Hubris: Definition and Examples of Hubris in Spoken Conversation & Literature

You may have come across the concept of hubris when studying the English language, but what exactly does it mean? In this article, we are going to examine the meaning of hubris as well as find out what it is used for in both a literary sense and in spoken language. We are going to take a look at some examples of hubris which will give us a greater understanding of its function.

What Is Hubris?

When we are talking about hubris in the sense of a character, it is essentially a flaw within the character that will ultimately lead to his or her demise. You might describe it as a form or arrogance or pride which will result in the downfall of the character. This is something which is often used as a literary device as a way for the author to point to or justify the demise of the character.

A character who is experiencing a hubris will often try to push the limits of normal capability and will not care for morals which are usually accepted. One of the most notable people to have ever discussed to notion of hubris was Aristotle who talked about this in his famous book, rhetoric.

“Hubris is made of saying and doing things which will cause shame for the victim….for simply the pleasure of it. Hubris is not retaliation, but revenge….rich men and young ones are hubristic as they believe that they are better than others.”

This quote from Aristotle perfectly described the hubristic character and outside of literature, you have likely encountered people with hubris in your day to day life. The Greeks in ancient times, believed that hubris was a crime as it was seen that no mortal man should ever think himself so powerful and this was an insult to the Gods. There are many examples of hubris within Greek mythology where characters who display hubris are severely punished by the Gods.

The word hubris is derived from the Greek language and means wanton violence, outrage or insolence. In the first instance, the word referred more to actions however, throughout time it has leaned more towards the attitude of a character or person.

Hubris Examples

Examples Of Hubris In Spoken Conversation And Day To Day Life

As we mentioned earlier, you have likely come across someone hubristic in your day to day life, and there are plenty of examples to demonstrate this. Let’s take a look at some of these now.

  • Famous golfer, Tiger Woods once confessed to having affairs behind his wife’s back. He admitted that due to his fame and success, he was in the belief that he could do whatever he pleased. After this admission, his career began to fail and he did not have anywhere near as much success as he had before.
  • Ex US president Richard Nixon also shows us a great example of hubris with his belief that his superior position made him undefeatable, however this as disproved with the Watergate scandal and from this point, his career went down the pan.
  • Actor Mel Gibson used his fame as an excuse to campaign against gay people and those of a Jewish faith. He was of the belief that his position allowed him to say or do whatever he wanted. After he was charged with battery of his girlfriend, his career began to struggle massively.
  • Hubris can also be used as a prediction that something will do wrong, a great example of this is when a business is deemed “too big to fail” yet it still collapses. Often times companies will be of the mindset that the rules do not apply to them and their downfall is inevitable.

Examples Of Hubris In Literature

Hubris can be used as an effective literary device, and this is something which has been employed by many writers the world over. Hubris can serve as a way to allow the writer to warn the readers that if they behave in a hubris way, their own demise might be imminent. This means that hubris is a great way to add morals to a story and give a lesson within it. Let’s now take a look at some examples of times in which authors have used hubris within their characters.

  • In the book of Proverbs in the Bible, there is a passage which describes a hubristic person with the following wording “pride goes before the fall.” This is a cautionary word to say that if you show hubris, you will likely end up falling down.
  • The character of Icarus flew too close t.o the sun and as a result, the wax wings which were given to him by his father, were melted.
  • In the famous play, Macbeth written by William Shakespeare, the title character has an incredible amount of hubris which ultimately destroys him completely. The character is aware of his own dark desires and yet will not stop at anything in order to fulfill them.
  • In F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, our title character shows a high level of hubris as he has always thought of himself as being in a higher social class than he actually is. In the end, this results in his downfall.
  • In the poem Paradise Lost written by John Milton, the writer uses Satan to display hubris, this is highly evident when we read the line “It is better to be reigning in hell than to serve in heaven.” As most of us are aware, Satan has this attitude but he ultimately loses the intense spiritual battle going on between himself and God.


Hubris is an interesting concept in which a character displays an over inflated ego and tests the boundaries in the belief that they are far superior than anyone else. In the end, this attitude will result in their demise or downfall. When the concept was first discussed in ancient Greek times, it was used to refer more to the actions of a person rather than the mindset and attitude, however this has developed over time.

Hubris Infographic