Skip to main content Accessibility help

Hybris, dishonour, and thinking big

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 February 2012

Douglas L. Cairns
University of Leeds
Get access


The focal point of this article is the detailed study of the concept of hybris recently published by N.R.E. Fisher, and the differences of interpretation which exist between that study and other recent work on the concept. Though I dispute much of what Fisher has to say about hybris, I also defend many of his most important insights, and readily admit that my own task has been made immeasurably lighter by his industry and integrity in the presentation of a wealth of valuable data. That I take issue with his thesis is no token of disesteem, rather a recognition that he has made a strong case for his interpretation and that disagreement with a study as well documented as his must rest on detailed discussion of individual passages.

Copyright © The Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies 1996

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below.


1 Hybris: a study in the values of honour and shame in ancient Greece (Warminster 1992; henceforth ‘Fisher’); for remarks preliminary to what follows, see my review in CR xliv (1994) 76–9.

2 Especially MacDowell, D.M., G&R xxiii (1976) 1431Google Scholar, Demosthenes, Against Meidias (Oration 21) (Oxford 1990) 18–22; Michelini, A.N., HSCP lxxxii (1978) 3544Google Scholar; Dickie, M.W., in Gerber, D.E. (ed.), Greek poetry and philosophy: studies … L. Woodbury (Chico 1984) 83109.Google ScholarHooker, J. T. (Arch. f. Begriffsgesch. xix [1975] 125–37)Google Scholar is misguided in his search for an original, neutral meaning, but he focuses on phenomena which are also important in MacDowell's account. In closest agreement with Fisher is Cantarella, E., in Symposium 1979: Actes du IVe colloque international de droit grec et hellenistique (Athens 1981) 8596Google Scholar = Incontri Linguistici vii (1982) 19–30. See also Garvie, A.F. in Machin, A., Pernée, L. (eds.), Sophocle: le texte, les personnages (Aix-en-Provence 1993) 243.Google Scholar

3 Fisher 148; cf. 1.

4 This, as Dickie is aware, has much in common with the ‘traditional view’ in opposition to which Fisher defines his own thesis; see Dickie (n. 2) 101–9, esp. 102; cf. Fisher 2–4 and passim.

5 See 130, 133, 148, 173, 402.

6 See 493; cf. 125, 242, 281.

7 See esp. 1: ‘Hybris … most often denotes specific acts or general behaviour directed against others, rather than attitudes; it may, though, on occasions … denote the drive or the desire … to engage in such behaviour directed against others.’ Cf. 212–13, 229, 323, 393; also Latte, K., Kleine Schriften (Munich 1968) 13.Google Scholar

8 Cf. Fisher in Cartledge, al. (eds.), Nomos: essays in Athenian law, politics, and society (Cambridge 1990) 126, and n. 14.Google Scholar

9 Fisher 7–11.

10 Translating (A; Ross, Kassel), rather than as in some later Mss. (and earlier eds.). MacDowell, Meidias (n. 2) 20 argues that this sentence is not an exhaustive definition of hybris, on the grounds that minus the article, must be the complement and the subject. But the article is omitted with the subject, as often with abstract nouns, esp. the names of virtues and vices, while its presence in is explained by the need to mark the infinitive as substantival.

11 I follow Cope, E.M. (The Rhetoric of Aristotle ii [Cambridge 1877] 17)Google Scholar and Fisher (8) in the interpretation of the phrase, the alternative proposed by Grimaldi, W.M.A., Aristotle: Rhetoric ii (New York 1988)Google Scholarad loc., seems to me very unlikely.

12 (n. 8) 126 n. 14.

13 Fisher (10 n. 17; cf. 57 n. 71) is right to claim (against Gagarin, M. in Bowersock, al. [eds.], Arctouros [Berlin and New York 1979] 231–2Google Scholar; MacDowell, Meidias [n. 2] 20) that the pleasure mentioned here is, as at 1378b26–8, that of demonstrating one's superiority, and so entails asserting one's own claim to honour at others’ expense.

14 Fisher 10.

15 Ross, W.D., Aristotle 5 (London 1949) 200Google Scholar distinguishes a ‘technical sense’ of prohairesis (relating to means) in EN iii 2 and vi 2 from its supposed use elsewhere to mean ‘purpose’ (relating to ends), but see Sorabji, R. in Rorty, A.O. (ed.), Essays on Aristotle's Ethics (Berkeley and Los Angeles 1980) 202–4.Google Scholar

16 For recent discussion of prohairesis, see esp. Kenny, A., Aristotle's theory of the will (London 1979) 69107Google Scholar; Hutchinson, D.S., The virtues of Aristotle (London 1986) 88107Google Scholar; Sherman, N., The fabric of character (Oxford 1989) 7994, 106–16Google Scholar; cf. Anscombe, G.E.M. in Barnes, al. (eds.), Articles on Aristotle ii (London 1977) 61–6Google Scholar; Sorabji (n. 15) 201–5; D. Wiggins in Rorty (n. 15) 222–7; Charles, D., Aristotle's philosophy of action (London 1984) 137–42, 151–5.Google Scholar

17 EN 1112a14–15, 1135b8–11, EE 1223b38–1224a7, 1226b34–6; cf. Anscombe (n. 16) 61, 66, 69–70; T.H. Irwin in Rorty (n. 15) 127–33, id., Aristotle's first principles (Oxford 1988) 340–2; Sherman (n. 16) 67.

