themselves.
…wow. How’d you get me off on that tangent?
ANYWAY. Why am I talking about hubris and contempt anyway?
No reason at all.