Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Word of the Day: Hubris

He'll never love you
The way that i love you
Cuz if he did, no no
He wouldn't make you cry
He must be fooling baby
For you my love
My love

So will you kiss him
I wanna see you kiss him
I'm gonna see you kiss him, Goodbye

Na Na Na Na,
Hey Hey Hey

The word of the day is hubris. Its origins stretch to ancient Greece where it was used to refer to humiliating and/or violent actions on the part of an abuser with strong sexual connotations that brought shame upon both the victim and the perpetrator

From Dictionary.com:

hu·bris [hyoo-bris, hoo-]
excessive pride or self-confidence; arrogance. Also, hybris. Compare sophrosyne.

Origin: 1880–85; Greek hýbris insolence Related forms hu·bris·tic, adjective non·hu·bris·tic, adjective un·hu·bris·tic, adjective

Wikipedia includes a more complete definition that includes reviews of not only its ancient Greek origins but also a review of its modern usage:

 Hubris /ˈhjuːbrɪs/, also hybris, from ancient Greek ὕβρις, means extreme pride or arrogance. Hubris often indicates a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one's own competence, accomplishments or capabilities, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power. Hubris is usually associated with the "simple-minded". The adjectival form of the noun hubris is "hubristic".

For the Greek Origins section, Wikipedia lists several  excellent references:


In terms of ancient Greek law, Demosthenes most clearly defines the concept of Hubris in his Logoi (Speeches of Demosthenes):

Archive Org - Dēmosthenous Logoi =: Demosthenis Orationes (1850)

In particular, two case cover different aspects of this concept:

Against Meidias - Violent Hubris

Internet Archive - Against Meidias

Archive Dot Org - Against Medias

Against Timarchus - Sexual (Homosexual) Hubris

Fordham University - Aeschines: Against Timarchus [346 BCE]

It is acknowledged, namely, that there are in the world three forms of government, autocracy, oligarchy, and democracy: autocracies and oligarchies are administered according to the tempers of their lords, but democratic states according to established laws.

And be assured, fellow citizens, that in a democracy it is the laws that guard the person of the citizen and the constitution of the state, whereas the despot and the oligarch find their protection in suspicion and in armed guards. Men, therefore, who administer an oligarchy, or any government based on inequality, must be on their guard against those who attempt revolution by the law of force; but you, who have a government based upon equality and law, must guard against those whose words violate the laws or whose lives have defied them; for then only will you be strong, when you cherish the laws, and when the revolutionary attempts of lawless men shall have ceased.

And it behooves us, I think, not only when we are enacting laws, to consider always how the laws that we make may be good and advantageous to the democracy, but when once we have enacted them, it equally behooves us, if all is to be well with the state, to obey the laws that we have enacted, and to punish those who do not obey them. Consider, fellow citizens, how much attention that ancient lawgiver, Solon, gave to morality, as did Draco and the other lawgivers of those days.

First, you recall, they laid down laws to protect the morals of our children, and they expressly prescribed what were to be the habits of the freeborn boy, and how he was to be brought up; then they legislated for the lads, and next for the other age-groups in succession, including in their provision, not only private citizens, but also the public men. And when they had inscribed these laws, they gave them to you in trust, and made you their guardians.

For there is no use in attempting, fellow citizens, to drive such men from the platform by shouting at them, for they have no sense of shame. We must try, rather, to break them of their habits by pains and penalties; for so only can they be made endurable.


If any Athenian shall have prostituted his person, he shall not be permitted to become one of the nine archons, nor to discharge the office of priest, nor to act as an advocate for the state, nor shall he hold any office whatsoever, at home or abroad, whether filled by lot or by election; he shall not be sent as a herald; he shall not take part in debate, nor be present at public sacrifices; when the citizens are wearing garlands, he shall wear none; and he shall not enter within the limits of the place that has been purified for the assembling of the people. If any man who has been convicted of prostitution act contrary to these prohibitions, he shall be put to death.