18 Follows deliberation: EN 1112a15–1113a14, EE 1226a20–b30, 1227a5–18; deliberative desire: EN 1113a10–11, 1139a22–b5, EE 1226b2–20; chooses EN 1112b11–1113a14, 1113b3–4, EE 1226a7–13, 1226b9–20, 1227a5–18; telos set by boulêsis: EN 1113a15–b3, EE 1226a13–17, EE 1227a28–31, 1227b37–1228a2; cf. EN 1142b28–33 on euboulia. For detailed discussion of prohairesis, deliberation, practical wisdom, and their relationship to means and ends, see Greenwood, L.H.G., Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics. Book 6 (Cambridge 1909) 46–7Google Scholar; D.J. Allan in Barnes et al. (n. 16) 72–8; Cooper, J.M., Reason and human good in Aristotle (Cambridge Mass. 1975) ch. 1 passimGoogle Scholar; Hardie, W.F.R., Aristotle's ethical theory2 (Oxford 1980) 160–81, 212–39CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Sorabji (n. 15) 201–14; Wiggins (n. 16) 222–7; Sherman (n. 16) 70–1. Despite passages such as EN 1111b9–10, 1135b8–11, EE 1224a4, not every action that is with prohairesis need follow actual deliberation: see EN 1117a17–22; Cooper 6–10; Fortenbaugh, W.W., Aristotle on emotion (London 1975) 70–5Google Scholar; Sorabji (n. 15) 204–5; Charles (n. 16) 187; Irwin, Principles (n. 17) 344; Sherman (n. 16) 82.

19 Requires hexis: EN 1139a33–5; see Cooper (n. 18) 48 n. 59; D.J. Furley in Barnes et al. (n. 16) 59; Anscombe (n. 16) 64–6; Kenny (n. 16) 97–9; Engberg-Pedersen, T., Aristotle's theory of moral insight (Oxford 1983) 166Google Scholar; Dahl, N.O., Practical wisdom, Aristotle, and weakness of the will (Minneapolis 1984) 36.Google Scholar Hutchinson (n. 16) 88–92, 100–7. Charles (n. 16) 151–5 disputes the idea (see Anscombe [n. 16] 64) that every prohairesis requires a state of character and a grasp of the end of human action (cf. Engberg-Pedersen 21 n. 27); but see Irwin, Principles (n. 17) 598 n. 22.

20 Excellence of character makes the prohairesis right: EN 1144a20; cf. 1145a4–5, EE 1227b34–1228a2.

21 Virtue requires prohairesis: EN 1106a3–4, 1110b31, 1111b5, 1117a5, 1127b14, 1134a17–23, 1135b25, 1139a22–6, 1144a13–22, 1145a2–6, 1157b30, 1163a22, 1178a34–b1, EE 1227b 1–5; vice also requires prohairesis: EN 1110b31, 1135b25, 1146a32, 1146b22–3, 1148a4–17, 1150a19–21, 1150b29–30, 1151a6–7, 1152a4–6. Not only virtue (EN 1105a32, 1144a13–20), but also vice involves choosing the action for its own sake in the light of one's view of eudaimonia. See, e.g., 1127a26–b17 (with Hutchinson [n. 16] 103–4).

22 EN 1111b6, EE 1228a2–18.

23 Cope (An introduction to Aristotle's Rhetoric [Cambridge 1867] 176, 182–5, etc.) exaggerates the extent to which use of important concepts of Aristotelian ethics and politics in Rhet. is to be distinguished from more technical applications in the Ethics and Pol., but even he (188–93, esp. 189 and n. 1) recognizes that Rhet. i 10–13 presupposes the account of justice in EN v. The Rhet. does avoid detailed discussion of problems appropriate to more specialized contexts, but its assumptions in many aspects of politics, ethics, and psychology are those of the treatises devoted to those subjects. See (e.g.) Fortenbaugh (n. 18) 16, id. in Barnes, et al. (eds.), Articles on Aristotle iv (London 1979) 133–53Google Scholar (followed by Fisher 9).

24 That the treatment of justice and injustice is concluded by a discussion of epieikeia (1374a26–b23; cf. EN 1137a31–1138a3) is another sign that the framework of the EN is being applied.

25 As in Rhet. 1373b33–8, the sign of ‘doing injustice’ as opposed to ‘being unjust’ is action in the grip of a pathos, typically anger; cf. 1135b20–9. (The remarks at 1134a 17–23 are clearly out of place; Gauthier-Jolif, , L'Éthique à Nicomacque ii 1 [Louvain 1959] 385–6, 406Google Scholar, and Irwin, , Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics [Indianapolis 1985] 335Google Scholar, would transpose the whole section, 1133b29–1134a23; Irwin's transposition post 1135a5 seems better than Gauthier-Jolif's post 1136a9.)

26 For the distinction between ‘doing injustice’ and ‘being unjust’, cf. 1134a32–3, 1137a4–9, 17–26. It may seem that this is ignored in the passage of the Rhet. under discussion; the point of 1373b38–1374a18, after all, is not that of EN 1134a17–23 (the former distinguishes between [e.g.] theft and justifiable removal, the latter between [e.g.] being a thief and committing a theft), and at 1374a11–12 in apparent contradiction of the EN, is said to lie in prohairesis; similarly, 1374b4–10 fails to distinguish between adikêmata and ‘being unjust’, attributing adikêmata to ponêia. Thus Cope (n. 11) i 257–8 argues that the EN's distinction between ‘doing injustice’ and ‘being unjust’ is not operative in the Rhet.; but, as Grimaldi observes (Aristotle: Rhetoric i [New York 1980] 293–4, 304), precisely that distinction is made at 1373b35–6. There may be no real problem here: perhaps at 1374a 12 and at 1374b8–9 are used in a non-technical sense, of the unjust actions of an unjust character, and we might say that the refinement of the schema, introducing non-prohaeretic adikêmata as a category distinct from possession of a vicious character, though presupposed, is not explicitly activated; but if instead we prefer to see inconsistency, it will be an inconsistency within the Rhet. passage itself, not between Rhet. and EN.

27 Cf. the explicit references to hybris as a type of unjust act at Rhet. 1373a34–5, 1374all–12, 1389b7–8, 1391a18–19; cf. also [Arist.] De Virt. 1251a30–6) and [PI.] Def. 415e12 (Fisher 11).

