6 Examples of Hubris in Literature

What is Hubris?

Hubris means too much pride or self-confidence. It is an exaggerated sense of one’s status, abilities, accomplishments and merits.

Hubris often leads people to overestimate themselves and attempt things beyond their capability or skill. Some key aspects of hubris includes, excessive pride, overconfidence, feeling superior to others and attempting the impossible.

Common Examples of Hubris

Many famous public figures show hubris or arrogance:

  • Donald Trump often brags about his wealth, power and intelligence being greater than almost anyone else alive. This reflects hubris.
  • Elon Musk is visionary but also known for arrogance regarding how fast he can progress space and electric vehicle technology.
  • Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranos health company, had immense pride in her blood testing methods even when flaws got exposed.
  • Travis Kalanick, Uber founder, aggressively defended his company without humility for faults in its culture.
  • Various politicians exhibit hubris when they feel entitled to make laws based on personal beliefs over facts or ethics.

Such pride often causes loss of public faith when expectations get inverted. Staying humble helps leaders maintain trust during difficult times.

Six Examples of Hubris from Literature


“Moby Dick” by Herman Melville

In the novel, Captain Ahab shows immense hubris in trying to get revenge on the white whale that bit off his leg in an earlier encounter:

“He piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the rage and hate felt by his whole race…against all the million manifold perils and horrors of the globe.”

The narrator Captain Ahab projects grandiose significance onto the whale he hunts, attributing to it mythical capacities that likely exaggerate reality. Through hyperbole and allegory, Melville elevates the deadly conflict between man and leviathan into an epic clash fueled by Ahab’s egomania and thirst for vengeance.

When Ahab views Moby Dick as embodying “all the rage and hate felt by his whole race,” he engages in intensifies exaggeration, granting the whale inordinate power as the consummate enemy of humankind.

Similarly, envisioning the cetacean as somehow encapsulating “all…perils and horrors of the globe” utilizes sweeping hyperbolic language to propel the beast into the realm of primordial terrors.

Ahab’s inflated perceptions of the threat and meaning embodied by Moby Dick reflect the captain’s own megalomania more than any reality. Through this hyperbole and allegory, Melville critiques those who inflate enemies to mythical proportions as projections of their own ego, spite and wounded pride.


“Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley

The author depicts hubris in Victor who believes he can mimic God to create life just through science and alchemy:

“A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me.”

The ambitious scientist Victor Frankenstein succumbs to hubris in fantasizing about the glory he will attain through discovering the secret to bestowing life. Shelley employs hyperbolic diction to convey Frankenstein’s inflated sense of self-importance at the prospect of making this Promethean vision reality.

In saying his imagined new race “would bless me as its creator,” Frankenstein envisions attaining literally god-like status via usurping natural laws; such exaggerated sacrilege exposes his overreach.

Declaring recipient creatures will laud him as their “source” utilizes hyperbole regarding his scientific role, which only emulates divine genesis in the most limited respect. His assertion that multiple grateful “natures” will “owe their being” to him dramatically overstates the magnitude of his potential feat’s likely impact.

Frankenstein’s impressive language reveals ambitions dwarfing both ethical constraints and rational appraisal of limitations. His disproportionate self-assurance renders him blind to anything beyond his narrow vision of glory.


“Oedipus Rex” by Sophocles

In Sophocles’, the king Oedipus arrogantly believes he can solve any mystery and tries to find the killer of the previous king:

“Here I am myself – you all know me, the world knows my fame: I am Oedipus.”

Despite multiple warnings to stop his hunt, his hubris compounds his original sin bringing his downfall.


“Dr. Faustus” by Christopher Marlowe

The novel shows its protagonist making a deal with the devil for infinite power. His hubris blinds him to the costs of grasping beyond human limits:

“Shall I make spirits fetch me what I please, Resolve me of all ambiguities, Perform what desperate enterprise I will?”

Doctor Faustus captures the protagonist’s excessive pride and self-importance as he contemplates the magical powers he hopes to gain by selling his soul to the devil. Marlowe uses hyperbolic rhetoric to convey Faustus’s unchecked ambitions and sense of grandeur.

Faustus envisions himself able to miraculously “make spirits fetch me what I please”, a power associated solely with gods or supreme sorcerers. He exaggerates his post-deal magical abilities to god-like levels of mastery over supernatural forces. Marlowe establishes Faustus’s inflated ego and aspirations explicitly encroaching on divine territory.

Through these exaggerated visions of commanding cosmic forces to elevate himself to mythic proportions, Marlowe critiques the dangers of unchecked pride, which can swell to equate mortal men with gods in their own minds—with predictably disastrous results, as Faustus learns.


“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

In the novel, the protagonist Jay Gatsby shows hubris in his lavish lifestyle and outrageous parties he throws to attract the attention of his lost love Daisy:

“There was music from my neighbor’s house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.”

The narrator Nick Carraway describes his wealthy neighbor Jay Gatsby’s lavish parties using hyperbolic language that heightens them to mythic proportions. Behind the veneer of grandeur, however, Fitzgerald hints at the empty decadence reflecting Gatsby’s own hollow pursuit of status in a vain attempt to win back an old lover.

The exaggerated phrase “through the summer nights” presents the revelries as enduring day after day, as if Gatsby possesses a permanent summer to fuel his nonstop entertainment. Stylizing his gardens with the fanciful adjective “blue” furthers the dream-like atmosphere, while “moths among whisperings” evokes romantic mystery and allure.

Nick’s inflated prose reveals that Gatsby has confused superficial displays of wealth with the substance of lasting fulfillment. Fitzgerald subtly hints that behind the magician’s spectacle of jazz and fêtes, Gatsby remains tragically preoccupied with rebuilding an likely unrecoverable past.

Through hyperbolic yet penetrating language, the author exposes the poignant limitations of believing that prodigious parties and mansions can eclipse inner purposelessness.


“The Odyssey” by Homer

Homer’s epic shows hubris in its central hero Odysseus. When he finally returns home, disguised as a beggar, he yells out many of his achievements to his wife Penelope:

“Hear me, O Queen, and listen well—
Though you cannot know this beggar, who he is—
I can give you news of your husband, news you long to hear…”

The excerpt shows the epic hero Odysseus exhibiting trademark hubris in his abilities. Though disguised as a lowly beggar, he cannot resist boastfully announcing his true identity as the long-lost husband to his wife Queen Penelope.

Despite needing to keep a low-profile after 20 years missing, his ego drives him to reveal himself just to convince her it is him by narrating only news her actual husband could know. His excessive confidence in his storytelling skills makes him arrogant enough to think he can prove his identity just through a dramatic speech full of intimate details.

It reflects Odysseus’ characteristic pride which often lands him in unnecessary trouble. Even after his long painful journey back home, the great warrior remains puffed up with a sense of self-importance that almost undermines his return to reclaim his realm. So this minor yet telling episode epitomizes the hubris ingrained in Odysseus’ personality.

Related Terms

I- Ambition

Drive to succeed is natural and even required for human progress. Ambition becomes problematic only when it loses empathy, ethics and rational restraint. Leaders need ambition balanced with humility.


Narcissism is excessive self-love and addiction to ego gratification. Narcissists constantly crave validation of their inflated self-opinion and brilliance. Their extreme self-absorption causes hubris and lack of compassion.

So while ambition helps achievement, unchecked pride turns it into hubris. Wisdom comes from balancing confidence with humility and care for others. Vision must encompass human welfare not just self-glorification.

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