"Or the man," he says, "who has debauched or prostituted himself." For the man who has made traffic of the shame of his own body, he thought would be ready to sell the common interests of the city also. But whom does he specify in the fourth place?

For he believed that the man who has mismanaged his own household will handle the affairs of the city in like manner; and to the lawgiver it did not seem possible that the same man could be a rascal in private life, and in public life a good and useful citizen; and he believed that the public man who comes to the platform ought to come prepared, not merely in words, but, before all else, in life.

First of all, as soon as he was past boyhood he settled down in the Peiraeus at the establishment of Euthydicus the physician, pretending to be a student of medicine, but in fact deliberately offering himself for sale, as the event proved. The names of the merchants or other foreigners, or of our own citizens, who enjoyed the person of Timarchus in those days I will pass over willingly, that no one may say that I am over particular to state every petty detail. But in whose houses he has lived to the shame of his own body and of the city, earning wages by precisely that thing which the law forbids, under penalty of losing the privilege of public speech, of this I will speak.

Bodies and Boundaries in Graeco-Roman Antiquity edited by Thorsten Fögen, Mireille M. Lee

Man as Monster:Eros and Hubris in Plato's Symposium by Peter von Mollendorff

 Eros: The Myth Of Ancient Greek Sexuality by Bruce S Thornton

Eros: The Myth of Ancient Greek Sexuality is a controversial book that lays bare the meanings Greeks gave to sex. Contrary to the romantic idealization of sex dominating our culture, the Greeks saw eros as a powerful force of nature, potentially dangerous, and in need of control by society: Eros the Destroyer, not Cupid the Insipid, fired the Greek imagination.The destructiveness of eros can be seen in Greek imagery and metaphor, and in the Greeks’ attitudes toward women and homosexuals

N. R. E. Fisher (1992) HYBRIS: A Study in the values of honour and shame in Ancient Greece. Aris & Phillips. by Professor Nick Fisher, Cardiff School of Archaeology, History and Religion,

Abstract - The fullest account of this important moral and social concept, which has become the standard work on the topic. Its central thesis is that the essence of hybris is the deliberate infliction of dishonour and shame upon others, typically arising from a arrogant overvaluation of one’s own status and importance. The book analyses the behaviour of hybris in literature and in Greek legal systems, and includes detailed analyses of many Greek authors, including Homer, Greek tragedians, Plato and Aristotle.

All of which leads us to the excellent article from the National Review:

National Review - If It Wasn’t Syria, It Would Have Been Something Else by Victor Davis Hanson

How did Obama get himself into this mess? It was bound to happen, given his past habits. All we are seeing now is the melodramatic fulfillment of vero possumus, lowering the rising seas, faux Corinthian columns, hope and change, the bows, the Cairo speech, and the audacity of hope. Hubris does earn Nemesis.

 1) His inclination is to damn straw men, blame others for his self-inflicted errors, and spike the ball when he should keep quiet and become modest (cf. the bin Laden raid).

 After five years of this, the world caught on, and sees juvenile and narcissistic petulance in lieu of statesmanship—and unfortunately a sinister Putin takes great delight in reminding 7 billion people of this fact almost daily.

2)  Obama thinks in an untrained manner and for all the talk of erudition and education seems bored and distracted—and it shows up in the most critical moments. Had he wished to stop authoritarians, prevent bloodshed and near genocide, and foster true reform in the Middle East, there were plenty of prior, but now blown occasions

Instead, Obama relied on his rhetoric and talked loosely, sloppily and inconsistently from crisis to crisis, the only common denominator being that he always took the path of least resistance and thus did nothing concretely to match his cadences.

3) Obama cannot attract top talent. Those from prior administrations who are gifted and worked for him or who were promoted by him—Robert Gates, David Petraeus, Paul Volcker, Richard Holbrooke, James Mattis, Stanley McChrystal—either were treated badly, not fully utilized, or ended up regretting their experience. Instead a host of mediocrities are recruited on the basis of either their partisanship, loyalty or demonstrated past lightness—an Eric Holder, Joe Biden, Susan Rice, Timothy Geithner, Chuck Hagel, etc.

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