28 Aristotle is aware that he is using pleonexia in an extended sense (cf. 1132a7–14, b11–18), and so it is no objection to the interpretation of hybris as a kind of particular injustice/pleonexia that elsewhere hybris and pleonexia are distinguished (e.g. Pol. 1302b5–9; Fisher 22–4).

29 According to Ammonius (De Adfin. Vocab. Diff. 20; cf. Fisher 53 n. 52) hybreis are distinguished from aikeiai by the fact that propêlakismos is necessary for the former; on propêlakismos and hybris, cf. Fisher 44 n. 31, 48, 93, 107.

30 Kerdos is to be understood here not as gain per se, but as that gain at another's expense which is characteristic of particular injustice; the pleonexia in which particular injustice consists is essentially comparative; cf. Irwin, Principles (n. 17) 426, 429 and 624 nn. 4–6. This notion of comparison is, as we shall see, also fundamental to hybris.

31 Hybris thus meets the criteria for vicious action in the fullest sense it springs from a settled disposition to choose the vicious course for its own sake, in so far as it is pleasant. This also answers to a typical feature of hybris in ordinary usage, in which to say that someone acted ‘not out of hybris, but … [for some further motive]’ is to deny acting ‘just for badness’, as a demonstration of one's insolent disregard for law or convention; see (e.g.) Lys. vii 13; cf. Thuc. iv 95.8, Xen. Anab. v 5.16, Dem. xxi 181–2; Fisher 49, 98, 103.

32 This helps explain why Aristotle imagines that hybris must always have a victim—all forms of injustice are necessarily (EN 1129b25–l 130a 13; cf. 1130b20; 11301–5), and, as a form of particular injustice, hybris must occur in ‘involuntary transactions’ involving two parties. Aristotle's discussion of ‘involuntary transactions’, moreover, focuses on cases where correction will be forthcoming from a judicial source (1130b33–1131a9, 1131b25–l 132b20); likewise in the Rhet. the reference to hybris in i 13 (1373b38–1374a18) is specifically related to the needs of the forensic orator (esp. 1374a7–9). The account of hybris in ii 2 (1378b13–34) forms part of a discussion of the pathê which frequently goes far beyond these needs, but even there hybris is discussed qua form of oligôria and cause of anger, and so the context demands concentration on affronts involving an agent and a patient; it should thus be no surprise that forms of hybris which would be unlikely to form the basis of a court action or at least of a dispute between two parties are not considered in Aristotle's definition. Cf. MacDowell (n. 2) G&R 28, Meidias 20, against Fisher 9. This is not to say that Aristotle is defining a distinct ‘legal’ sense of hybris, merely that apparently victimless cases do not occur to him, given the contexts in which he expresses his views on hybris.

33 See (e.g.) his account of nemesis, Rhet. 1386b9–1387b20; cf. n. 35 below.

34 E.g. hybris of homosexual practices thought objectively to involve the dishonour of the passive partner, regardless of the motive of the agent or of the partner's consent; EN 1129b22, 1148b31, Rhet. 1384a18–19. Cf. Fisher 13–14, 109–10; Cohen, D., Law, violence and community in classical Athens (Cambridge 1995) 147–51, 155–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

35 As Fisher (493) admits. Cf. above, n. 6. Aristotle's account of hybris thus resembles his discussions of aidôs in failing to recognize that hybris, like aidôs, can be the name of a disposition; see my Aidôs (Oxford 1993) 393–431.

36 The only instance I can find in the Aristotelian corpus of hybris used as the name of a character trait is in the spurious Oec. (1344a35–b1).

37 I am not sure that we need follow Fisher (19–20) in thus limiting the reference of the verb; on his treatment of transitive and absolute uses of hybrizein, see below, nn. 48, 69.

38 Cf. Armstrong, D. and Peterson, C.W., CQ xxx (1980) 69Google Scholar; Dickie (n. 2) 97–8, 102.

39 Several of these points emerge again by contrast in the characterization of the old at 1389b 13–1390a28.

40 The same misapprehension which makes the rich hybristai and hyperêphanoi makes the powerful hyperêphanoteroi at 1391a33–b1; it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the adj. hyperêphanos reinforces the connotation of hybristês at 1390b33. Cf. Armstrong and Peterson (n. 38) 69.

41 The frequent opposition between hybris and sôphrosynê (see Fisher, Index, s.v.) contrasts two ways of coping with one's self-assertive urges, and reinforces my contention that the element of over-valuation of one's own honour in hybris is more important than Fisher allows. Fisher (111) argues that sôphrosynê is an antonym of hybris only in so far as it restrains that desire to wrong others which hybris primarily denotes, but the falsity of this follows from that of the view of hybris it employs.

42 See Fisher 12, 19–25.

43 [D.] xlviii 55 (Fisher 114; cf. 440–1) is an even clearer example of the same thing. Here again hybrizein is a matter of excessive enjoyment of (illegitimately acquired) prosperity and again there is an element of comparison, between Olympiodorus’ hetaira and the women of the speaker's own household; there is no implication that the former does or says anything which is specifically designed to bring disgrace on the latter. Rather, they are imagined as ‘taking it personally’ that she should lay claim to a greater degree of honour than is felt appropriate for a person in her position.

44 Fisher 114.

45 Equally, at 1019–22 the hybris manifested in Helen's enjoyment of barbarian proskynêsis involves no intention to insult anyone in particular, but an excessive conceit of her own worth, implicitly insulting to all those who do not accept that Helen's honour is superior to their own. It is this lack of a proper appreciation of the interplay between her own and others’ honour that Hecuba misses in Helen at 1025–8 (Cairns [n. 35] 298).

46 Fisher 171.

47 Pompous ostentation (rather than deliberate insult) is the sense of hybris at Athen. 522c (a rejected motive for the wearing of Persian dress); cf. hybrismenos of clothing at Xen. Cyr. ii 4.5 and (negatively) of a shield-device at E. Pho. 1111–12; also of excessively expensive and ostentatious hospitality at Ael. VH 31 (on all these, see Fisher 116–17). In the passages which Fisher (ibid.) cites from Clearchus (frr. 43a, 46, 47, 48 Wehrli), hybris is a consequence of luxury, and most of the applications of hybris-words refer to concrete acts of dishonour; but in 43a the phrase, which links the tryphê of the Lydians' gardens and their gross acts of hybris against others' womenfolk, must indicate that the former as well as the latter involve hybris.

