Study Guide

Minerva and Arachne Pride (Hubris)

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Pride (Hubris)

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Okay, okay. We were just making a point. We're not really that full of ourselves. But it's pretty annoying when someone acts like that, right? You probably know somebody like that at your school…

The concept of hubris breaks down into two sections: the Greek definition and the modern definition.

The Greek definition of hubris describes a legal term used to classify certain crimes among Greek society. Citizens who engage in "excessive humiliation or disrespect for others" are accused of the crime of hubris. This includes the following acts—and then some:

  • Non-consensual sex (rape)
  • Sex with underage partners
  • Humiliation of a fallen opponent
  • Mutilation of an enemy corpse
  • Ignoring or breaking rules set by the gods
  • Believing yourself to be equal to or better than the gods

These are actions that, according to the Greeks, bring intense shame to the person who commits them. Think of it like cheating on a test. If you're caught cheating (not that you would ever cheat) all of your fellow students look down on you, and you feel super guilty. At least that's how we would feel. You're ashamed of your actions. Worse, your teacher is disappointed and ashamed of you. The acts listed above are way worse than cheating, and they come with way more shame. This is how the Greeks understood hubris.

In classical Greek drama, hubris is often a central part of the plot and is the reason for the main character's eventual downfall. Some great examples of this include

  • Icarus, who was punished for flying too close to the sun, something only gods should do. 
  • Creon, who loses both his wife and his son after refusing to bury the warrior, Polynices. (You can learn more about this one by checking out Shmoop's coverage of Antigone, by Sophocles.)

In partial contrast, the modern definition of hubris focuses on arrogance, pride, and self-adoration. Like all that bragging we did at the beginning of this section. The ancient crime that most closely matches modern definitions is that of "believing that you're equal to or greater than the gods." Modern society has latched onto this crime and expended it to just "believing that you're better than others." Anyone who brags about themselves or claims to the "the best" at something is potentially guilty of hubris. Granted, the person bragging has to really believe what they say. It doesn't count as hubris if you're just joking or if you're talking smack. Saying to a friend, "I'm gonna kick your butt at Call of Duty" is not hubris. Saying "I'm the greatest Call of Duty player that has ever lived," and actually believing it, is hubris. Looking down on other players and making fun of them because they're not as good as you is also hubris. Be careful, or the gods will smite you.

By disrespecting Minerva's role as the goddess of crafts and boasting about her skill at weaving, Arachne actually displays both definitions of hubris.

Questions About Pride (Hubris)

  1. Do you agree that Arachne is guilty of hubris? Why or why not? Does she deserve her punishment? Why or why not?
  2. Consider the ancient and modern definitions of hubris. How do these definitions differ? How are they similar? What do we learn from the similarities and differences?
  3. Is it possible that Minerva is also guilty of hubris? Why or why not?
  4. What do stories like this one teach us about the role of popularity in ancient culture?

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