What Is Hibris According To Greek Philosophy?

This concept associated with Ancient Greece marked the way of reasoning of the first thinkers.


Greek philosophy is traversed by tensions and distensions between humans and the gods. The reflections and narrations that concern themselves with the relationship between the mortal and the divine, the wrong and the perfect, the order and the excess are classic.

In this context, transgression has been one of the figures found in the background of the myths and stories that gave rise to the most classical Greek philosophy, and that among other things allowed the latter to have effects and functions in the social order.

There is for the Greeks a necessary natural order, which governs behavior and which must be maintained and respected. Nature (of which gods and humans are part) organizes and regulates the world, the body and the soul, maintains an order that should not be contradicted. The concept of hibris, which we will see developed below, has to do with that.

Hybris and the order of the cosmos

In Greek philosophy, human beings are part of an order called “cosmos.” In that order, there is no room for the sharp distinction between human and divine, nature and soul, biology or culture. However, it is an order in which human beings recognize themselves as different from divinity : humans are limited, they are not immortal or omnipresent like the gods, they are the other way around: finite and perishable.

As there is consciousness of immortality, there is also consciousness of one’s own limits, and then there is the possibility of transgression. The problem is that transgression is a sign of ignorance of limits and of one’s own human condition, which means equating oneself to the condition of gods through a narcissistic ego.

Hybris is the word with which the latter is represented: it is the state of absence of measure, which is also the state of the greatest transgression, into which none of the human beings should fall. The duty of humans, contrary to this, is to “know themselves”, what it means to know their own limits, avoid excesses and maintain moderation. Hybris is the state that breaks with homogeneity, disrupts the order of the cosmos and the social order.

Thus, hybris represents daring and excess, the splitting of the cosmos and the political order. It is the opposite of prudence, which is closer to the idea of ​​human humility and invites us to think and live in the recognition of our own limits. The hibris represents the act of aspiring to more than what is actually possible, going against the “moira” which means “part”, “lot” or “destiny”, and refers to what has happened to each “Being”, including the possibilities of “doing”.

Heroes and political ethics

One of the great problems that some Greek philosophers raised is when those who fall into hybris are the human beings in charge of ruling. The tyrant, who stumbles upon what the Greeks called “pleonexia” (insatiable motivation, wanting to always have more), is the representation of the ultimate transgression.

Whoever has fallen into hybris does not regulate himself, he is not measured by moderation, which means that he is not the right person to rule. The opposite case is that of the figure of the hero of Greek tragedies, who also has a sometimes insatiable desire for power. This desire causes him blindness and closeness to the hibris, but it does not represent a deliberate offense against the gods.

However, they do fall into pride and arrogance, so they are not saved from divine punishment: nemesis; figure representing revenge, justice and balancing punishment. Herodotus, one of the fathers of History, said that “the divinity tends to bring down everything that stands out too much.”

The Agamemnon of the Homeric Iliad and Trojan attack commander; Oedipus the King, who killed his father and married his mother; and some emperors like Calígula and Nerón, are only some of the Greek personages who arrived at the hibris. The consequence of excessive confidence does not take into account the experiences, ideas and mentalities of others, with which the consequences or the reactions of others are not anticipated, and “nemesis” easily restores balance.

Hybris syndrome

Through the concept and history of hybris, it has been easier to represent the figure of the excess of consumption, the contemporary tendency to “pleonexia” and the feeling of insatiability that crosses subjectivities, becoming more and more narcissistic.

A clearer example we can put in the evident ambition of political power of the subjectivity of the tyrant, or the excessive ambition of knowledge that leads to overconfidence, impatience or thoughtless hyperactivity.

Hybris is the state inspired by exaggerated passions, thoughtless actions. It represents stubbornness, fixation on preconceived ideas and rejection of contrary or alien ideas, arrogant treatment and narcissism.

It is an excess that disorganizes and corrupts, but which is quite far from the individual meaning that we attribute to “madness” in our time, precisely charged with hybrids.

However, the figure hibris has been used to represent even in clinical terms (such as “syndrome”) the personalities that are characterized by an eccentric and excessive ego that has the consequence of dismissing the alien.

Bibliographic references

  • Carvajal, C. (2014). Hybris syndrome: description and treatment. Medical Journal of Chile, 142 (2): 270-271.
  • Cruz, J. (2017). Transgression and philosophy. Criticism and Artifice, 13 (30): 67-61.
  • Editor (2013). Hybris syndrome, or the disease of power. No more pale. Retrieved June 15, 2018.Available at https://nomaspalidas.com/el-sindrome-de-hibris-o-la-enfermedad-del-poder/.

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