48 In this passage, as in the others quoted above (this section), Fisher takes an absolute use of the verb hybrizein as equivalent to a transitive. But my interpretation suggests that the distinction made by LSJ s.v. between transitive and absolute uses is wholly warranted, even if in some instances it is impossible to be sure whether an unstated object is to be assumed.

49 Cf. Theopompus, FGrH 115 F 213 (Fisher 115).

50 Fisher 125, 148, 224 n. 122, 238, 244, 374.

51 See Fisher 315–16, Dickie (n. 2) 106.

52 See 1084–6:

53 As Dickie ([n. 2] 106) argues, and Fisher (316) concedes.

54 See Fisher 112 n. 193, 316, 323, 374–5 n. 144; for neutral/positive applications of mega phronein, etc., cf. Xen. Ages. 11.11; S. Aj. 1125; Hdt. vii 135–6.

55 See Cairns (n. 35) 229–30, 234–8.

56 Thus Winnington-Ingram, R.P. (Sophocles [Cambridge 1980] 62)CrossRefGoogle Scholar may not be absolutely right to say that Menelaus regards hybris as a reciprocal process, if Menelaus is not actually confessing to hybris; but Menelaus’ remarks do reveal the reciprocity of hybris once we see through his implication that his own thinking big is justified. He therefore does, as Blundell, M.W. points out (Helping friends and harming enemies [Cambridge 1989] 91)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, manifest a form of hybris which answers that which he blamed in Ajax.

57 Fisher 377 recognizes this phenomenon in another connexion, but draws no conclusions for his view of the relation between ‘thinking big’ and hybris.

58 Artabanus' argument shifts from the notion of divine resentment of all forms of prominence to particular resentment of human presumption; the latter is his main point, the former merely an illustration, and the function of the warning as a whole is to provide another perspective on the unexpected failure of great armies when they cross significant natural frontiers to take on apparently inferior opponents.

59 See Dickie (n. 2) 104–6. Of particular importance are Artabanus' references to the expeditions against the Massagetae, the Ethiopians, and the Scythians; all three, qua attempts to extend power beyond natural limits, have a symbolic function both in themselves and in the presentation of Xerxes' expedition; thus, although Artabanus advances sound pragmatic reasons against the crossing of important natural frontiers and the attempt by greater powers to subdue smaller, his reference to these campaigns is not simply intended to stress the material dangers of expansionism (pace Fisher 372), and this constitutes another link between the three passages, esp. between the warning against ‘thinking big’ and divine phthonos in the first and the reference to the three previous campaigns in the third. See Gould, J., Herodotus (London 1989) 100–9Google Scholar, and cf. Hartog, F., The mirror of Herodotus (Berkeley 1988) 331Google Scholar and (on the Scythian campaign as a prefiguration of Xerxes' invasion) 34–40; on the ‘river motif cf. Immerwahr, H. R., Form and thought in Herodotus (Cleveland 1966) 75. 84, 91–2, 130, 132, 166, 183 n. 103, 293, 316Google Scholar; Fisher 352–8, 377, 383.

60 Fisher 367–74, 384.

61 The interplay between hybris. ‘thinking big’, and phthonos is discussed below. In the present context Fisher (374) may be right to say that the description of the divine reaction as phthonos soft-pedals the offensiveness of Xerxes' or the Persians' ‘big thoughts’ (whereas the description hybris calls attention to a moral offence), but it remains clear that ‘the god’ regards such presumption as an affront. Fisher (ibid.) states that the suffering of great armies, which, through divine phthonos, fall victim to small, is ‘undeserved’ but this is not the implication of which contrasts the potential of the greater force for victory with the actual outcome of defeat; defeat was unworthy of them because it was incommensurate with their strength in numbers, abilities (etc.). (See Adkins, A.W.H., CQ xvi [1966] 90–4Google Scholar, and Heath, M., The poetics of Greek tragedy [London 1987] 82.)Google Scholar

62 Discussed by Fisher 375–6, and distinguished by him from other evaluations in terms of ‘thinking big’ and divine phthonos. N.b., however, the oracle's conviction that the gods will punish Persian koros, a term which emphasizes the extravagant growth of Persian confidence.

63 Fisher 380 does not make the connexion.

64 Cf. in general Lloyd-Jones, H., The justice of Zeus 2 (Berkeley 1983) 60–9.Google Scholar

65 Fisher 414.

66 Fisher 416–17.

67 Fisher (417) sees the Servant's attempt to avert Aphrodite's anger (114–20) as evidence that Hippolytus’ lifestyle, demeanour, and specific remarks do not constitute a major insult; but the Servant only feels driven to make this attempt because of his concern at the danger of what Hippolytus has said, and his wish that Aphrodite show forgiveness is a reminder that gods take such attacks on their honour extremely seriously.

68 Cf. A. Pers. 800–31 (Fisher 259–61); hybris (808, 820) certainly refers to concrete acts, including failure to recognize the honour of the gods (807–12), but it is also associated with ‘godless thoughts’ (808), ‘thinking excessively for a mortal’ (820), ‘despising one's present fortune’ (825), ‘excessively boastful thoughts’ (827–8), and ‘harming the gods with over-boastful boldness’ (831); if the disastrous results of hybris (821–2) give a reason for avoiding excessive, unmortal thoughts (820; n.b. 821), then ‘thinking more than mortal thoughts’ must be a form of hybris; see Dickie (n. 2) 107. Fisher answers Dickie by making the dangerous concession that ‘having excessive thoughts’ may be ‘an element’ in hybris here, but maintains that not all such self-assertion is hybristic. The (fallacious) argument that, because hybris and ‘thinking big’ are not identical in definition, they are never identical in reference is also used (308–9) to distinguish hybrizein and hybris in S. Ant. 480 and 482 from mega phronein in 479.

