“Hubris” is exaggerated pride or self-confidence, often combined with arrogance.
Hubris is usually perceived as a characteristic of an individual rather than a group and it often indicates a loss of contact with reality and overestimation of one’s own competence, accomplishments or capabilities. It also indicates a lack of humility and sometimes ignorance. Arrogance is the feeling that one has a right to demand certain attitudes and behaviors from other people.
“Hubris” originated in ancient Greece, where it had different meanings depending on the context. In legal usage, it meant assault or sexual crimes and theft of public property. In religious usage, it meant transgression — an outrage or a sin — against a god.
A common instance of hubris was when a mortal claimed to be better than a god in a particular skill or attribute. Claims like these were rarely left unpunished, and so Arachne, a talented young weaver, was transformed into a spider when she said that her skills exceeded those of the goddess Athena.
Aristotle defined hubris as shaming the victim merely for the perpetrator’s own gratification. “Naive men think that by ill-treating others they make their own superiority the greater.” Demosthenes, a prominent statesman and orator in ancient Greece, says in Against Conon that a defendant allegedly assaulted a man and crowed over his victim.
The accusation of hubris often implies that suffering or punishment will follow, similar to the occasional pairing of hubris and nemesis in Greek mythology.
The proverb “pride goeth before a fall” is thought to sum up the modern use of hubris.
Literature, especially Greek tragedy, offers many examples of hubris. Victor in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein manifests hubris in his attempt to become a great scientist; he creates life through technological means, but comes to regret his project.
General George Armstrong Custer furnished an historical example of hubris in the decisions that culminated in the 1876 Battle of Little Big Horn; he apocryphally exclaimed: “Where did all those damned Indians come from?”
The next time one of my opponents at bridge gloats over winning, I will tell that person not to be hubristic. And restrain myself from “accidentally” kicking him or her under the table.