69 Cf., e.g., the Aristotelian passages in sect. II in which hybris is associated with wealth, power, and misplaced confidence in continued good fortune; cf. E. Supp. 463–4, 726–30, 741–4 (Fisher 420–1; the first and third of these passages contain absolute uses of hybrizein, and again Fisher's translation, ‘commit hybris’, begs the question by assuming specific acts against particular victims). Cf also the hybris of Cyrus' sacred white horse (Hdt. i 89; Fisher 353–4; MacDowell, G&R [n. 2] 15), which is not disobedience towards its master (Fisher's standard explanation of the hybris of domestic animals, 119–20), but the creature's misplaced confidence that it is able to ford a river which in fact is only crossable by ship ( i 89.1).

70 See Fisher 2–3, 32, 142–8, and cf. 484–5, 491–2 on the (untypically) religious aspect of hybris in PI. Laws. (But see below, VI.)

71 Fisher 5, 56, 62.

72 Fisher 144 (Ar. Nub. 1506–9), 146 (Lys. fr. 73 Thalheim), 147 (Lys. ii 9), 412–14 (E. Hipp. 473–6), 415 (Or. 1641–2), 445–6 (Ba. 516–17, 553–5, 1297, 1347). Hybris may also concern the gods in the sense that they are felt to punish hybris among mortals; but here again hybris is no more specifically religious in nature than any other form of human injustice; see Fisher, Index, s.v. ‘gods, concern at hybris/injustice, etc.’, and cf. MacDowell G&R (n. 2) 22.

73 Most explicitly in the case of E. Hipp. 6–8, 13, and Hdt. vii 10ε

74 Fisher 253.

75 Fisher 290.

76 Cf. his discussion of S. Aj. 756–77 (342–8).

77 On hybris and ‘thinking more than mortal thoughts’ cf. Dickie (n. 2) 85 against Fisher 445. Dickie does, however, import notions of ‘mortal limits’ or ‘the human condition’ rather too freely into the discussion.

78 See Fisher 360, 362, 374.

79 See Fisher 377–8, on Herodotus' account of the bridging of the Hellespont, where he recognizes that the use of atasthala (vii 35.2) identifies conduct which might also be described as hybris.

80 Cf. Hdt. i 34.1 ; Croesus' presumption, Herodotus conjectures, attracted divine nemesis. Fisher (357–60, esp. 358 n. 1) is right to argue that the mere occurrence of the term nemesis is no proof that Croesus is to be regarded as guilty of hybris, for the supposed correlation between human hybris and divine nemesis which is such a feature of the ‘traditional view’ is poorly attested. Instead, Fisher agrees with Gould (n. 59) 79 that nemesis bears its Homeric sense of ‘indignation’; but when he claims that this nemesis is merely ‘the “indignation” of an “envious” deity’ (358) he ignores the fact that Homeric nemesis always focuses on some perceived offence (see Cairns [n. 35] 51–4; cf. Redfield, J. M., Nature and culture in the Iliad [Chicago 1975] 117)Google Scholar; if Fisher and Gould are right about the sense of nemesis (and I am sure they are), then they must locate the focus of that nemesis in a failure to accord honour where honour is due; Croesus' prosperity has led him to place himself on a level higher than other men and to presume to know and control what no mortal can know or control. The signs of hybris are all there. N.b., then, that the statement at i 34.1 is referred in context to Solon's warning that the divine is and (i 32.1). Fisher is right to assimilate nemesis and phthonos in this case (contrast Gould [n. 59] 80), but wrong to deny their focus on an offence on Croesus' part.

81 For a recent discussion of the scene, with bibl., see Crane, G., CP lxxxviii (1993) 117–36.Google Scholar

82 See Crane (n. 81) 130–1.

83 Cf. Cairns (n. 35) 194–8, 210–11 n. 129.

84 Fisher 287–9, with repeated doubts as to whether ‘the walking on tapestries should be called hybristic at all' (289).

85 See (e.g.) Arist. Rhet. 1388a35–8; cf. Pl. Laws 731a–b; Isoc. ix 6, xv 259; Plut. Quaest. Conv. 681e; Walcot, P., Envy and the Greeks (Warminster 1978) 72–5Google Scholar; cf. Bulman, P., Phthonos in Pindar (Berkeley 1992) passim.Google Scholar

86 See Arist. Rhet. 1386b 18–20, 1387b21–1388a28.

87 See Arist. Rhet. 1387b31–1388a23 on phthonos and philotimia, esp. the remarks on the grounds of phthonos (1387b34–1388a5) and on its typical targets (1388a5–23). Cf. Walcot (n. 85) 16–20, 34, 62, 97–8; Lloyd-Jones, H., Greek comedy, Hellenistic literature, Greek religion, and miscellanea (Oxford 1990) 255–7.Google Scholar

88 See Clytemnestra at A. Ag. 939; better to be envied than pitied, see Pi. Pyth. I. 85, Hdt. iii 52, Thaies 17 DK, Epicharmus 285 Kaibel/B34 D. K. The Pindar passage is perversely interpreted by Bulman (n. 85) 5, 21. For the standard interpretation, see Adkins, A.W.H., Moral values and political behaviour in ancient Greece (London 1972) 77.Google Scholar see further G.M. Kirkwood in Gerber (n. 2) 169–83.

89 See Greene, W.C., Moira (Cambridge Mass. 1944) 20, 28, 36–7, 39–42, 47–8, etc.CrossRefGoogle Scholar The verb phthonein does not occur in the context of divine responses to human affairs in Homer, but its sense of ‘begrudging’, ‘refusing to grant’ (see Walcot [n. 85] 26; Bulman [n. 85] 15–17) is shared by agasthai, which is used of the gods' grudging attitude towards mortal happiness (Il. xvii 70–1, Od. iv 181–2, v 118–20, viii 565–6, xiii 173–4, xxiii 209–12; cf. Greene 19–20; Lloyd-Jones [n. 64] 57; Walcot [n. 85] 26).

90 See Il. v 440–2, vii 446–53, Od. iv 78–81, xii 287–9, with Greene (n. 89) 20; Lloyd-Jones (n. 64) 4, 56; Walcot (n. 85) 26.

91 Broadly, commentators divide into those who find that all or most instances of divine phthonos found in Pindar, Aeschylus, and Herodotus are, in some sense, ‘moral’, and those who believe that even in (one or other, or some passages of) these authors traces of the unmoralized version remain. For the first view see Fraenkel, E., Aeschylus: Agamemnon ii (Oxford 1950) 349–50Google Scholar; Lloyd-Jones (n. 64) 56–70, (n. 87) 255–6; Bulman (n. 85) 1, 31–4, 88 n. 66; for the second, see Greene (n. 89) 6–7, 48, 74–5, 84–8, 103, 106, 113 n. 54; Adkins (n. 88) 78–82; Walcot (n. 85) 22–51; Winnington-Ingram, R.P., Studies in Aeschylus (Cambridge 1983) 113.Google Scholar

92 See esp. Fisher 363: ‘the chorus of the Agamemnon (750 ff.) analysed in Chapter Seven [pp. 275–7] is … strong evidence that explanations in terms of divine jealousy at human prosperity and those in terms of divine anger at human crime are felt to be incompatible contraries’. Cf. Garvie (n. 2) 243–4, 249, 252. For Fisher's distinction between ‘moralized’, ‘unmoralized’, and ‘ambiguous’ forms of divine phthonos, cf. 360, 362.

93 Cf. (broadly) Lloyd-Jones (n. 64) 4, 56–8, 67–70, (n. 87) 255–6; Yamagata, N., Homeric morality (Leiden 1994) 97–8Google Scholar makes a similar point.

94 Winnington-Ingram (n. 91) and Fisher 261–2 agree that the interpretation offered by the Ghost is authoritative, but contrast this moral explanation of Persian failure with the supposedly non-moral interpretation of the other characters; Gagarin, M. (Aeschylean drama [Berkeley 1976] 4950)Google Scholar denies that the Ghost's interpretation has any special authority. Others (Fraenkel [n. 91] ii 349; Lloyd-Jones [n. 64] 69) regard the Messenger's reference to phthonos as itself a moral explanation.

95 See Fisher 357–60, 362–3 (resp.).

96 In the case of the phthonos against which Artabanus warns Xerxes the element of moral offence is, as we have seen, even clearer (confirmed at viii 109.3).

97 See 345–7, 353–4, 472–3, 513–16, 724–5, 909–11, 920–1, 942–3, 1005–7; cf. Winnington-lngram (n. 91) 13–14, Fisher 261.

98 Cf. Immerwahr (n. 59) 313, who argues that the one occurrence of the notion in narrative (iv 205) proves that ‘the great advisers do indeed propound a Herodotean idea’. The phthonos of iv 205 is moral in scope, and Immerwahr's statement will, I think, be true only if we construe divine phthonos in moral terms.

99 Cf. Lloyd-Jones (n. 87) 255–6.

100 See Lloyd-Jones (n. 64) 63; cf. 68.

101 That divine phthonos is by definition justified seems to be the view favoured by Aeschylus in Pers. and Ag., and to be implied in Herodotus. Similarly Pindar's references to divine phthonos (01. 13.24–8, Pyth. 8.71–2, 10.20–1, Isth. 7.39–42) belong with warnings such as ‘Seek not to become Zeus’ (Isth. 5.14, cf. Ol. 5.24) and his stress on the objective limits dividing man and god (Nem. 6.1–4). See Lloyd-Jones (n. 64) 69; Bulman (n. 85) 31. Kirkwood (n. 88) imagines that the use of divine phthonos as a ‘rhetorical formula of praise’ (174–6) entails the absence of ‘the Herodotean religious meaning’ (182; cf. 176, 179). The two are not incompatible; even if the former is primary, it implies the latter.

102 And for Hooker (n. 2).

103 See MacDowell (n. 2) G&R 15–16, Meidias 21.

104 Cf. R. Osborne in Cartledge et al. (n. 8) 85.

105 See Fisher 19, 119–20.

106 Fisher 121.

107 See Arist. GA 725b35 (Fisher 19); Ar. Vesp. 1306, 1310 (Fisher 120); Theophr. HP 2.7.6, CP 2.16.8, 3.1.5, 3.6.8, 3.15.4 (Michelini [n. 2] 36–8). Previous pampering rather than excessive nutrition per se is what leads to hybris in both horses and subjects at Xen. Hiero 10.2 (Fisher 119), but the common idea of sufficiency/surfeit still underlies the comparison.

108 See Michelini (n. 2) 36 on Solon fr. 4. 8–10 (West) and Pi. Ol. I. 55–6, where the connexion between koros and food is explicit; cf. Fisher 70–3, 240–2, on these passages, and 21, 75, 154–5, 212–13, 219, 221–3, 230–2, 233–5, 272–3, 336, 347–8, 375–6 on others. Cf. also MacDowell G&R (n. 2) 15–16 and n.b. the association between nutrition, youth, and hybris at PI. Laws 835e (Fisher 486). For a recent (brisk) survey of koros in archaic poetry, see Helm, J.J., CW lxxxvii (1993) 511.Google Scholar

109 See Solon fr. 4. 34–5 (West) (Michelini [n. 2] 40, Fisher 73), Bacch. 15. 57–63 (Michelini 39, Fisher 227–9); A. Pers. 821–2 (Michelini 40, Fisher 258–61), 104–11 (Michelini 39, Fisher 265); S. OT 873–9 (Fisher 329–38), fr. 786 Radt (Fisher 97); cf. the rapprochement between human and animal hybris at PI. Phd. 81e (Fisher 456 n. 13) and Laws 808d (Fisher 480); also the physical and psychological forms of hybris at Laws 691c (see below).

110 Cf. Michelini (n. 2) 38–9: ‘The organism–whether human, animal, or vegetable puts self-aggrandizement before the performance of the social role assigned to it’.

111 For the hybris of the bull, that most masculine of animals, cf. E. Ba. 743–4; Fisher (121; cf. 450) sees the reference of hybristai here in ‘frightening hostility to men’, but I should prefer to see it in the creature's general ‘machismo’, its brutish demeanour, and its exuberant sexual energy.

112 This is another passage where Fisher's translation, ‘committing hybris’, assumes no distinction in sense between transitive and absolute uses. See above, nn. 48, 69.

113 C&R (n.2) 15–16.

114 Fisher 232–3 (quotation, 233). On the opposition between hybris and festive hêsychia in this and other passages, see Fisher 216–42 passim and Dickie (n. 2); cf. Slater, W.J., ICS vi (1981) 205–14.Google Scholar

115 For asinine hybris, cf. Hdt. iv 129 and Ar. Vesp. 1306, 1310; I doubt whether the point of comparison in these passages lies in ‘acts of disobedience’ or ‘insolence to one's betters’ (Fisher 120) rather than in the general skittish exuberance of a particularly self-willed creature.

116 Such, I think, is the normal connotation of the compound exhybrizein; see below, n. 140. On the imagery of plant-like growth and efflorescence in the content of human psychology, see Padel, R., In and out of the mind (Princeton 1992) 134–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

117 See Fisher 19–21, 102–4, 113–17, and Index, s.w. ‘olbos’, ‘wealth’.

118 See above Sect. III, Fisher 113–17.

119 See esp. Arist., Rhet. 1389b8–9, 11–12, to be seen in the context of the spirited impulsiveness of youth (1389a2–b12 passim); cf. Pl. Laws 835e, where the hybris of youth is explicitly associated with being well fed; cf. n. 108 above, and Fisher 20, 97–9, and Index, s.v. ‘youth’.

120 See Fisher 16–17, 57–8, 98–102, 145, 203–7, 488; also Index, s.vv. ‘symposia’, ‘drink’.

121 N.b. esp. Panyassis fr. 13 Davies (Fisher 206). The links between drink, the control of passions, and the terminology of honour and shame are explored below re Plato's Laws.

122 We should perhaps remember that the notion of ‘flourishing’ is typically opposed to hybris not only in the case of plants but also in connexion with both youth and the symposium (see [e.g.] MacLachlan, B., The age of grace [Princeton 1993] 39, 57–64, 91–3).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

123 See Fisher 467–79, 485–92, 499–500. ‘Platonic’ instances constitute a problem for Fisher's definition in that they often refer to forms of self-assertion in which no other person is harmed (453). Fisher (468–9) recognizes that these uses have developed from standard cases, for hybris is associated with the desires for food and drink, and is often found as a description of pederastie sexual activity (n. 34 above); hybris qua disobedience is also relevant, in so far as ‘Platonic’ hybris presupposes the tripartite or bipartite soul, in which the lower elements rebel against the higher. Nevertheless, he still sees the Platonic development as ‘radical’, and ‘startling’ (492).

124 Fisher (e.g. 489, 491) recognizes the presence of many of the complex, traditional, and metaphorical associations in Plato's uses of hybris, but does not see these as mitigating the novelty of Plato's view of the concept.

125 See (e.g.) Od. i 227 (Fisher 163, MacDowell G&R [n. 2] 16).

126 Cf, Fisher 109–10 (and above, n. 34).

127 See Vlastos, G., Platonic studies (Princeton 1973) 25Google Scholar n. 76, and contrast Price, A.W., Love and friendship in Plato and Aristotle (Oxford 1989) 228–9Google Scholar n. 8. Dover, K.J., Greek homosexuality (London 1978) 163Google Scholar, n. 15, and Fisher 474 see a reference to both homosexual and heterosexual intercourse.

128 For the opposition between the two horses in terms of hybris against aidôs/aischynê, cf. 254c, 254e.

129 In manifesting hybris and alazoneia, the bad horse, which represents the epithymêtikon, is being credited with thymoeidic responses; but this phenomenon, in which each ‘psychic part’ possesses the capacities which typify the others, is a regular feature of Plato's tripartition, not a sign that the categories of the Rep. are breaking down. See Annas, J., An introduction to Plato's Republic (Oxford 1981) 142–6Google Scholar; Ferrari, G.R.F., Listening to the cicadas (Cambridge 1987) 185203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

130 Cases of ‘Platonic’ hybris in other works prove equally or more traditional. At Phd. 81e–82a (Fisher 476), hybreis are associated with vices (love of drinking, gluttony) which involve lack of self-control and contrasted with those (injustice, tyranny, rapacity) which entail action in infringement of others' rights. At Rep. 402e–403b (Fisher 477) pederastic sex is said to involve excessive, maddening pleasures which signify hybris and akolasia and are incompatible with sôphrosynê; the view that sôphrosynê and excessive pleasure are incompatible because the latter ‘makes one go out of one's wits’ shows that sôphrosynê is being used in its everyday, quasi-intellectual sense. Hybris and akolasia, regular antonyms of sôphrosynê, connote the pursuit of self-assertion beyond the limits which sôphrosynê observes; akolasia is always liable to be reformulated in terms of hybris, because self-indulgence implies a view of one's time which takes little account of the time of others. It is partly this that makes such instances of hybris recognizably traditional; but also relevant are the elements of undisciplined, riotous exuberance (expressed several times by Plato in terms of mania) and the consequent failure to fulfil one's social role which are constitutive of the hybris of plants. For the opposition, hybris/akolasia/madness versus sôphrosynê/limit, cf. Phlb. 26b, 45d–e, Soph. 228d-229a (Fisher 478–9).

131 Campbell, L., The Sophistes and Politicus of Plato (Oxford 1867)Google Scholarad loc., is right to compare A. Pers. 821.

132 See Fisher 488.

133 See 646e–647a: andreia is a matter of dealing with fear of pain and danger in the correct way, and sôphrosynê is closely associated with aidôs/aischynê, which, qua fear of ill-repute, opposes the strongest pleasures.

134 See 647a–d, 649b (the anaideia of the drunk), 649d, 671c–e; for wine as a drug which both relaxes and develops aidôs, cf. 666a–c and 672b–d, with Cairns (n. 35) 374–5.

135 Not deilia, rightly deleted by Ast (cf. England, E. B., The Laws of Plato i [Manchester 1921] 270).Google ScholarAmathia here is probably the effrontery involved in thinking one knows what one does not.

136 Fisher 488.

137 Discussed by Fisher 485–6, and classified as ‘Platonic'.

138 England's explanation of the Mss. as scribal error is persuasive, and it would be better to read with the Aldine.

139 Hybris does, however, occur as the object of sbennumi at 835d–e, where hybris is a fire/disease/desire which burns and grows within the (well-fed) individual and leads to self-indulgent sexual behaviour.

140 The notion of hybris as a form of disease or madness which results from too much of a good thing (n.b. tryphê at 691a) is active at 691c: giving ‘more to the less’ and disregarding moderation (e.g. sails to ships, food to bodies, and rule to souls) results sometimes in disease, sometimes in ‘the offspring of hybris’, injustice. The participle applies both to those things which break out into disease and those which produce injustice; we thus have a notion of physical disease as the result of a form of hybris in the organism which comes of over-feeding. The verb exhybrizein suggests in itself the bursting out of a hybris hitherto contained, and this fits very well with the statement that adikia is the offspring of hybris; hybris is thus the disposition, the force which grows out of control within the individual, and injustice is its issue in concrete acts. Fisher (19, 112, 120–1, 129–30, 135, 147, 299, 344, 388, 393–4, 427, 489 [this passage]) typically refers the verb to the commission of acts.

141 Cf. 835d-e (above n. 139) and 831c-e, where the elements of erôs, shamelessness, and selfishness strongly suggest a hybris which lies in neglecting one's proper concerns as a human being in favour of a hedonistic conception of advantage.

142 This conflict is not presented as one between psychic parts, but as one between the two other types of lover, concrete persons representing abstract types of motivation. Thus we do not quite have the personification of the good and the bad horse of the Phaedrus myth, and the hybris which is associated with the inferior form of erôs/philia is that of a type of individual rather than of one part of the soul against another. Cf. England (n. 135) ii 344, on 837a2, and 345 on 837b8.

143 The paradosis would introduce the metaphor of disease at this point (714a5–6); but England's ([n. 135] i 442) defence of Hermann's seclusion of is persuasive.

144 It is unclear what text Fisher (489) is translating, but the Mss. printed by Burnet, will not do. We need either the of some quotations or the explained by England ([n. 135] i 448–9). N.b. that the conditions described in are those which are typically associated with hybris; if, therefore, England is right to take this phrase as subordinate to this is a sign of the closeness of hybris and megalauchia here.

145 Excess energy and high spirits, I think, are the basic connotations of at 716b2; cf. Ar. Vesp. 1303–6. Fisher (491) would specify ‘sexual excitement or over-confident violence’.

146 Cf. 697c-d, 726a-728c (Fisher 490).

147 Cf. the hierarchy of kinds of hybris at 884a–885b (Fisher 483–5).

148 In Cairns (n. 35) 373–8 I underestimate the extent to which Plato's emphasis on ‘honouring the soul’ implies an internalized form of aidôs; but see 378 n. 103 on 837c.

149 The element of self-indulgence is central to my view of hybris as excessive self-assertion in the face of others' claims; it also emerges in the frequent association of hybris with akolasia and in the antithesis of hybris and sôphrosynê or aidôs; but it is especially prominent where acting ‘just for hybris’ is contrasted with action for some further motive (see n. 31 above).

150 This is noticed by Aristotle in so far as he recognizes that hybris is a form of particular injustice which seeks to increase one's own honour at the expense of another (cf. n. 30 above); the comparative aspect of timê also plays a major role in his account of phthonos at Rhet. 1387b25–30, 1388a12–24 (esp. 18–21). Aristotle's view has much (and mine a little) in common with the modern description of honour in terms of a ‘zero-sum game’; but the very existence of the term hybris, referring to a way of dishonouring others which brings no honour to the agent, proves that the zero-sum view is an over-simplification. See Cairns (n. 35) 94 n. 141 (cf. 56 n. 42) and PLLS vii (1993) 162, 166 n. 32; cf. (and contrast) now Cohen (n. 34) 63.

151 This paper was written at the Seminar für klassische Philologie (Göttingen) in the summer of 1993; I am grateful to the Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung (and to Professor Dr C. J. Classen) for making my stay possible. I also wish to thank Dr Roger Brock, Dr Malcolm Heath, Professor Alan Sommerstein, and two anonymous referees for their helpful suggestions. I am especially grateful to Mr A.F. Garvie for stimulating discussion and criticism, and for generous communication of his own work on hybris, both published and unpublished.

Full text views

Full text views reflects PDF downloads, PDFs sent to Google Drive, Dropbox and Kindle and HTML full text views.

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 114 *
View data table for this chart

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 25th January 2021. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Hostname: page-component-898fc554b-t4g97 Total loading time: 1.012 Render date: 2021-01-25T15:17:25.789Z Query parameters: { "hasAccess": "0", "openAccess": "0", "isLogged": "0", "lang": "en" } Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": false, "newCiteModal": false }

Send article to Kindle

To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Hybris, dishonour, and thinking big
Available formats

Send article to Dropbox

To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

Hybris, dishonour, and thinking big
Available formats

Send article to Google Drive

To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

Hybris, dishonour, and thinking big
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Your details

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *